By Rev. William F. Hill, Jr.
Some examples offered in Scripture regarding the corporate prayer meeting are as follows: Acts 2:42; 4:24-32; 12:15-18. In Joel 1:14, there is a call to corporate prayer. Through the examples of the Bible, we have a call to plead with God, together, as His people.
Through these examples, we are taught that the people of God often prayed together for the needs of the church and the ministries of the church, particularly her worship, preaching, and growth. The focus of our corporate prayer gatherings should be on these items, particularly. While there is nothing inherently wrong with praying for the needs of the saints (sickness, illness, etc.) - and there are times when that should be done (i.e., during the pastoral prayer in worship, and private prayer), - our corporate prayer meetings should be about the corporate body and her influence in a world that needs the “salt and light” of God’s people, (Matt. 5:13-16).
My goal in this article is to teach us to pray as a corporate body of believers. That is not without precedent. In Luke 11:1, the disciples wanted to learn how to pray, and the Lord gave them a lesson on prayer. We know it as the Lord’s Prayer. While this article is by no means inspired, it is born out of many years of observation, instruction, reading, and experience. I will seek to accomplish the goal of encouraging you to come and pray together by using the “who, what, where, why, and how” formula.
First, who should come and pray? In the examples given above, the people of God – men and women, boys and girls – came to pray. The voices of whom God is pleased to hear are the voices of His redeemed people. Sadly, in our day and age, the attendance at most prayer meetings is woefully lacking. There is a gross lack of diligence in this area, and it is hurting the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. One needs to ask, “Why would the people of God not be in attendance when the body of Christ is praying together?” While there may be several symptoms, the main reason is that the heart is diseased and needs to be cured. What does it say when God’s people refuse to join with other Christians and plead with the triune God? What does it communicate? The redeemed of God have been called on to labor in prayer before a just Judge and plead together for His blessing. (Luke 18:1-8).
Second, what are we doing when we gather? We are pleading with our God, the just Judge of heaven and earth, for the needs of a corporate body of believers and their influence on a world that desperately needs the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We come as beggars to a God who stands ready and able to help us if we would only pray. We come as lawyers, to argue our case before a just Judge who will hear the cries of His children and answer wisely, (Lk. 18:7-8). We come as children to a Father who has great pity and compassion on His children, (Lk. 11:13; WSC Q100). Thus, as we come, we cry out to Him to bless our labors, to reward our efforts, to advance His Kingdom through our labors and to advance His glory and our good. Too often, we pray as though we do not believe God will respond. It is the prayer of faith that says, “To You alone, I seek my help, and to You alone do I find it.”
So, what should we be praying for in our corporate gatherings? Allow me to offer a few suggestions:
Pray for the preaching of God’s Word. It is the primary and central means of grace commanded in the Bible. It is this means that God has promised to bless. We must plead with Him to do so! The Word of God alone is a light unto the path of our lives. That comes, primarily, through the faithful and authoritative declaration of the Scriptures. Pray that the Lord would bless the labors of your pastor as he seeks to prepare a meal for you each week. The “prince of preachers,” Charles Spurgeon, credited the blessing on his preaching to the people who prayed for it to be blessed!
Pray for the Lord to bless the people as they come to hear and worship God. That is, pray for the worship of God on the Lord’s Day. Pray that we would open wide our mouths knowing that the Lord will fill them, (Ps. 81:10). Pray that our hearts would be warmed with the hymns we sing in praise to God. Pray that the Word of God read and preached would be used of the Spirit to encourage and edify and convict the people, where needed, (2 Tim 4:1-5).
Pray also for growth, numerically and, more importantly, spiritually. I am sure most of us would love to see a greater gathering of God’s people in this church. That is the Lord’s business. However, I am certain that the Lord desires hearts that “seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.” (Matt. 6:33). Pray that we, as a church, would be committed to God’s glory in all that we do, (1 Cor. 10:31, WSC Q1). Pray that the Holy Spirit would mature us until we all attain the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:13-14). Pray that we would love God more and desire to love God more, as well as our brothers and sisters and our neighbors, (Matt. 22:36-40).
Indeed, pray for more people as that will affect our community for the Kingdom of God. Pray that people would hear about the church, visit, be edified and encouraged, and remain here to help us do what we are commanded, namely, to “Go into all the world and make disciples.” (Matt. 28:18-20). Pray for conversions through the power of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the reason we do not see people coming to Christ through our labors is that we are not asking for them! Charles Spurgeon tells a story of a fellow minister who bemoaned that fact that he never saw anyone come to Christ through the preaching of the Word. Spurgeon asked him, “Do you expect to see that happen?” The man replied, “Well, I guess not.” Spurgeon quickly replied, “That is your problem.” We must pray for and expect God to convert sinners from darkness to light.
Third, where do we pray? The location of our gathering is not significant, and it is not important. Typically, we meet at the church because it is a common location for all. However, corporate prayer can happen in living rooms, dining rooms, in a park, or elsewhere. The location is not as important as the activity that occurs there.
Fourth, when do we pray? At Fellowship, an opportunity to pray is afforded to all on Wednesday evenings at 6 PM. My goal is to eventually strengthen us and mature us by the Spirit to a place where we spend more time praying than we do studying. Do you take advantage of that time of corporate prayer? Do you prioritize your week and your day to be in attendance? I know we are busy people, but if we are not busy gathering as God’s people to pray, are we demonstrating that we expect Him to do anything for us? I wonder, if you knew there would be no “study” each week, would you still come and pray with your brothers and sisters? If not, why not?
Fifth, why do we pray? We pray because we are commanded to do so. We pray because we are needy people, and our whole life depends on our Father in heaven. Every breath, every morsel of food, every blessing comes from a kind and loving God who blesses us with everything to enjoy. We pray because God uses the means of prayer to accomplish His purposes. The letter of James tells us plainly that we “have not because we ask not.” (Jas. 4:2) So, we pray because we have needs! A prayerless person is a person who is functionally telling God that He is not needed in their life. A prayerless church, corporately, is a dying church.
We must not worry about God’s secret decrees and how He determines to work out those decrees. The Scriptures teach and command us to pray. Therefore, we pray. We leave the results to God. We know that “the fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes great things” (Jas. 5:16). The issue is not a puzzle to be solved. The example of Scripture is that God hears His people, and He responds (E.g., Gen. 18:22-33).
Sixth, how do we pray? We pray both quietly where we are sitting and audibly before God and His people. We are not to allow our minds to wander off to other things. We should be intently listening to our brother or sister as they pray and pray with them for what they are asking. We should amen their prayer as one who agrees with what they are asking (as though you prayed it yourself). When we pray out loud, our prayers should be edifying and corporate. We should replace the “I” and “me” with “us” and “we.” We are praying as one body and not as an individual. (See Neh. 9 and Dan. 9). Some examples:
“We ask you, Lord, to bless the preaching of Your word in this place each week.” Or, “We seek your face this evening on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are struggling or hurting. We ask that you might help them, protect them, and guide them through this trial.” Or, “Father, bless us, Your children, and help us to love you more.”
As your pastor, allow me to encourage you to employ the A-C-T-S method of public prayer. That is adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Begin each prayer with praise for our God. Then, move to a confession of sin that could be applied to the body gathered (i.e., “We do not love you with all of our heart as you have commanded.”). Then, offer thanksgiving so that we can express our gratitude to our kind and loving God, (i.e., “We thank you for our daily bread that you generously provided for our bodies.”). Finally, offer a petition or two on behalf of the body of Christ gathered, (i.e., “We ask You, O Lord, to richly bless Your worship each Lord’s day. We pray that you would meet with us as you have promised and bless us with your presence.”).
These are merely suggestions when it comes to public prayer. If you struggle with praying in public, then pray short prayers. If you do not pray out loud, pray with the one praying as though you alone are praying the prayer. When I was in seminary, I struggled greatly to pray out loud. I was encouraged to try by my pastor, and I am now encouraging you to try. Keep it simple as you begin and watch the Holy Spirit grow you in this area. It is not the length of the prayer or the eloquence of the prayer that moves the heart of God. It is the heart of the one praying that attracts His attention – and God is mostly attracted when His people gather as His people, as one body, to pray.
As we learn to pray corporately, from the heart, expect the Lord to hear the cries of His children and answer us faithfully. He loves His people, and He desires His people to cry out to Him for every need. As a church, we never lack in needs, but we have a Father in heaven who will hear us and stands ready to help us if we would only bow before Him, as His people, and ask of Him all that we need. As we ask, we should watch and see God’s answers to us to the praise of His glorious grace!