The church prayer meeting has fallen on hard times, for many churches going the way of sword drills and catechisms.
To paraphrase Tim Challies, more people say they want to be part of a praying church than actually commit to praying with the church.
There are many reasons for this, among which might be that prayer meetings aren’t very glamorous, refusing to accommodate themselves readily to an entertainment gospel. Imagine the anachronisms posed by juxtaposing biblical prayer with contemporary notions of church life, in the form of sermon titles:
- “Four Easy Steps to Lamentation and Penitence”
- “God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Intercession”
- “Three Personal Advantages to Forsaking Your Own Desires and Submitting to the Will of God”
or in meeting setup and presentation:
- praying for brother Jones’ illness with just the right mood lighting
- beseeching God’s grace for a troubled marriage to the soporific tones of the music minister’s acoustic guitar
- interceding for the souls of the lost from the comfort of climate-zone theater seating
Reasons for Not Praying Together
It’s much easier for us to say to someone “I’ll pray for you” than to stop and pray, then and there. In the same way, it’s much easier for us to pray alone, on our own time, and according to our own desire, than to meet at a fixed time in a fixed place with other people to pray about things that aren’t our immediate, personal concern.
I’ve heard many excuses for not praying together such as at the church’s scheduled prayer meeting, and, being sinful, myself, have used a few:
- There’s not enough teaching; teaching is the real power of the faith.
- The conditions are uncomfortable (too cold, too hot, seating is bad)
- There’s no child care
- People don’t know how to pray
- I don’t know how to pray
- Wednesday is my bowling/shopping/sleeping/hair washing night
Foundations of Corporate Prayer
In Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in our Homes, Communities, and Churches, Megan Hill takes to task everyone who has excused regular absence from prayer with other believers, including corporate prayer, though she does so in a winsome way that makes the reader not so concerned that he has been schooled.
She describes, in the first of three sections, foundations of praying together:
Prayer reflects relationship, between the believer and God and between the believers and others. Additionally, prayer reflects the relationship of the person of the trinity to one another. When believers pray together, they are jointly fellowshiping with the trinity.
God’s people have always been characterized by prayer, to the extent that Jesus refers to the temple not as a house of sacrifice, or of works, but of prayer. Additionally, the New Testament contains many commands for believers to pray at various times, for various things, for various purposes.
God has promised that prayer serves many purposes related to the believer’s — and the church’s — mission together.
Reasons for Corporate Prayer
In the second section, Hill describes the “fruits” of praying together:
Prayer is significant in the life of the church, and takes diligence and self-discipline. Jesus said “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). So prayer with others in the church demonstrates the love we have for one another. All can participate, even those who aren’t vocal but who are adding their “amen” to others’ words (1 Corinthians 14:16).
Corporate prayer reveals our mutual self-sacrifice.
Text messaging and social-media platforms make it increasingly easy to ask people to pray for us while conveniently distancing us from any obligation to pray with them. Praying together requires selflessness. In corporate prayer we surrender our personal priorities — holding our own checklist of prayer requests loosely while committing ourselves to pray for the needs of other individuals and of the group as a whole. Also, we surrender our own comfort — showing up to a certain place at a particular time among real people (65)
A key aspect of discipleship is prayer, and praying together helps us educate and train one another.
In praying together we disciple one another: we strengthen one another’s faith, testify to our experiences of God, shape one another’s repentance and desires, stir one another to thanksgiving, and encourage one another in godly habits.
Hill lists several areas of the Christian walk that are honed through corporate prayer:
Praying together directs us to focus on the world outside our own skin. This inevitably, for the believer praying with other believers, calls our attention to the need to God to do everything for us. His great love and care prompts our repentance, which stimulates our need, which prompts more repentance.
Recognizing our deficiency and God’s worth is key to revival and renewal in the church, and prayer together provides a seed-bed for this recognition.
The Practice of Praying Together
Hill concludes in the third section with practical suggestions for praying together in a church-wide prayer meeting, praying in small groups, and praying with one or two others.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Hill does not dig into the theology of prayer, but focuses on how a proper theology of prayer leads the believer to the duty and desire to pray with other believers, particularly the congregation. There are several good books on prayer that focus on doctrine and personal prayer, but Hill provides an emphasis on the corporate practice of prayer and its relevance for the health of the church.
I recommend this as an addition to your resources on prayer.