God’s Zeal for Us – The End

*** This article is part of a blog series by a Guest Author: Nic Thackwray. It is a journey into understanding better God’s Zeal for His House. You can check out the Introduction to the series here. ***

“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:17-22

In John 2:19, while Jesus is clearing the temple, the Jews angrily question where His authority comes from to do such a thing and He effectively replies, “because I AM God’s temple!” The exact words are “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up… he was speaking about the temple of his body.” Jesus likens His own body to the physical temple. In fact, by His words, He revealed that in His mind He saw it as one and the same thing: the house of God. God dwelt in the temple and God dwelt in Him; they were collectively and individually the house of God. That is how we must think as believers – we are collectively (together) and individually (seperately) the house of God.

Being born again by the Spirit we are joined to Christ, we become “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5) and are placed by God Himself onto the cornerstone of Christ, and together with our brothers and sisters, “the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21). God, the Great Architect, is building a house for Himself. He has chosen to use broken and rebellious people, you and I, whom he paid for with the broken body of His Son to wash us and make us a worthy fabric.

God is zealous for us, His house! Jesus is clearing out our lives! He is wielding a whip, driving out idolatry and half-heartedness, turning over the tables of legalism, unashamedly pouring out on the floor our love of money, driving out the fear of man and the love of self. He is shouting over us, “My Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer!” God is zealous for you! He is zealous for true, God-glorifying, face-to-face prayer in your life.

How would you feel if you came home one day to find someone living in your home and they had dumped all your belongings in the street. Thinking about it that way doesn’t make Jesus’ reaction seem so excessive any more. That’s the way God feels about you. You are His. He bought you. He dwells in you. He is not going to tolerate anything else in His home. You are His dwelling place for all eternity. And you are holy to Him, wholly His.

John Piper says: “Missions exist because worship doesn’t”. The reason we preach the gospel, is to create God glorifying prayer, to restore true worship of God, to bring man back into God’s presence, friendship with Him. There will be no mission in heaven…only prayer. The mission is not to get people to heaven or to get people saved, the mission is to get people worshipping. Because it is about God, not people. But we as His people get to be inhabited by God, and there is nothing more joyous, more satisfying, there is nothing else worth comparing. And He wants to inhabit us today!

Thank you for reading this series. My prayer for you is that you would fully discover your purpose as the temple of God, as a worshipper, as an intimate friend of God, inviting others into this awesome relationship with God by demonstrating His love in your world.

Jesus, thank You for your zeal for me. Your zeal to restore prayer in me consumed Your life on the cross. Come into my life. Drive out all in me that is taking your place. Make this house a house of prayer where You may dwell and receive glory and love for all eternity. And make me zealous for Your house.

God’s Zeal for His House – Our Purpose

*** This article is part of a blog series by a Guest AuthorNic Thackwray. It is a journey into understanding better God’s Zeal for His House. You can check out the Introduction to the series here. ***

The Garden of Eden: paradise, inhabited by God and man. God with man and woman…the way it is meant to be; friendship with God acted out every day of every week of every year for all eternity, worshiping and knowing our Father intimately and completely.

And they heard the sound
of the LORD God
walking in the garden
in the cool of the day.
Genesis 3:8a

What does the absolute presence of God sound like? Adam would not have stopped at hearing His presence. When God would walk in the Garden, Adam would first hear Him, then he would see. He would see God. He would see His face. Then he would smell His fragrance, he would feel God embrace him, he would feel the physical glory of God fill his body with energy and life and love and Adam’s heart would overflow with worship and adoration – and the heart of God would delight in Adam.

Prayer is not a means to an end. It is the end. Or rather it is our end, our greatest purpose. If we only pray in order to ask God to do something, or pray to fulfill our spiritual duty, or even pray because we believe it is good and God wants us to do it, then we are missing the point. It is prayer that God created us for. Not the prayer that we think of in our imperfect minds, not the prayer that most of us experience today, but unadulterated face-to-face prayer. And if Moses, who was under an inferior covenant experienced face-to-face prayer with God, then surely, surely it is accessible to us now through our perfect Sacrifice, through Jesus!

I am starting to see prayer as the very purpose of my existence, as the restored communion with God that was once enjoyed in the Garden, as any and every type of intentional communication both to and from the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God is restoring what was lost in the fall: the garden, except now we will live with God in a house, and we are the house. Next week I will look at what being God’s house means for us.

Father, restore me to my original purpose, to intimate communion with You, to a life lived in Your presence, worshiping You and loving You, forever.

God’s Zeal for His House – Jesus’ Passion (Part II)

*** This article is part of a blog series by a Guest AuthorNic Thackwray. It is a journey into understanding better God’s Zeal for His House. You can check out the Introduction to the series here. ***

So this was God’s plan: a house of prayer for us (i.e. the untold joy of being God’s friends), a crucifix for Jesus. If I were Jesus, I would object at this point. But Jesus did not. Although out of His fear for God’s anger at our sin He pleaded for another way at the last moment (when the reality of the Father’s abandonment and fury began to set in), He did not delay in doing the Father’s will. It was His zeal for what He saw in the Father’s heart that would lead Him on. He saw in the Father’s heart a house of prayer, all the nations of the entire earth glorifying God, and it was this vision that consumed Him.

“The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade”. His disciples remembered that it was written, Zeal for your house will consume me. And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.” (John 2:13-17, Italics added)

In Mark 11:17, in an different account of this same incident, it records Jesus saying (more likely shouting) while He passionately clears His Father’s temple , “Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it a den of robbers.” This is a direct quote from Isaiah 56, the passage that we started with a few weeks ago. Jesus got the Father’s mission. In fact He burned with passion and zeal for it.

Mark records in the passage: “And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him”. Jesus clearing the temple was the last straw. It was prophesied of Jesus that His zeal for His Father’s house would consume Him (Psalm 69:9*) and in a few days, the chief priests and scribes, driven by their jealousy, were crying out, “Crucify him!” And as Jesus hung on the cross, His body broken and His blood pouring out, the prophecy was fulfilled: Jesus was physically and spiritually consumed by His zeal for His Father’s house. Yes, the chief priests and scribes handed him over to Pilate because of their jealousy, but they did not take His life from Him…He gave it freely…to be our Door into the Father’s house.

Jesus, we want our lives to be consumed with zeal for You, for Your people, for Your plans! Thank You for Your zeal. May it be in our hearts.

*For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.

God’s Zeal for His House – Jesus’ Passion

*** This article is part of a blog series by a Guest AuthorNic Thackwray. It is a journey into understanding better God’s Zeal for His House. You can check out the Introduction to the series here. ***

For Jesus, establishing God’s house of prayer took drinking the cup of the wrath and fury of His Father against all our sin.

…when Christ came into the world, he said,
Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me…
Then I said, Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.
Hebrews 10:5,7

What was this will (desire) of God that Jesus had come to do? God’s will was for Jesus to take on flesh (and vulnerability) and then to freely and fully offer His flesh to be tortured and put to death in order to bring us into God’s company (presence), to restore friendship, to establish prayer.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, hours before Jesus would completely fulfill this desire of God for His life, He prayed: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” The idea of facing God’s fury against our sin head-on was a contemplation beyond belief for Jesus. But for the Father it must have been equally so: to knowingly pour on Jesus, His all-loving and perfectly innocent Son and the chief delight of His heart, the full extent of His anger and fury against all our pride, our lusts, our hatred of God! “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him…when his soul makes an offering for sin.” (Isaiah 53:10).

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence
to enter the holy places
by the blood of Jesus,
by the new and living way
that he opened for us through the curtain,
that is, through his flesh,
and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
let us draw near with a true heart
in full assurance of faith…
Hebrews 10:19-22

Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father as our very own High Priest, our Advocate, representing our best interests before the Father, bringing us to the Father’s attention and constantly reminding the Father that our sin is paid for and our adoption is secured. When we enter in to commune with the Father, we use Jesus’ access to His Father as our own access. In other words, to the extent that Jesus has access to His Father, is the extent to which we have access to the Father…He is now our Father! This is how the writer to the Hebrews can tell us to draw near with “confidence”; we are able to approach our Father with full assurance that we will not only be accepted but welcomed and embraced. But we have to use this access!

Let us not be fooled by the lie that the Father looks at our performance or our sins when we come to Him. He looks at Jesus on our behalf! Let us enter in and not hold back! He is waiting!

Jesus, thank You for making a way for me. Thank You for taking the full wrath of God against my sin so that I could draw near! Lord Jesus, make me zealous to draw near. Make me zealous for Your presence.

God’s Zeal for His House – The Holy Spirit’s Work (Part II)

*** This article is part of a blog series by a Guest AuthorNic Thackwray. It is a journey into understanding better God’s Zeal for His House. You can check out the Introduction to the series here. ***

Two weeks ago I tried to answer the question “What is successful prayer?” or “What is the goal of prayer?” My conclusion was that the goal of prayer is to glorify (make much of) God through seeking and then experiencing an encounter with Him, thereby finding our delight in Him. In other words, our focus and desire and delight in prayer is God and this glorifies Him most. John Piper puts it like this, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” (This then extends to others coming to encounter God through our prayer by us interceding for them or demonstrating Christ’s likeness and His kingdom to them.)

So where does the Holy Spirit fit in here? After Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He went on immediately to teach about perseverance in prayer and then gave an awesome promise: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13) I don’t think it is coincidence that Jesus mentioned receiving the Holy Spirit from the Father right after He taught about prayer. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense: the goal of prayer is encounter with and delight in God and the Holy Spirit is God. Therefore being filled with the Holy Spirit fulfills the ultimate goal of prayer: encountering God…to His glory.

With a promise like this, Jesus leaves no doubt that if we ask the Father for His Spirit, He will gladly give us His Spirit! And I don’t think that this is a once off filling with the Spirit. I believe it is an ongoing lifestyle of being filled over and over again. The analogy that Jesus uses of a child asking His Father for food reflects the fact that the Spirit is  our spiritual food, our sustenance and nourishment. It is water to our thirsty souls: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.” (John7:37-39) The Spirit in our hearts is described as rivers of life-giving water! Not one river…RIVERS! The idea is of a constant, never-ending source of life: the Holy Spirit filling the believer.

Prayer IS being filled with God!

Holy Spirit, fill us now! Fill us anew! Fill us and then fill us again! We will always seek You! May You be glorified as we delight in You above all, as we find our satisfaction, our life, our nourishment in You, Holy Spirit.

God’s Zeal for His House – The Holy Spirit’s Work

*** This article is part of a blog series by a Guest AuthorNic Thackwray. It is a journey into understanding better God’s Zeal for His House. You can check out the Introduction to the series here. ***

Prayer should be like paddling into a mighty wave and then effortlessly riding its force into the intimacy and victory of true prayer. The Holy Spirit is that wave!

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God …Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Romans 8:14-16,26-27

If you could break our relationship with God as His children down into two aspects, it might be, first, God’s reaching out to us (in many varied ways) and second, our reaching back to the Father (in many varied ways). If we look at the scripture above, the Spirit seems to be helping us in both of these aspects. In other words He carries us in all aspects of our communion with God – us knowing and believing God’s constant message to us that we are His sons and daughters (The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God) and also our crying out to God (…but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father!… For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us).

The Holy Spirit living in us brings the Father’s deepest communication with us right into the very centre of our knowing and then takes the very depths of our inexpressible longings for more of the Father and His kingdom in our lives and the lives of those around us and expresses them perfectly before the Father. What a wonderful Counselor we have, that knows us so deeply and draws us in so fully!

A surfer has to exert a fair amount of energy to paddle into a wave but once they stand up, they are carried. They gain instant speed and can cover amazing amounts of distance in a short time. Some waves can carry surfers hundreds of metres in seconds. Paddling those distances is boring and tiring. That’s exactly what it feels like when I pray without the Spirit…boring and tiring. But to be carried by the Spirit in prayer, we may need to “paddle in” by setting aside time, meditating on God, praising Him, making a prayer list etc. This can take discipline and hard work, but as the Spirit picks us up we will find deep worship rise in our hearts, deep compassion for those around us in need, faith to see the kingdom come, authority to bring down strongholds, joy, deep love for our neighbour, intimacy with God and His presence filling our physical bodies.

Holy Spirit, help me to trust You to carry me in prayer. Help me to seek You in times of prayer and not do it without You. Help me to know what my part to play is and to do this with all my strength..

God’s Zeal for His House – The Father’s Mission (Part II)

 *** This article is part of a blog series by a Guest AuthorNic Thackwray. It is a journey into understanding better God’s Zeal for His House. You can check out the Introduction to the series here. ***

…their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called
a house of prayer….
Isaiah 56:7

Why does God mention sacrifices in the context of establishing a house of prayer? First, burnt offerings and sacrifices were a form of worship in the Old Testament. I believe that worship is linked in this passage to God’s mission to establish prayer because prayer and worship are inseparable…sometimes identical. We cannot truly pray without worshiping, and we cannot truly worship without praying. Therefore prayer is worship.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He begun: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed (greatly revered) be your name” and ended: “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever”! The fact that Jesus taught His disciples to pray like this, I believe reveals the fact that in Jesus’ mind the primary purpose of prayer was worship. When we come together in church and sing worship songs together, we are praying “hallowed be your name”! In heaven, we will not pray for the other things that Jesus taught His disciples to pray because in heaven God’s kingdom and will is always done, there will be no need for bread, no temptation, no sin…only worship. Therefore all prayer in heaven will be worship. But now on earth, the primary goal of prayer must still be worship.

Secondly, this passage points towards the One Sacrifice that would be able to turn God’s enemies into His friends and worshipers. The writer to the Hebrews in Chapter 10 tells us more…

…when Christ came into the world, he said,
‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me…
Behold, I have come to do your will, O God…’

The writer goes on:

And by that will we have been sanctified
through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ
once for all.

What was the will (desire) of God’s heart? It was to crush and kill Jesus so that we could offer His body on God’s altar as a payment for our sin and in doing so be restored to God (and completely washed clean from that which separated us from God). Why? The writer continues…

…since we have confidence to enter the holy places
by the blood of Jesus,
by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain,
that is, through his flesh,
and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
let us draw near

Since we can enter into His company, let us enter in! The Father’s mission to establish the prayers of the saints cost Him His Son, so that you and I could draw near…in prayer, in worship.

Father, thank You for giving Your Son, Your perfect and righteous Son, to bring me into Your house of prayer! Thank You for making a way through which I can draw near! We will not hold back because of guilt or anything else! We will draw near!

God’s Zeal for His House – The Father’s Mission.

 *** This article is part of a blog series by a Guest AuthorNic Thackwray. It is a journey into understanding better God’s Zeal for His House. You can check out the Introduction to the series here. ***

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer
;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all peoples.

Isaiah 56:7 (Italics added)

While reading this passage last year, a thought struck me in a way that I can only describe as revelation. The thought was: “GOD IS DOING THIS”! When I looked at this passage, what jumped out at me was the primary influence of God toward establishing a people of prayer: “…these I will bring”. Prayer starts profoundly with God! It is His idea, and to establish it, His mission.

This passage is written by Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet writing many years before Christ, hence the references to now obsolete burnt offerings and sacrifices. Why is this passage then relevant to us? Well we gain insight into God’s plan for His people today because Isaiah, through God’s Spirit, is writing prophetically, i.e. about the future. Here in this passage, God is pulling back the curtain on His plans and heart’s desires for mankind, for His people. He is declaring His intentions for His people and those that will become His people, both from the nation of Israel and from every nation and language from the whole earth (the Gentiles).

I already knew theologically that the driving force behind prayer is primarily God. But in the Christian culture that I am a part of, so much emphasis is on us to “perform” through prayer (whether it be in keeping up daily prayer in our personal lives or in attending corporate prayer meetings). Even the fact that prayer is something that we have to “do” can fool us into thinking that it is “our thing”. I realized God’s role in our prayer was a bit fuzzy in my mind. But in this passage, God’s role became clear again. He is doing this!

We are “brought ones”, He is the “Bringer”. We are those He has chosen and gathered and is teaching and empowering to pray! This should free us from performance prayers and rid us of disabling guilt (Funny that the guilt for not praying comes most strongly to our minds the moment we start praying, paralyzing our faith and pushing us away from God!). Instead, prayer should be like paddling into a mighty wave that God has formed behind us and then effortlessly riding the impetus of His heart into heavenly victories and unimaginable encounters with our Friend.

Father, bring us in line with Your plans. Bring us into the desires that burn in Your heart for our lives. Father, bring us into prayer, bring us into Your joy and Your presence, every day and forever. For we long to be brought by You.

God’s zeal for His house – Defining prayer

*** This article is part of a blog series by a Guest AuthorNic Thackwray. It is a journey into understanding better God’s Zeal for His House. You can check out the Introduction to the series here. ***

So prayer is strongly on God’s heart as we saw last week. But what is prayer? This may seem like it has an obvious answer, but it is likely that God’s view of prayer is immensely bigger than ours and so to adventure into knowing God, we better try get the true nature of prayer right in our thinking.

I will quote a scripture that I think portrays the purist example of prayer that a human (other than Jesus) has ever experienced. This will be our benchmark.

“Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face,
as a man speaks to his friend.”
Exodus 33:11

There you have it. True prayer exists in many different places and forms, but here we see it the way I believe it was meant to be…friendship with God. It’s the garden of Eden all over again.

So I guess now would be the time to take a bash at my own definition of prayer. Here it goes: prayer is “friendship with God in action.” Let’s focus in a bit more. An earthly and human friendship exists because it is acted out. It involves a wide variety of trusting and affectionate communications of love and support between two individuals, both verbal (like talking) and non-verbal (like smiling and chilling together). In our relationship with God it should be no different. Therefore I believe prayer can involve things like (to mention only a few) thinking about Him, feeling trust in Him, being in awe of Him, worshiping Him, crying with Him, laughing with Him, listening to His voice, admiring His creativity, thinking about ways to please Him, enjoying His presence and last but not least, talking to Him. If it’s intentional communication with God, whether verbal or non-verbal, then it’s prayer. Let’s look at that Scripture from Isaiah again, with this new definition in mind:

“…for my house shall be called
a house of prayer [friendship with God in action] for all peoples.”
Isaiah 56:7

Sound like a place you’d want to be? Over the next few weeks we will see how the prayers of the saints are the Father’s mission, Jesus’ passion and the Holy Spirit’s work and then, finally, how it is our greatest purpose, the very reason that we exist.

Father, over these next few weeks, establish more true prayer in our lives for Your glory and our joy! Lord we want to know You face-to-face. We love You!

God’s Zeal for His House – Introduction

 *** This article is part of a blog series by a Guest AuthorNic Thackwray. It is a journey into understanding better God’s Zeal for His House. You can read the Introduction to get a good perspective of where this journey will go. ***

…and the smoke of the incense,
with the prayers of the saints,
rose before God
from the hand of the angel.
Revelation 8:4

Often we see prayer as being our thing, our duty, our responsibility. In some ways it is; but in the narrative and teachings of Scripture, it is portrayed primarily as God’s mission, God’s passion, God’s doing. In fact I would go as far as to say that we are living vessels that God uses to establish prayer for Himself. We get to participate, but we are the fabric that He is using to establish sincere and heart-felt prayer, to His glory and pleasure.

…these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all peoples.
Isaiah 56:7

Prayer is not only God’s doing in that He moves us to pray and gives us the Holy Spirit to intercede on our behalf; it is His doing in that He is building a magnificent, everlasting and never-before-seen-or-heard-of house and it is made from His praying church with Jesus as the foundation! It is in this house that He will dwell with pride and joy for the rest of eternity: “A House of Prayer for all Peoples”.

In God’s house there will be His family. There will be no pain, no tears, no insecurities, no regrets, no fears. There will be joy and laughter, holiness and love, reverence and freedom – everything good. But although in His house there will be all these things, it will be called “A House of Prayer for All Peoples”.

Why did He name it that? Why didn’t He choose “A House of Glory” or “A House of Righteousness” or even “A House of the Father’s Love” (although all of these names do describe it)? If you have ever named your house or your boat, then you would have given it a name that reflects something close to your heart, an event or person that you want to commemorate, a reminder of a happy memory or a dream that you hope for. Therefore by thinking about what God has named His house, we gain insight into His heart. What is strongly on God’s heart is…prayer.

Father, thank You for Your heart’s desires. We want to know these desires and we want to make it our mission and greatest joy to make Your desires come true in our lives.