The Place Of Prayer
By Dave Butts
Where is the proper place of prayer? Our immediate and often flippant answer would be, "Why, anywhere can be a place of prayer!" This response is accurate in one sense. Because we are believers in Jesus and the Holy Spirit has come to dwell within us, everyplace we go can and should be a place of prayer. The truthfulness of that response, however, does not negate the fact that there are often places of prayer that become particularly meaningful to people of prayer.
A large part of our problem is the lack of a theology of "place". Now relax – just because I used the word theology doesn’t mean that this is complicated or hard to understand. A theology of place simply means the way we view buildings or land or rooms as special areas where we meet with God or that might have a stronger sense of God’s presence than other areas. During the past few centuries we have systematically relegated the theology of place to antiquated, dead traditionalism.
A bit of that process has been healthy. We don’t have a building called the Temple where God dwells. We believe (rightly so) that wherever we go as believers is holy ground because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. If Christians believe that we are to live out our holiness only in certain places, then we need to react against that error with biblical truth.
In attempting to make right years of sanctifying buildings but not people, we have perhaps been guilty of what we call "throwing the baby out with the bath water." In correcting excess, we have failed to understand that the Bible teaches a theology of place. As you study God’s Word you find certain places that become holy, at least for a period of time, because of the activity of God in that place.
Certainly the Old Testament has a great many holy places. From the Garden of Eden to the Temple, there were distinct areas that were set apart for meeting with God. The earliest phrase to describe the Tabernacle of Moses was the "Tent of Meeting" where God met with Israel. Moses understood holy places, having been instructed by the Lord to take off his shoes in one encounter because the place of meeting was holy.
Jacob encountered God in a nighttime wrestling match and the next morning built an altar to mark the place as special. Altars were often used to mark places where God showed up in a special way. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and David were among the many leaders of God’s people who set up altars to mark special places of Divine encounters.
Special places of prayer continue on into the New Testament as well. Jesus had a special place on the Mount of Olives where He regularly went for times alone with His Father. The early church in Jerusalem continued the Jewish custom of gathering at the Temple for special times of prayer (Acts 3:1). Luke records that Paul, while in Philippi, "went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer" (Acts 16:13).
There are still special places today where God’s people meet Him in prayer. Certainly there ought to be a sense of the holy in the rooms where the Church assembles in worship. In churches where prayer permeates the worship service, there is often a sense of an "open heaven", a "thinning" of the barrier that separates us from God. Such places are holy to those who seek Him and who are looking for places of prayer.
Many Christians today who are seeking to bring about societal transformation often take prayer journeys or prayer walks in places of spiritual, political or historical significance. An example might be going to a historical site where a great massacre occurred to pray about issues of healing between groups or races. Prayers offered in such places often seem to be more focused and purposeful.
Prayer rooms are springing up around the globe, many of them open for 24/7 prayer. As Christians learn the great value of day and night prayer, these places are becoming powerhouses for transformation. Some are located in church buildings, while others may be in storefronts, warehouses, or tents. The location or type of structure is not as important as the fact that it has been set aside and sanctified in a sense, as a place where God’s people meet with Him.
Many believers will set aside a special corner of their home as a distinctive place of prayer. It can be a chair in a quiet place, a closet or small room, or space underneath a stairwell. Leaving a Bible, prayer journal, and other devotional material in that place will make it a convenient and personally satisfying spot for intimacy with the Lord in prayer.
For many centuries, believers have often sought the solitude of the desert or forest for extraordinary times of prayer. In the first few centuries of our faith, they were inspiring examples of withdrawing to quiet places for the purpose of drawing near to God. Today, many Christians go to retreat centers and other peaceful places to enjoy a time of uninterrupted prayer.
Christians around the world often struggle to maintain consistent, powerful times of personal prayer. Having a special place of prayer can be a tremendous aid in developing that consistency. Of course, God can and will meet us anywhere. Where has the Father been meeting you lately? Why not go back to that place and make it your regular place of prayer?