Secrets for a Powerful Prayer Life: Preparing a Place
May 9, 2018
God loves us and wants to have a personal relationship with us. That is the heart of the Gospel!
Almost every Christian I've met would agree this is true. Yet most would admit it is often difficult to hear God personally in their prayer lives. Many would also express a desire for God to be more present in their everyday experience, in the normal 9-5 busyness of life.
Today I want to share an important Biblical principle that has blessed my prayer life beyond measure: preparing a place for God.
Preparing a place for God means intentionally creating spaces in our hearts, minds, daily rhythms, and physical spaces in which we welcome God's presence and intervention wholeheartedly.
King David Made a Place for God
You might ask, "the truth of scripture is that God is always with us -- so why do we have to prepare a place for Him?"
The most powerful explanation I can give you is found in the story of the people of Israel. Israel was God's chosen people--God faithfully went before them and established a land for them, then protected them from harm. Yet they constantly acted in ways that defied God's intentions and heart. Even though God never stopped loving them, and was with them the whole time, they ignored Him. He was with them, but He really had no place among them, in their everyday life, worship, and experience.
This is acknowledged powerfully in 1 Chronicles 15 by King David. When David became King, one of his first orders of business was to bring the Ark of God back into Jerusalem. The Ark was the physical manifestation of God's presence for His people before the construction of the temple. It was the very embodiment of the God who had been so faithful to them! Yet the ark was shamefully neglected. In the time of Saul, the ark was actually kept in the house of a foreigner!
David started off his reign by admitting that they had failed: "Let us bring the ark of our God back to us, for we did not inquire of it during the reign of Saul.” The translation notes mention that the expression could literally be, "for we neglected HIM during the reign of Saul!"
David's heart was for the presence of God to be back in the lives of His people. Yet because they had neglected the ark for so long, there was nowhere to bring it to in the city of Jersualem. So, before they moved the ark, David prepared a place for the presence of God. "David also prepared a place for the Ark of God and set up a special tent for it." (1 Chronicles 15:1).
David intentionally created a special, beautiful, worshipful space for God to dwell among them. He created room in a nation that previously had no room for God's presence, physically or spiritually. It was his way of saying, "God, we welcome you; we want you; we acknowledge that you are our God."
Preparing a Place for God
On this side of the cross, we still have the special privilege of preparing a place for God. God will love us and never leave us--but that doesn't mean He automatically feels near. If we truly desire intimacy with God, we don't have to check off a list of things to do--all we really have to do is intentionally let God know He is welcome in us, through us, and around us every single day of our lives.
Preparing a place may mean that we wake up and surrender our days, our schedules, and our plans to God's intervention. Preparing a place may mean we schedule even just 10-15 minutes of time to pray and listen for Him, then guard that space like we would a meeting with a colleague or a date with a husband or wife. Preparing a place may mean we intentionally rid ourselves of specific sins or distractions, because we know it displeases the Holy Spirit. Preparing a place means we may choose to listen to worship music rather than a secular song. Preparing a place may mean we pray and symbolically anoint our house, dorm room, or apartment, letting God know we earnestly desire His presence to overflow in that space. Preparing a place may mean we choose to pray for the person standing in front of us rather than stare at our iphones while waiting in a line.
Most people walk around with a pervasive sense of guilt about their prayer life. We grow discouraged because we believe we don't have the time, energy, or space it takes to maintain one. This can lead to a vicious cycle: we miss our prayer time one day, and promise to spend double the amount of time in prayer the next day. The next day we miss our prayer time, and we feel terrible. We are acutely aware that we are "failing" on the most important thing we are supposed to maintain.
This sense of guilt is exactly what our spiritual enemy wants. The truth is that spiritual perfectionism is unrealistic and won't get us anywhere. Don't wait to give God an hour tomorrow when you can give him five minutes right now.Take every single spare minute, corner, and cranny of your life and find ways to intentionally welcome God into them. Prepare spaces for God!
God Created Space FIRST!
The most surprising part of David's story is this: when he asked God if he could build a temple for Him, to prepare a better place for His presence, God said, "no!" Reading this, I was always shocked. Why would God not want David to build him a temple?
The answer is a beautiful and profound reminder of the depth of God's love and grace for us. God didn't want David to prepare a new place for Him, because God wanted to prepare a place for David first.
"I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have destroyed all your enemies before your eyes. Now...I will provide a homeland for my people Israel, planting them in a secure place where they will never be disturbed. Evil nations won’t oppress them as they’ve done in the past, starting from the time I appointed judges to rule my people Israel. And I will defeat all your enemies.“
‘Furthermore, I declare that the Lord will build a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and join your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, one of your sons, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for me. And I will secure his throne forever."
God wanted to secure a place for His people before they could make a place for Him. He wanted to prepare a place by freeing them from oppression, creating peace, and establishing their hope forever. God's words were fulfilled when David's son Solomon built God's physical house--the temple. Yet God's words were also fulfilled through David's distant descendent, Jesus. Jesus "built God's house" by becoming the cornerstone upon which the Kingdom would be built.
In other words, the beautiful truth is that we prepare places and spaces for God because He first prepared a place for us through Jesus. Our intentionality is all a response, an utterance of gratitude, to the one who intentionally saved us first. And as his followers, we have this promise to hold onto directly from our Savior's own lips:
"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." -John 14:3
The Power of Preparing a Place in Application
God dealt with me recently about a purity issue in my life. I've always been a huge fan of tv. I love watching dramas with engaging characters and heart-bending plots. I had been convicted about tv in two ways: quality and quantity. I knew that some of the content I watched probably did not please the Holy Spirit. And I knew that I probably watched tv when I could be doing something better. So reluctantly, I engaged on a long fast from watching tv.
At the end of the fast, I felt more empowered to say "no" to tv shows of poor quality and to manage quantity too. One day, I thought I would check out a new show. I watched three episodes of it, and had to admit that it probably had the kind of content I had been trying to cut out. "Are you going to keep watching it?" my husband Judd asked me. "I'm not sure," I said, feeling guilty. I knew I probably should, but I didn't really want to.
The next day in prayer, I prayed about watching the show. God replied to me first by reassuring me that He loved me just the same whether I kept watching or not. That gave me an awesome sense of peace and freedom. Then, He challenged me with this surprising question:
"Does watching this show create a space in your heart where the Holy Spirit likes to hang out?"
God was challenging me with the exact principle I base my prayer life off of: the importance of preparing a place for God. Understanding the issue in those terms gave me the power to say "no," to that show--not because of legalism or because all tv is bad, but simply because I want to make myself as available and welcoming to the Holy Spirit as I can, at all times, and in all ways.
"Don't you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?"
-1 Corinthians 3:16
Today I challenge you as God challenged me: how can you prepare spaces for God, both spiritually and physically? Does the Holy Spirit know that He is welcome to hang out in YOU? Is your heart a place that is peaceful for Him to dwell?