We are all familiar with this passage and the ones similar to it in each synoptic gospel. We usually work with it in reference to our church buildings or meeting house where Christian’s gather. While I do not believe that is the primary meaning at this point in human history, it is still valid, I believe to work with the place we gather as a “house of prayer” is proper and right. Most of us are exposed to and learn the elements of prayer within our church bodies.”
However, the primary meaning of this passage for all believers is seeing this scripture in the light of truth revealed in the New Covenant. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;…” (1 Cor. 6:19 TNIV) We are the temple or house of God. It is in our interior selves that prayer is to be primary.
Our conversation with the Lord (prayer) is to be a constant intertwining of ourselves with Him and our spirits with His Spirit. This house (body) is the one we control; we have dominion over; we have authority over; we have choice with. The personal discipline of form is often substituted for the reality of presence in moment-by-moment life. One speaker I heard recently said something like this, “When we no longer find joy in our relationship with the Lord, we substitute the joy of discipline in its place.” (Hence if we do not like discipline, we do not pray – sound familiar)? When we no longer are working with joy in sharing then we make do with the development of discipline. It reminds me of the housewife who, although she no longer enjoys nor allows intimacy with her husband, continues to clean house and make his favorite meals. She takes care of the discipline of married life, while disregarding the desires of her husband. (It could be the other way around — not to pick on us wives). We all know this is not the true intimacy the Lord had in mind within a marriage relationship.
Probably the intimacy most of us have in prayer is not as full as the Lord designed us to contain and that He longs for the moment-by-moment sharing of persons and Spirit that He offers to all. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” is the normal translation of James 4:8, but I found this one in a translation out of Africa that was done by an individual scholar: “Snuggle up to the warm embrace of God, experience His closeness to you (in Christ He canceled every definition of distance.)” Although not a literal translation, that is the essence of what is said in the passage.
May I suggest that if our personal temples are truly “houses of prayer,” then the other structures we inhabit will reflect that likeness. However, when we try to “house” this within a certain building structure, we end up in frustration. I believe it is a matter of cart before the horse. A church (or para-organization) will reflect the prayer levels of its individual leaders and participants.
So be encouraged on the personal level. “Snuggle up” and know He is with you — ever so near. Longing to share His heart with us and we begin to long to share with Him. As we individually develop the “Interior Design of Prayer” and begin to participate personally, the corporate participation will follow.