And as He taught them, He said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’  But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'” 

Mark 11:17

In Isaiah 56, we see a reference to God’s house being a house of prayer:

“And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve Him, to love the name of the Lord and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to My covenant–these I will bring to My holy mountain and give them joy in My house of prayer.  Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Isaiah 56:6-8 (emphasis ours)

What does it mean to be a house of prayer?  And where is it?

House is defined “in Scripture, [as] those who dwell in a house and compose a family; a household.” Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (ADEL), 1828, the word: house. It is also “the body; the residence of the soul in this world.” Id. It includes “the manner of living”, “a family of ancestors”, or even “one of the estates of a kingdom”. Id. In a basic sense, it embodies a structure where habitation and dwelling is intended, as your soul resides in your body, families in homes, homes in regions and so on. 

For all intent purposes, the definition of house also speaks largely to a way of life more than it does to an actual structure.  You dwell with those you love, and maybe not so love, on a regular basis.  It was where you return to for the purpose of being together as unit.  It is not something that you temporarily visit or pass through.  Is it possible that this is where the temple started to go wrong?  People attending to God as if He was something to plug into for a momentary passing, but with no real intention of “living” with Him as a part of their everyday lives. They saw the temple as something to visit outside of their lives, instead of realizing they are a house that God dwells in.

Let us go a little bit further and look at what prayer means, as God wants His house to be a house of prayer.  “In a general sense, the act of asking for a favor, and particularly with earnestness.” Id. It can involve worship and be in either written or oral, private or public.  Id.  Searching further, to pray means to “ask for a favor…to supplicate, to entreat, to urge.”  Id., pray In each definition, we see that it involves asking, but what exactly does that mean?  To ask is to “request, to seek to obtain by words, to petition.”  Id., ask.  It can also mean to “interrogate or inquire”, much like Job did as he underwent his trials.  It can even be an invitation to another.  Id. For all intent purposes, in His house, prayer is fundamental and of great importance.

Prayers are how things get done.

FBF’s outreaches rely upon prayers. We have learned to trust God to move hearts to bring what is needed to accomplish what He asks. As a result, we do not fund-raise or solicit donations. We have no corporate sponsorship nor do we utilize state and federal grants. There are no paid positions; just opportunities to be a part of what God has us doing. Over 15 years, God has repeatedly moved hearts to help and continues to bring whatever is needed in an amazing assortment of ways.

We often pray for things like open doors to those who might be in need and to close doors when we are unsure. We pray to encourage and grow a serving heart in those we encounter. We ask for inspiration, including how to do things better, as well as to bring efficiency and excellence with all of the hands involved.  We pray earnestly for eyes that see, ears that hear, and minds willing to understand what He needs us to know. We plead for hearts to be softened wherever and whenever they might be too hard.  We believe that He answers prayers as He sees best fit and in His perfect timing, and understand that it is truly breathtaking to be a part of His response to a world full of challenges and needs. 

“…for My house will be called a house of prayer.”  Isaiah 56:7

It is with a firm belief that prayer is essential in building and strengthening faith that we take seriously His call to be a house of prayer. It is what God desires–for us to dwell with Him and seek His instruction, His understanding, His forgiveness, His favor,  His discipline, His hope, His provision, and His peace.  A life led lived in these ways is His house, a place where He abides…

Going deeper to build a better house, not a den.

Now, let us look at a “den of robbers”.  There must be a reason Jesus is comparing the two.  He is quoting a Scripture found in Jeremiah 7 in stark contrast to God’s house, a house of prayer.

“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this house which bears My Name, and say, ‘We are safe’–safe to do all these detestable things?  Has this house, which bears My Name, become a den of robbers to you?  But I have been watching!’, declares the Lord.” 

Jeremiah 7:9-11

God had some really painful things to say to those visiting the temple back in Jeremiah’s day.  And understand, in Mark, Jesus is repeating them to those who lived hundreds of years later. It still exists with us today. People were busy engaging in all sorts of behaviors that were contrary to the life God had instructed them to live.  They knew the rules, but chose not to obey them. Instead, they were willingly sinning and then running to the temple to make superficial amends for their wrong doings. How do we know they were doing wrong? Because God listed a series of offenses they were committing and shared that they stood in His temple, the one bearing His Name, claiming to be safe. They had no intention of true repentance; they just wanted to use God to rid themselves of their guilt from wrongdoing. Why did they feel entitled to do so? Their tithes and sacrifices.

Let us not be a den of robbers.

Interestingly, when we look at the word, den, we find a much different meaning than house.  A den is “a cave or a hollow used for concealment, shelter, protection or security.”  ADEL, den.  It is not so much a dwelling as in the sense of house, but more in the sense of escape.  In Mark 11:17, Jesus specifically points out that those in the courts, along with the merchants, were treating His “sacred” place more like a “den of robbers.”  A place where they could conceal their sins and be free from the consequences. They misused repentance and then demanded protection from God, rather than offering sincere repentance and a commitment to change their ways.  They tried to conceal and cover their wrongs with the presumption that what they gave through their tithes and offerings guaranteed them the safety of God. However, their failure to follow God’s instruction about tithes, sacrifices and offerings (and the heart intent that needs to go with them) implied that they were not concerned about their actions nor their relationship with Him.

Now you might ask, how can we be robbers of God?

According to Webster, “in a looser sense, [a robber is] one who takes goods or money from another that to which he has no right; one who steals, plunders or strips by violence and wrongs.”  ADEL, robber. (emphasis ours).  Giving is not what makes us right with God; it is the by-product of knowing God, loving Him and expressing love towards others.  Those people who were standing in His temple after doing wrong, with little acknowledgment of their waywardness, were demanding protection and forgiveness from God. Hence, they were forcibly taking something they had no right to. They were not interested in changing their ways; their were just trying to escape consequences. Hence, they were robbing God. Please understand repentance and forgiveness go together.

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, but seven times comes back to you and says, “I repent,” forgive him.

Luke 17:3-4

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent.

Acts 17:30

The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.

Ezekiel 18:31

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

2 Corinthians 7:10

If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be My spokesman.

Jeremiah 15:19

Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

Romans 2:4

The state of hearts and the motivations of their actions and inaction matter the most to God. Why we do what we do within the structure of our lives impacts His house, and our intent demonstrates whether we are being a house of prayer or a den of robbers.

Testing God in the right way

Will a man rob God?  Yet you rob Me.”

But you ask, “How do we rob You?

“In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse–the whole nation of you–because you are robbing Me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house.  Test Me in this,” declares the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have enough room for it.” 

Malachi 3:8-10 (emphasis ours)

God gave this instruction to His people not because they were not giving, but because they were not trusting in Him to give the whole amount of their tithe or offering.  Whole is defined as “all; total; containing the total amount or number; or the entire thing.”  Id. It means not only complete, but also “not defective or imperfect; unimpaired; unbroken; uninjured; sound; not hurt or sick.”  Id. There are so many ways to short change God when we give to Him, or when we give to others as His word instructs us to do. Frequently, we do so by not giving the whole of what we are offering. And sometimes we convince ourselves that we have given Him more when really we are giving Him less.

How does this apply in the here and now?

With a donation that can be written off on taxes, the donor receives a receipt that they can submit to show the government that they have donated to an organization recognized as a charity, church or other tax-exempt entity.  In return for this receipt, as their taxes are calculated, they will then receive a benefit in the form of a reduction of their tax liability to the government. 

Again, we stress that we do not have a problem with people seeking receipts from those charities that they give to.  But we will point out that when your motivation to give stems from the desire or “necessity” of receiving a tax deduction receipt, your gift becomes compromised.  Your action becomes dependent on what you get and it is no longer about giving. It becomes more of an exchange.

1. To bestow; to confer; to pass or transfer the title or the property of a thing to another person without an equivalent or compensation.

20. To resign; to yield up…

To give away, to alienate the title or property of a thing; to make over to another; to transfer.

Id., the word “Give” (emphasis ours)

God points out that part of the purpose in giving all of whatever you are giving relates directly to trusting Him to surrender the whole thing believing that He will continue to provide for you. Trust develops when you believe that you are not losing anything as you give.

“Test Me in this…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have enough room for it.” 

Malachi 3:10

While we do not believe in the “prosperity doctrine” espoused by some (that you will receive back ten fold of what you give), we know with all certainty that God promises to bless us when we trust more fully in this regard. In sharing, we must not loose sight of the idea that the motivation behind our gifts impact whether we are truly giving. Are we giving to help them, or is it compromised by the desire for our own gain?

Setting up our own rewards.

While your donation may have gone to the charity, a portion of your kindness returns back to you each April through a tax credit from our government for doing something good for another.  As a result, with that receipt in hand, you retain a portion of your gift.  Is that not why we keep tax receipts?  They are the “proof” that we need to receive the deduction benefit when we file our taxes.

Moreover, let us say that you re-invest what was returned to you (via what you were refunded on your taxes) to the benefit of another, there is still a problem. As you continue to invest and transfer it, the cycle begins again, with you retaining a portion of control.  In Scripture, that is a big deal to God.  Letting go and releasing something is a part of learning to trust Him more fully.  It is why He called them out for withholding a portion of what they should have been giving. Retention indicates that we think we know better, and is not about trusting faith. In faith, He asks of us to put down our deep-rooted need to control what we deem as ours. In many cases, trust removes the need to see and feel a tangible connection to what happens with our gifts and how they bless another. 

It is here, in this stretching to trust God more fully, that we believe that we must stay true to FBF’s goal to help faith grow.  It is why we have chosen to trust God in prayer to bring what is needed for our outreaches, rather than to become a 501c3 charitable organization that relies on those seeking a return on a portion of their giving through their taxes. We would rather grow faith than grow bigger tax returns .

Is not my home right with God? Has He not made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part. Will He not bring to fruition my salvation and grant me my every desire?

2 Samuel 23:5
A giant pile of hand-made and God-filled Easter baskets wrapped in cellophane and tied shut with pretty ribbon.