God’s people are called to prayer. Prayer is a command and not optional. Pray without ceasing, Paul wrote. Jesus said men ought to pray and not faint. Prayer is to be offered both on a private, personal level and also corporately as a church, fellowship or small group. In our previous lesson, we considered private prayer. Today, we will look at corporate prayer.
Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is by God required of all men; and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, by the help of His Spirit, according to His will, with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and, if vocal, in a known tongue. (WCF 21.3)
Now, observing the manner many churches conduct their prayer meetings, three questions comes to my mind: i) What is the foundation by which these churches pray the manner they pray, ii) Is it Biblical and iii) Does the Bible have anything to say how we must pray corporately? As we read the Bible we will or must come to an appreciation of prayer in the lives of God’s people. In both Testaments, prayer was pivotal. In Exodus 2:23-24, the Israelites, under the weight of oppression in Egypt called on God in prayer and God heard them. Whenever God’s people have prayed, God heard them (Luke 18:7). The Jews, faced with the threat of extermination, cried to God and He heard them (Esther 4). At the back of the three questions posed earlier, I will attempt discussing three points relevant to corporate or public prayer:
Prayer Must Be Biblical (According To God’s Will)
Does the Bible give any pattern for corporate prayer? Yes and we see examples of this in the book of Acts. Many church prayer meetings are self-centered, narcissist, God bless me, promote me, give me a breakthrough prayer. Anything wrong with asking God’s blessings? No! But our motive is important: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions”. (James 4:3).
How then can this be addressed?
Pray the Bible. The Psalms for example contain prayers we can glean from. On the cross, Jesus’ cry to the Father was a Psalm. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Psalm 22:1, Mark 15:34). When faced with threat, the apostles prayed a Psalm (Acts 4:23-31). If we are to pray according to God’s will, then we must pray God’s word because God’s word is God’s will. Consider Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians: “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of v his great might” ( Eph.1:16-19).
Another great example and pattern of prayer will be the Lord’s prayer (Matt 6:9-13, Lk. 11:2-4). If we are going to be any effective as a fellowship, we have to be biblical in our prayers.
Prayer Must Be Orderly
Indeed, every aspect of Christian worship, not only prayer, must be orderly. We see this clearly stated in Paul’s first epistle to the church in Corinth. This was a church bedevilled with many problems including spiritual pride manifesting as competition over spiritual gifts leading to discord –everyone doing what they want.
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1Cor 14:26-33).
Many church prayer meetings are disorderly with everyone to God at the same time. Do we do that in the natural world? When siblings appear before their earthly father, do they all speak at the same time? When we gather as a fellowship there must be orderliness in our prayer. At every point, our petitions, thanksgiving, confessions must be brought to God in what the book of Acts describes as “one accord”: (Acts 1:14). In Acts 4:23-31, we see another example of how orderly prayer must be; with one person praying and all in agreement. When Peter and John were commanded not to preach in the name of Jesus again, “When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices p together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit…”
The aformentioned prayer progresses into v.30. But take note of v.24 carefully: “they lifted up their voices together”. In the plain reading of the text, do you think all of them prayed or said the same words that followed? The plain sense is that, one person; a prayer leader, probably Peter, who was the leader of the disciples would have prayed with all the brethren in agreement. See Jesus’ prayer in John 17? He prayed for all of them. In a congregation or group, people must take turns to pray about prayer points.
Prayer Must Be Reverential
Church prayer meetings these days are nothing but unbiblical, disorderly, irreverent babbling. Stomping, clapping, shouting, and all kinds of gimmicks has become characteristics of prayer meetings. With all the shouting and jumping around that characterises many prayer meetings; Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal will add to this discussion: “…they limped around the altar that they had made…cried aloud… they raved on”(1Kings 18:26-29). If you read the full story, many churches will be guilty of “heap[ing] up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matt. 6:7).
Will we, in our interaction with our earthly fathers or elders or even among peers communicate the way we communicate with God in prayer—screaming, shouting, clapping and stomping? When siblings meet to speak with their parents, is it not required that we show respect? What happened to reverence?
The next time you enter a church prayer meeting, be sure what is going on there is biblical, orderly and reverential.