How to Build a House of Prayer
What I am thinking of building this summer
Again, the return always to this: “It is written,” he said to them, ” ‘My house will be a house of prayer‘” (Luke 19:46).
Christ dwells in the houses of prayer. I load grimy jeans into machine, murmur how grateful I am that He doesn’t move out of here, give up on us.
How do you build a house of prayer? Where floor boards moan repentance and doors open in hymn? I know how to beat chest and cry.
I never stop renovating.
Norman Rockwell print in our stairwell, gothic window from farm’s original home
Seven Ways to Build a House of Prayer: SHELTER
1. S — Short
Simply pray short prayers. Prayers need not be long, hot winds blowing restless.
Martin Luther, who prayed on average two hours a day, counseled: “The fewer the words, the better the prayer.”
Spurgeon offered, “I believe the excellence of prayer often consists in its brevity.”
As I make beds, hang laundry, scrub the ring around the tub…. I pick a short prayer of the Bible and pray continually. I may not have hours. But God hears. Short prayer too are communion.
Short Prayers of the Bible
* The publican’s prayer: “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
* The Syrophoenician woman’s (a personal favorite): “Lord help me!” (Mt. 15:25)
* The prayer of the thief on the cross: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom!”
* Peter’s prayer: “Lord, save me!” (Mt. 14:30)
* Mary’s prayer: “I am the Lord’s servant… May it be to me as you have said.” (Lk. 1:38)
* Jesus’ prayer: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk. 22:42)
*Stephen’s prayer: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:60)
* David’s prayer: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight” (Ps. 19:14)
*Praise prayers like Eve’s, who prayed after she delivered Cain: “With the help of the LORD, I have brought forth a man.”
So we echo her praise and focus on small successes: “With the help of the Lord, I’ve all the laundry away….” “With the help of the Lord, bread’s in the oven….”
*And when the house of prayer tilts with chaos and noise, to grope for equilibrium in short praise prayer: “Children are a blessing from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3).
2. H- Helps
To build a SHELTER of prayer… I need helps. Saints who have gone before and give words to the experience of my flesh-and-cracked-bone-pilgrimage.
Pray with books. Through books like Operation World – a different country, and the cause of Christ in it, every day or two. What a powerful way to get a globe-sized heart and vision of God’s supremacy! … Take Valley of Vision, a book of Puritan prayers, and pray what great saints of the past have prayed. We are so foolish to think that left to ourselves we will see all the Bible has to say and all the needs we should pray about without the help of good books.
Books that give my stammering soul words, that lay on my prayer bench, throughout the house…
3. E -Establish A Place
A place for everything and everything in its place. True, prayer happens in the laundry room, in the shower, over the stove. Prayer is unfettered, without borders. And yet it needs an anchor, a chapel somewhere in the marketplace of life, a closet in which to commune. Prayer too needs a place.
Prayer bench beckons. An island retreat with Scripture, a journal, a candle, a prayer book and hymnal. A place to come away with Him. I often run my hands across the tin embossed words of mine. “In Everything Give Thanks.” We need a place to remember.
For more on creating your own prayer closet: A Place For Everything
4. L – Lists
In building a house of prayer, a SHELTER of prayer…. to write lists of names and needs and nations. I keep a sticky pad at the computer, so I can jot down a name and a need in an email, tuck the sticky note in my Bible or prayer journal. For a season, we had a calendar with the names of several families jotted into each day, and we prayed for those families at the close of our meals. We often have a list of names on dining room chalkboard, my mama always does on her kitchen wipeboard. Currently, the List room in my SHELTER of prayer sags, dilapidated, and needs serious attention.
5. T – Together
A house of prayer, SHELTER, is a place of communion with Father and a place of community, of communal prayer. Together, we pray before meals, and together we close every meal with true bread, reading Scripture collectively around the table, then close in prayer, one voice after another.
But come heavy gold of twilight, when they crawl under the covers, I sit in the hall on child’s old chair, and they curl under stitches, and I read our current read aloud and before the eyelids give way, mine, theirs, I slip in the bookmark and turn to The Power of a Praying Parent.
They cock ears.
“Lord, I pray that (Shalom) be given the gift of joy. Let the spirit of joy rise up in (Levi’s) heart this day and may (Joshua) know the fullness of joy that is found only in Your presence….”
They wait to hear their name. Smile when I whisper their name. Sometimes call out from pillows for me to pray that verse for them too.
I do not pray for them apart from them, in some alone time, but we pray together, me praying with them, for them, for us. When I kiss their foreheads, bend over them to pray the free-form prayers, it’s those folded hands of plaque hanging in Farmer Husband’s childhood home I see: “The family that prays together, stays together.”
They sleep close.
For more of evening routines: Epic Parenting: Staying in Story
6. E- Establish a Time
A House of Prayer, a SHELTER, establishes its foundation on twin piers: an established PLACE and an established TIME. We can only pray without boundaries, only pray without ending, when we have established borders, time and place, in which to pray.
For a house to withstand hard winds, it requires hard stops. God’s people have always prayed with hard stops — fixed hour prayer. At a fixed hour David prayed, Daniel too bowed in prayer at set times, like Peter and John and the Early Christians. When the clock struck a certain hour, those hard after God made a hard stop.
Everyone bent a hard knee and prayed. Hard stops make us rise soft-hearted.
I am learning to make hard stops. Three times a day — 9, 12, 6 — to make a complete stop and pray. It’s not long (Short!): A Psalm. The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’s Creed: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mt. 22:36-39)
Establishing a time establishes Who is the priority.
7. R- Reminder
Hours, tasks, work distracts and I forget that the purpose of this day, my work, is to build a house of prayer, and not erect an idol. Like God-followers of old, I am in need of reminders.
“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts… Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Deu. 6:6-9
I wear the reminders.
“Symbols on your hands:” one ring, silver braided.
The strands, they remind me of Avodah: it’s all worship.
The strands, they remind me of a one-piece-life: it’s all God.
When I finger the ring, I’m reminded to weave that kind of life… to keep praying, to keep folding my life into God’s, to wrap the strings of today around All Glory and Holiness.
I write the reminders on the doorframes.
We build a house of prayer by writing prayer on the doorframes, the walls, the rooms of the house. Verse by my sink, art that turns the heart, clock chime tuned to call me to the hard stop and prayer communion, they become the architect of a home wanting Jesus to come dwell in the center.
The washing machine spins and I carry a load out to the line. I pin up jeans, outlines, string out prayers for arms and legs and bodies to become all soul. Cotton flies on wind, cares fly to Spirit, and with basket on hip, I open the back door, step back into the house with meandering shoe under the ironing board, towel splayed mid-floor, stack of dry dishes teetering in sink.
Old walls hold a roof with the knowing: a house becomes a house of prayer when it remains in the shelter of His heart. Laundry flaps on the line and I’m clean.
Lord, cause us not to work to consume or to climb, but to engage in the true work of building houses of prayer, places where You are at Home. Come, find Shelter here, where we find Shelter in You….
To Build a SHELTER of Prayer:
E-Establish a Place
E- Establish a Time
A repost from the archives