Last night, we had our first Wednesday night prayer meeting. I was so excited about it. I had not put nearly as much thought into anything else (except my sermon) as I did about that prayer meeting. It was so important to me that people “enjoy” it and not simply bear through it. There was music, a short devotion, pastoral prayer, silent prayer with promptings, small group prayer, and a closing congregational prayer. When the time came for everyone to be there, we had 7 adults show up. I have to be honest, while I was and am so thankful for the 7 who showed up, I felt like a kid who invited all his friends to a birthday party and then very few show up. We sang, studied, and prayed; overall, everything went well. Some might say that I should be thankful for the 7, and I am (I really, really am; I am not discounting them at all), especially since we had prayer meetings on Mondays and only 3-5 of us showed up. We doubled our numbers! But, in being honest, I went home asking myself: Why do people not believe in and/or prioritize corporate prayer? This is not just a question I have in regards to last night’s situation. This is a Church-wide systemic problem!
That being said, I do know that not everyone can make every prayer meeting that their church has. Sometimes there are emergencies, sicknesses in families, previous plans, birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, etc. I understand those things completely. I went to bed last night more deflated than a New England Patriots’ football when the playoffs are on the line. I woke up this morning in the same fashion.
As I wrestled through my feelings in prayer it dawned on me that so often we as pastors and churches emphasize prayer, but often in the private setting (i.e. prayer closets). At the same time, we have a lot of people who do not pray aloud because there is this self-consciousness that others are judging their prayers. Sister Betty was a 2 at best, but Brother Maxwell gave a solid 7 (because 7 is the number of perfection).
Quickly, let me say that no one has to pray aloud. Corporate prayer is not about praying so others can hear you. It is about joining together in one spirit to pray to our Father who hears us. If you are afraid of public speaking or afraid of being judged, you don’t have to pray aloud. Pray in your mind and heart. On the same note, if you are praying aloud only to hear yourself speak, do everyone (especially yourself) a favor and keep your lips zipped. Pray in your heart and mind.
As for the emphasizing of private prayer: private prayer is huge. Every Christian should be in prayer privately. But every Christian should also be in prayer corporately. The benefits of corporate prayer are astounding. I began to look up in Acts the effects of corporate prayer. Before I did though, I remember our Lord calling on Peter, James, and John to pray together. “When He reached the place, He told them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation,’” (Luke 22:40, HCSB). We of course know that these men decided to sleep rather than pray, and we know that they, in fact, fell deep into temptation. A church that does not keep up with corporate prayer is a church that cannot stay pure and undefiled. So often we quote 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray constantly,” as if Paul was writing to individuals. He wasn’t. He was writing to the church at Thessalonica.
If you took a brisk walk through Acts, you’d see that the results of corporate prayer were results that we as individuals and churches long to see. Acts 1:14 had the apostles praying together, resulting in one to take up the mantle of Judas and the fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in the salvation of thousands. In Acts 2:42 we see that they devoted themselves to praying (along with other forms of worship) resulting in wonders being performed (not here to debate cessationism/continuationism; just giving the biblical result), favor with God and their community, and even more souls saved. In Acts 4:24 they prayed together for boldness and strength and their prayers were answered. In Acts 12:5, the people prayed together for Peter. I love how this verse reads. “So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church,” (HCSB). Prison versus prayer. Iron bars and shackles are not as powerful as earnest prayer. It wasn’t that individuals prayed in their homes or offices or riding their donkeys. They purposefully came together to pray to God for him! The church was in prayer and worship (Acts 13:23) when the Spirit led them to set Paul and Barnabas aside for missions, then they prayed and fasted before laying hands on them and sending them off. Paul and Silas were in a Philippian jail, when they began to pray together. The doors were opened, and they were free, but by prayer and providence they stayed, leading their own jailer and his household to Christ.
There are other times of corporate prayer that the Bible mentions as well, but my point has been made. There is something significant about corporate prayer. It is not just something to do if we have nothing better to do. It ought not be a drudgery and it ought not be boring. Going back to Acts 12:5 for a moment: how did the church pray? They prayed earnestly. Can anything being done in earnest be boring? The very definition and thought of earnestness defies the notion of boredom. Perhaps if we are bored with prayer (corporate or private) it is because we are not earnestly (passionately, zealously) coming before the Lord, but rather casually coming before Him. John Piper wrote:
Prayer is the walkie-talkie on the battlefield of the world. It calls on God for courage (Ephesians 6:19). It calls in for troop deployment and target location (Acts 13:1-3). It calls for protection and air cover (Matthew 6:13; Luke 21:36). It calls in for firepower to blast open a way for the Word (Colossians 4:3). it calls in for the miracle of healing for the wounded soldiers (James 5:16). It calls in for supplies for the forces (Matthew 6:11; Philippians 4:6). And it calls in for needed reinforcements (Matthew 9:38). This is the place of prayer–on the battlefield of the world. It is a wartime walkie-talkie for spiritual warfare, not a domestic intercom to increase the comforts of the saints. And one of the reasons it malfunctions in the hands of so many Christian soldiers is that they have gone AWOL….
For I am more convinced than ever that this gift is no mere convenience with which we settle in more nicely to this world. Rather, God has given us prayer because Jesus has given us a mission. God’s pleasure in the prayers of his people is proportionate to his passion for world evangelization. We are on this earth to press back the forces of darkness, and we are given access to Headquarters by prayer in order to advance the cause. When we try to turn it into a civilian intercom to increase our material comforts, it malfunctions, and our faith begins to falter. (The Pleasures of God, Multnomah: 2012, pp. 214-215)
Can you imagine a radio operator on the battlefield casually calling in for an airstrike or reinforcements or a medic? There’s a zeal, a passion, an earnestness that comes in the heat of battle. However, pushing a button on an intercom is low-key and generally listless. How do we ever possibly go to God passionless? How can we describe prayer meeting as boring? How can we view it as unimportant?
In last night’s meeting my pastoral prayer included these words,
We are so obsessed with trivial things, but we want to be captivated with things eternal.
So much of little worth gets our attention.
We confess inattention to your Word.
We confess fickleness of our affections,
and our unbelief limits our trust that you, O God are
able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.
We don’t see our prayers answered with such abundance, and so we doubt.
We know our problems are greater than we can solve.
But we are afraid to go out on a limb and really cast our care on you.
What if you don’t answer as we want?
What if family relationships don’t improve–but get worse?
What if loved ones remain disinterested in spiritual things?
What if my desperate heart’s cry goes unanswered?
(Wendell C. Hawley, A Pastor Prays for His People, Tyndale: 2010, p. 83.)
Have we become so jaded by unwanted answers to prayer or unanswered prayer that we simply don’t want to pray? Let us never be disenfranchised with prayer or with the God who answers our prayers. Let us persist in prayer together with passion for our God, His Word, our church, our community, our world, our persecuted brothers and sisters. May we no longer pray passionless or disinterested prayers. Let us make prayer (private and corporate) a priority. It is not, “I have to go to prayer meeting, but I get to go to prayer meeting.” May it become the highlight of our week! “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise–dwell on these things,” (Phil 4:8, HCSB).