Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A Surprising Portrait of Jesus

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: “Prayer should be our first resource not our last resort.” That convicting statement was made by Bill Skelton who is the president of the National Religious Broadcasters. The NRB has called us to 40 days of concentrated prayer for our nation through the month of September and into the month of October.

I hope you’ll make the most of this important opportunity by praying both alone and with other believers about the pressing needs that our nation is facing at this time. As you cry out to the Lord, ask God to send a spirit of true revival to the hearts of His people.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, September 27.

Nancy: I think many of us would have to admit that prayer is often our last resort. But today’s program is going to encourage you to make prayer your first resource.

We’re going to hear a powerful message from Jim Cymbala who is the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. It’s a fervent call to prayer from a pastor who for many years has recognized his deep neediness both as a pastor and as a parent.

Here’s Pastor Cymbala:

Jim Cymbala: I want to talk for a few moments about something so vital and yet is so simple. It’s so familiar to us that that’s the danger. I want our session this morning to be something that will make a difference in our lives rather than just some kind of talk with more information about God. I pray that by His grace we can have fresh communion with God.

To approach that subject, I want to give you one of the most strange and stunning pictures of Jesus found anywhere in the Bible. Of all the portraits you’ve ever seen painted, there is no portrait found in the Bible stranger. We see Christ on the cross; we know Christ as the Good Shepherd; we know Christ walking on the water. We see Christ sitting at the well with the woman in Samaria.

But in your wildest dreams, can you ever picture this:

And so they came to Jerusalem, and Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple. And He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves, and He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. And then He taught them saying, "Is it not written: My house shall be called the house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of thieves." And the scribes and the chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him for they feared Him because all the people were astonished at His teaching. And when evening had come, He went out of the city (Luke 19:45-48).

Now, the Bible has many pictures of Jesus Christ, and to me, none is stranger. The Lamb of God, the one who came to take away the sins of the world, the gentle, loving Jesus who, as the Good Shepherd, puts the lamb on His shoulders and brings it home.

And yet, in this portion of Scripture, we see Jesus physically emoting in a way that is really hard for us to picture, that He would actually take tables and overturn them and throw money on the ground; that He somehow, all by Himself, with no armed helpers—the disciples were passive in this—that He would stop people from carrying their merchandise, and just by a word of authority said, “Get out of here with that! You can’t bring that through the court!” And that He would go to the people who sold the oxen and the sheep and the doves for the poor people, and He would say, “Out! Get your business out of here!”

It’s an amazing picture of Jesus Christ. The loving Jesus that we know, we think that for anybody to be that irate and physical must mean that they’re not in the Spirit. But this is Jesus Christ.

What’s strange about this is this is not the first time this had happened. I read from Mark, and the Bible tells us in John, the second chapter, that in Jesus’ first visit to the temple, He did the same exact thing. In fact, the Bible tells us that He made—are you ready?—a whip out of cords. Now it’s two years later from there, and He’s getting ready to face Calvary, and He comes back to the temple, and He cleanses it again.

Now, what’s odd about all of this is that the people who were in there, belonged there. The people who were selling the animals had to be near the temple precincts because there was no way to offer the sacrifices unless somebody could have those animals available for you. You couldn’t be carting these animals from your home or all through the streets of Jerusalem.

So those people belonged there, but they had put a gouging uplift on the price. They were making money hand over fist, taking advantage of the fact that they were the ones who could assist, and they were hiking the prices up so that people were getting taken advantage of.

And the money changers—you had to pay the temple tax if you were a good Jew, and you couldn’t use Greek or Roman money. You had to actually use the special coins that were minted in Jerusalem itself. So those money changers were there to take your money from wherever you came from—Madeconia, or wherever—and you changed your money so you could make the proper donation. But, once again, they were tacking on big-time profit.

And the people carrying stuff through the temple—actually, the writers at that time tell us that instead of going around the temple, they went through the temple, carting their stuff, making the house of God a shortcut to big-time money.

And Jesus, with His whip made of cords, somehow physically, with just His presence and His authority, just thrashes them out of there and kicks them all out.

Before I get to my main point, it does remind us that all of us who are involved in singing in choirs and preaching the gospel and pastoring churches and gospel singing, whatever the style is, and you who are Sunday school teachers—because I know there’s a lot of influence in this room right now. You’re going to go back—a lot of you are leaders—to the place where you came from.

Boy, does that challenge us to remember that it’s not just if you’re doing God’s work; it’s how you do God’s work. The Bible tells us that one day Jim Cymbala is going to stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and God’s going to ask me why I pastored the Brooklyn Tabernacle.

You see, these people were in the temple, but they didn’t have the Spirit of the temple. They were supposed to be there to assist people to worship and to come into God’s presence. They were there, but they were out of sync with the whole purpose that God had for the place called the house of the Lord.

They were doing it. They were doing their job, but they were making big-time money, and they were greedy, and they had brought a secular spirit into a sacred place. They were crass businessmen coming into something that God said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer. You made it a den of thieves. You’re getting over on the people. Out with you!”

Awesome thought! And in a day when gospel music and gospel preaching and gospel work can become so mechanical or oriented toward me, myself, and I, it reminds all of us today here at the Praise Gathering that as we go back to our separate duties, we have to do God’s work with God’s Spirit.

It doesn’t matter how many albums you sell or how popular Jim Cymbala is or that he writes a book. One day, the Bible says, I’m going to stand in front of the One whose eyes are like fire, and I can’t get over on Him.

All of you who sing in that choir, it’s not just if you’re on your note; it’s why you’re on your note. It’s the Spirit that you’re doing it in.

  • Am I doing it for the glory of God?
  • Do I really care about those people in New York City?
  • Am I preaching just to put on a show and get through another service, or does my part really radiate with God’s love?
  • Am I saying the things that He wants me to say with the Spirit He wants me to say them in?
  • Why are you teaching that Christian-Ed class, that Sunday school class?
  • Why are you singing in that choir?
  • Why do you serve?

The Bible says that when Jesus went into the temple, He reminded them, “This is not your house. This is My Father’s house, and My Father’s house has to be run My Father’s way. And when you touch something sacred in a secular way, I’m going to kick you all out of here.”

There is going to come that day when, as Paul says, we’ll all stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and we’re going to have to give a review to the Lord, and we will be reviewed on why we did what we did and how we did it.

That’s not my main point this morning, but it’s a well-taken point for all of us, not only on the crass business side of money, because it’s so easy to make gospel work just another way to make a living. That’s what these people were doing. They weren’t interested in people getting in contact with God. They were making a living out of it.

As we do God’s work, we must not rob the glory that is only due to Him. Whatever we do, and whatever we say, the Lord wants to remind us through this that all the glory and all the honor must go to Jesus Christ.

But the thing that really provoked Jesus into this angry tirade was this: He said, “You men don’t even understand about My Father’s house. You’ve given your opinion about the temple, but the temple doesn’t belong to you. My Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer, and you’ve made it a den of thieves.”

This is the first principle of religions, so listen closely. Jesus said, “My Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer. The atmosphere of My Father’s house is supposed to be prayer. The atmosphere around the things of My Father must be that aroma of people opening their heart and coming to My Father in worship and in petition and in supplication. And instead of keeping that atmosphere and aiming at that atmosphere and understanding My Father’s purpose, you’ve made it a place just to make a buck. So out with you! My house shall be called a house of prayer.”

The thing that’s supposed to distinguish Christian churches and Christian people and Christian gatherings is the aroma and the atmosphere of prayer.

You might say, “Well, Pastor Cymbala or Brother Jim, that’s not our style. We come from a different tradition.”

It doesn’t matter what your tradition is or what my tradition is. It’s His Father’s house, and His Father says, “In My house, it shall be a house of prayer and supplication.”

Now, we know that that temple is unlike any church. The Brooklyn Tabernacle, the building I pastor in, is not a sacred building. Your church building is not a sacred building. There are no sacred buildings like the temple. We know that.

That temple that sat there in Jerusalem, which now the Mosque of Omar sits on that land, was the only place that God said the brazen altar could be put and the animal sacrifices could be given. It was the only geographical spot in the world where the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies could be.

So what I’m not trying to say today is that in our churches there’s some counter part to the temple. We know that. In fact, the Bible says that we’re the temple of the Holy Spirit.

But what I want to say to you is that God’s work, from the very beginning, is not like you and I often imagine it. God’s work, God’s house, the Christian religion is always supposed to have the aroma of prayer.

Preaching, yes, but not: My house shall be called the house of preaching. Music, yes, but My house shall not be called the house of music. “My house shall be called the house of prayer.” There were choirs, but it was called the house of prayer. There was the reading of the Word, but "My house shall be called a house of prayer.”

So the Bible tells us that when Jesus Christ died and resurrected and went back to heaven, and He began His Church, which the gates of hell shall not prevail against, He kept the same line running through the formation of the Church, which was in His Father’s house.

Have you ever noticed that in the second chapter of the book of Acts, when the church was born, they were doing nothing but just waiting on God and praying? They were just sitting there, and as they were praying and worshiping and waiting and having heart communion with God and God shaping them and cleaning them out and building faith into them and doing those heart operations that only the Holy Spirit could do, the Church was born. The Spirit was poured out.

“My house shall be called a house of prayer.”

In the fourth chapter, Peter and John are arrested. They’re slapped around and threatened, “Don’t you preach any more in that name.” What did they do? They don’t go and protest. They don’t go to the Supreme Court. They don’t try to get some political leverage. They go back to a prayer meeting. They go back and say, “Behold the threat. O God, look how they’re threatening us, but, O God, we lift our voices together to You. O God, behold their threats, and give Your servants boldness that we might preach in the name of Jesus” And the place where they prayed again was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God with boldness.

“My house shall be called a house of prayer.”

They had this instinct:

  • When in trouble—pray.
  • When intimidated—pray.
  • When challenged—pray.
  • When persecuted—pray.
  • When you’re in trouble—pray.

In fact, this thing called prayer, whatever it is, is so unique. It’s not like what we’re used to. We talk about pray; we say prayers. Most of them, a lot of them are mental prayers. This thing called praying is so deep that when the apostle Paul got converted, and he was first Saul of Tarsus, this violent persecutor of the church, Jesus went to Ananias—the Lord appeared to Ananias in Damascus, and said, “Go to this man, this Jew, this church persecutor named Saul of Tarsus, and pray for him” (see Acts 9:10-19).

Ananias said, “I know about this man. This man is trouble with a capital “T.”

Jesus said—as if this was proof that everything had changed—“No, Ananias, you can go, for behold, he prays. You can go now because he’s in that room blind somewhere, waiting for you because he actually for the first time in his religious life is offering a true prayer, and because he’s praying, you can go and not be afraid.”

It was as if that was the sign whether somebody was the real deal with God. “Behold, he prays.”

That same apostle Paul, when he writes to Timothy, and he wants to encourage him how to do God’s work, he says this: “First of all then, I want supplications. . .first of all, in your church, Timothy, first of all, before anything else, supplications and prayers and intercessions and thanksgiving to be made for all men.”

That’s first of all. It doesn’t matter what your tradition is or what American Christianity says. The Word of God says, “First of all, then, I want supplications, because you’ve got to remember, Timothy, My house shall be called a house of prayer” (see 1 Timothy 2:1).

Later on in the same chapter, he says, “Then remember, Timothy, I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands without wrath or doubting, and I want them to pray” (see 1 Timothy 2:8).

That’s the sign of a Christian church, Paul says. Men pray with holy hands without wrath or doubt.

In fact, the book of Revelation says that when the four and twenty elders fall at the feet of Jesus, they have these golden bowls. You know what’s in the bowls, this incense that is so fragrant to Christ? It’s the prayers of the saints. What must prayer be to God that He keeps it in bowls? (see Revelation 5:8).

Just imagine that when you and I kneel or stand or pray seated, and we really open our heart to God, somehow those things are kept. They’re so precious to God.

“My house shall be called a house of prayer.”

We have, in the day that we live in, a lot of revisionism going on. But it’s not coming from Washington. It’s coming from the church. We’re revising what a church is today. The Bible says, they continued—the early church—"they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and in fellowship and in the breaking of bread and in prayer" (Acts 2:42, KJV). We’ve revised that and said, “If you can get people for one hour on Sunday morning in the building, that’s the church.”

That’s not the church.

We can use every device we want to get people for one hour and keep it early and keep it moving and keep it going because people have important things to do that day. That’s not the story of the Christian church. That might be the story of my church or your church, but that’s not the church Jesus built.

The history of revivals down through the ages have told us that whenever things have grown crass and commercial and secular and hard and worldly, God sends a revival. And what’s always the sign of the revival? “Behold, they pray.” The church begins to pray.

Moody goes somewhere in England, and they begin to pray. Finney goes to Upstate New York, and they begin to pray. The Great Awakening happenings in America, and they begin to pray. Who was the fancy preacher? Nobody. They prayed. Where was the great music? Oh, they made great psalms, but that wasn’t the great thing about it. It was, they prayed.

Prayer preceded it; prayer kept it going; and the minute prayer ended, the Spirit of God lifted, and we got back into one of those tougher times for the church of Jesus Christ.

The greatest thing anybody in this building can learn is how to pray, how to call on God so that God intervenes in a situation.

“They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and in fellowship and in breaking of bread and in prayer.” That’s the church.

I’ve talked to well-known ministers. I’ve talked to men, if I mentioned their names, a lot of you would know a lot of their names. They tell me privately, off the record, “Hey, listen, I know I’m dazzling them with the books and my sermons, but, Brother Jim, something’s wrong because except for Sunday morning one hour, I can’t get a soul into the church. If I called a prayer meeting, not one-tenth of the congregation would come. They’ll pay $20 for a concert, but Jesus can’t draw.”

You represent all kinds of cities, and just ask yourself that question about the city you live in: What church do you know takes a night, a prominent night, with all the leadership there and says . . . "if prayer is so great, and we have all these promises—‘Ask, you shall receive; seek, you shall find; knock, it shall be opened,’ and all of those promises—‘Call unto Me, and I will answer you.’" You would think the Christian church would say, “Time out! We’re going to pray because God said when we pray, He’ll intervene.”

The truth of the matter, the city I live in—New York—and the same with Chicago and Philly and all of that—who are we kidding?—more people are turning to crack than to Christ. There are more people trying crack than are getting baptized in water. That’s the real deal. And preaching is not going to do it alone, and teaching is not going to do it alone.

“My house shall be called a house of prayer.”

That’s what brings God’s power and grace into a situation. The proof of that is, in the last forty years, there’s been more books written about marriages than in all the preceding 2,000 years of church history. More books in the last forty years on marriages—go to any pastor in America and ask him if there aren’t more problems per hundred marriages today than at any time, and we’ve got the most books. We’ve got all the how-to’s, but what we’re missing is the grace of God.

“My house shall be called a house of prayer.”

  • A couple that prays together, stays together.
  • A church that prays together, stays together.

There will be difficult moments. I’m not being simplistic, but God’s Word is true: “Call upon Me, and I will answer you. I’ll show you things you can’t even imagine. Just give Me a chance.”

There’s more books on child rearing, quality time with your children ad-nausea. Talk to any pastor. There’s more problem with children, young people in the church, per hundred young people than at any time previous.

It’s not because we’re lacking knowledge. It’s not because we’re lacking how-to—and all of that has its place—but, brother, sister, where the rubber meets the road, we need the power of God. We need the grace of God.

“Therefore, let us come boldly to the throne of grace so that we might receive grace and mercy to help us in our time of need.”

Nancy: Amen! What an incredible promise, and how desperately we do need the grace and the power of God.

Pastor Jim Cymbala has been exploring the words of Jesus: “My house shall be called a house of prayer” and reminding us that we can get the grace and the power of God as we humble ourselves and we come boldly before His throne of grace.

I think you’d agree that this message is a powerful reminder of how important it is to take time alone with God.

What would it take to make prayer a higher priority for you? Maybe it means just setting the alarm clock a little earlier or turning off the TV late at night so that you can be awake in the morning to pray more easily.

I know one thing: When we get desperate enough, we will find our way to our knees and to the throne of God where we can get His grace and power.

You want to be sure and join us tomorrow to hear part two of Pastor Cymbala’s message, but I know that many are asking right now: “How can I get a copy of that message? I’d like to share it with others. I’d like to perhaps have it played in my church.”

This entire message is available as a DVD, and we’d be glad to send that to you for your donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. When you make your donation, just ask us to send Pastor Cymbala’s message on prayer.

As we’ve been sharing throughout this month, Revive Our Hearts is joining many other radio broadcasts in a special 40-day emphasis on prayer, calling God’s people to come together to seek the Lord on behalf of this nation.

I hope that you’re joining us in praying, that you’re inviting others to do the same, and that you’ll take advantage of this opportunity to share this powerful message from Pastor Cymbala with others in your sphere of influence.

Again, you can get a copy of that DVD when you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. You can call us at 1-800-569-5959, or just go online to ReviveOurHearts.com, and you can make a donation and request the DVD there.

Pastor Cymbala’s message on prayer came out of a deep life experience. I know that many of our listeners are facing the pain of praying for prodigal children. In the second part of this message, which we’ll be sharing tomorrow, Jim Cymbala shares the story of how he and his wife prayed for a long period of time until God brought a prodigal daughter home.

If you’re praying for a prodigal son or daughter or grandchild, I believe Pastor Cymbala’s story will give you new courage and boldness and faith. Again, you can hear the rest of that story on the next Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.