He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” (Luke 19:46)
Relate: Jesus looks around. The steam starts coming out His ears. He gets red. Then all Holy breaks out. He gives a roar of rage, starts kicking over tables, picks up a whip and starts chasing people right out of the Court of the Gentiles with it. I love it! What is not to like? As a boy growing up in the church, this was easily one of my favorite stories and a sure way to guarantee my undivided attention. (A rare thing for sure)
That said, I was never really a fan of where the pastor, or youth pastor, or Sunday School Teacher, would go when it came time for practical application of the verse. In those messages almost always this verse would be used in one of two ways (sometimes both simultaneously). Either we need to have a greater reverence when we are at church (So stop running around and yelling in church!) or it is a reason why we don’t sell books/candy/bake sale stuff in church. The first of these applications is all about behavior, “Don’t run in church, this is a house of prayer” (even though there is often very little praying going on at the time of my running.) The second is all about legalism.
The church building is not the Temple. It never was. It never will be. before Jesus came, the Temple was the Temple. Once He arrived on the scene, Jesus was the Temple. After He left, we became the Temple. So if we are the Temple. So instead of an application about not running around in church and shutting down all those youth Speed The Light fundraisers, we should be looking at how we personally become a house of prayer rather than a den of thieves.
React: When I was a youth pastor I had a saying so overused that occasionally I would get an eye roll when I asked it. That saying: “What is the upward, inward, outward?” Basically, no matter what I was talking about, there were three things I wanted to the students to take away: 1) Upward, what does this show me about God? 2) Inward, what does this show me about myself? 3) Outward, how does this effect how I live in my world? In essence, all prayer boils down to those three things. Upward prayer is praise, worship, adoration, etc. Inward prayer is examine, repentance, confession, etc. Outward prayer is petition, intercession, etc. If I am to be a house of prayer, I should be able to do any of these at any moment or prompting. Prayer isn’t just something I do for a couple moments in the morning or before meals but rather it is an attitude, a lifestyle I dwell in day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. It should be who I am.
So, instead of prayers, how are we thieves? That answer is both easier and harder. My first thought was to turn to Malachi where it says we rob God when we are not tithing.This is relevant but I think what Jesus is talking about goes beyond that. Obedience in the New Testament is always more challenging than obedience in the old. It’s just my personal opinion but I think any time we are not in an attitude of prayer, anytime we are not praying without ceasing as we have been commanded to do, then we are thieves. We are robbing God of the adoration and the glory He so richly deserves. We are robbing others of the blessing we could be in their life, and we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to become more like our Lord. When we live for ourselves, everyone becomes a loser. Even us.
Help to live for You more. It is so easy to get distracted, I ask that Your Spirit would consistently be turning my heart and my mind back to You. Help me to be sensitive to those promptings. Help me to have a mind that sees others that I might better know how to be a blessing and an intercessor for them. Help me also to have a heart that recognizes and responds to Your glory and Your hand that are there in every step of every day if only I would see it. Make my life a dwelling place of prayer.