My aim this morning is, first, to so persuade you from God's Word and from church history of the importance of corporate prayer that none of us will ever view the prayer meetings of our church in the same way again.
Second, my aim and my prayer is that each of us will determine to take one step forward in our participation and confidence in prayer, not just as an individual, but with other believers, gathered together with the purpose of seeing God's glory manifested here in Hellesdon and Norwich.
Why am I talking about this today? Well, as you know our prayer ministry here at MW has recently been and is still being revamped and revisited. This coincided with our arrival here at MW but was none of my doing. I believe that our Tuesday prayer meetings once a month had not been everything they could be … and I think you will have noticed some changes to the format which Gavin and Irene have led. So the reason for this 2 week series on Corporate Prayer (CP) is plain and simply to encourage you to consider attending our corporate prayer times here at MW.
Here are 2 reasons why CP is very, very important:
- Corporate prayer is on a par with preaching and teaching as a priority in a healthy church; and
- Praying together is a vital key to opening God's presence and work among His people in unique ways.
We believe better than we behave regarding prayer, don’t we? It's good to have, but not important enough to join; something we briefly tack on to a meeting before we get down to the real business. There are a growing number of believers who view prayer meetings as optional, secondary.
This morning I am on a mission: I want to convince you that God has sovereignly ordained the corporate praying of a church, so that His mighty work increases exponentially and His purposes are accelerated when we pray together. Please understand that this message is not given to minimize personal prayer. Instead, it is to show that personal prayer alone will not result in the working of God to the degree needed for spiritual transformation in our lives, our church, our cities, and our nation.
"Pretty bold statements, Cedric. You got anything to back that up?" I'm glad you asked. I want to look at five points from Scripture and world history that establish the desperate need for all who are believers to become a part of the prayer gatherings of this body. This morning we will look at various Scriptures and some world history that establish something simple, profound, and stirring:
Praying Churches are used of God to change the world.
I. Praying together was a priority for the apostles
In Acts 6, the Church in Jerusalem faced one of its first dilemmas. Here's how it happened:
In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
The word distribution is the word "diakonia," which is the root word behind our words deacon and ministry. So the emphasis in this reading is on serving people.
Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, "It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to wait on tables.
The word translated wait on or serve tables is diakonein, from the same root family as in v. 2, focusing on serving others. Back to the passage:
Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. Literally, v. 4 reads, But we to the prayer and the "diakonia" of the word will steadfastly continue.
Now, as I think I’ve said to you before, I am not a Greek scholar, but Greek is the language that the New Testament was written in, and it is important to realise that there are sometimes some nuances in Greek which don’t translate well into English, and verse 4 is one of those times:
προσκαρτερήσομεν, “will continue steadfastly,”—τῇ προσ., “the prayer”;
In the Greek there is a ‘the’ before ‘prayer’ so it should read: we will give our attention to the prayer and the ministry of the word. The majority of commentators and scholars agree that the the seems to imply not only private prayer and intercession, but the public prayer of the Church (see: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/acts/6-4.htm
Now I've always thought that this meant that the apostles delegated ministry responsibilities to others so that they would be freed up to spend time in personal prayer and receive a fresh word from the Lord to preach to the people. But that is not the point of this passage, as I've discovered as I've lived with it for the last week or so.
The apostles are not referring to the need for personal, private prayer. Instead, they are talking about the ministry of mobilizing the people of God to pray together. They were marking out the two ministries they must especially do as church leaders. Let me show you the clues that lead to this conclusion:
1) The context of this passage revolves around ministries. Verse 1 points out a problem with ministries. In v. 2, the apostles discuss what ministries they must do and the ones they must not do. In v. 3-4, they instruct that seven men be identified from among the congregation to take on this ministry. This section of Scripture is focused on ministry to people, not on personal issues.
2) The example of the apostles in Acts points to the priority praying together held for them. Every occurrence of prayer in Acts preceding Chapter 6 (1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31) pictures the apostles leading others in prayer. Not one reference points to their private prayer time; the focus is on God's people praying together.
So by testimony and by example, it is plain that the apostles placed a high premium on the people of God praying together. They considered guiding the corporate prayer life of the church just as critical a priority as the preaching/teaching of God's Word.
So, praying together was a priority for the apostles.
II. Praying together was modeled and practiced by Christ
The apostles learned their leadership patterns from the Teacher, Jesus Christ. In his book And the Place Was Shaken: How to Lead a Powerful Prayer Meeting, John Franklin says: “Ransack the Gospels for Jesus' teaching and practice of prayer, and you will identify 37 verses, sometimes repeated in more than one Gospel. Of those 37 instances in which Jesus refers to prayer, 33 of them were addressed to a plural rather than singular audience. In other words, Jesus' instruction decisively leaned toward praying with others, not just praying in private.”
So take, for example, Matt. 7:7: "Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you." We read "you" in that verse and immediately think it's singular, referring to an individual. In fact, in the Greek, it is a plural "you," meaning Jesus is urging a gathering of believers to ask, seek, and knock.
In other passages, Jesus deliberately emphasized the significance of praying together. Listen to Matt. 18:19: Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. Jesus could have said, "If anyone asks...;" instead, He deliberately chose to emphasize a group gathered for prayer. This focus of Jesus' on more than one praying indicates that there is a design of God's in such gatherings, through which He uniquely and powerfully works.
So the apostles made it a practice and a priority to teach about praying with fellow believers and to practice it because they had heard and seen Jesus emphasize the same thing.
III. Praying together in the New Testament
The Book of Acts records the mighty works of God for and through His church in its early years, and clearly connects them to unified, corporate prayer.
The 120 were gathered in an upper room praying in one accord when Pentecost comes (Acts1:13; 2:1).
The disciples prayed for wisdom in knowing who Judas' replacement should be (Acts 1:24).
When Peter and John reported the Sanhedrin's threats, those gathered cried out to God in one accord for boldness, and the place was shaken where they prayed (Acts 4:24, 31).
The church prayed over the seven men appointed to serve the widows (Acts 6:6).
After James was martyred and Peter imprisoned by Herod, the church was fervently praying, and God miraculously delivered Peter from his cell (Acts 12:1-11).
While the prophets and teachers were praying and fasting, the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas to go on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-2).
Paul and Silas were praying when God sent an earthquake that resulted in the conversion of the jailer and their release (Acts 16:25).
Again, let me say that I am not discouraging or playing down personal, private prayer. Ananias was praying alone when God instructed him to go to Saul (Acts 9:10ff.). Peter was alone on the rooftop when he had his famous vision leading him to share the Gospel with a Gentile named Cornelius (Acts 10:9ff.). Nevertheless, the majority of God's recorded workings came when His people prayed together.
IV. Corporate prayer in history
There are so many examples of how corporate prayer has changed the course of history.
Remember the miracle at Dunkirk and how, after a national day of prayer invoked by King George VI, the impossible happened. Surrounded and trapped between the Channel and German troops, the retreating Allies prepared to be slaughtered; meanwhile, Hitler commanded his Panzer tank divisions to hold off so that the Luftwaffe could have the honor of attacking the withdrawing Brits. But again, intervening weather including violent rain and wind grounded the German air force while wondrously leaving the Channel calm until the evacuation was complete. The water, uncannily smooth, allowed even small motor boats to rescue stranded soldiers. In Winston Churchill’s words, 335,000 British troops were delivered “out of the jaws of death and shame.”
In 1988, six years before democracy came to SA, in a packed St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu prophesied to the apartheid government: "You may be powerful, indeed, very powerful. But you are not God. You are ordinary mortals! God—the God whom we worship—cannot be mocked. You have already lost....We are inviting you to come and join the winning side." 2 years and many lives later, they decided to do so. When South Africa successfully and peacefully dismantled apartheid and elected Nelson Mandela as president, it was no accident that even the secular press used the word miracle to describe this breathtaking event. For behind the scenes of each careful step made by all parties, the church was on its knees or extending its arms to assist in any way.
Prayer, of course, played a huge part in the SA miracle. As Tennyson said, "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of." We saw that happen in South Africa. From April 1993, more than 1,000 groups of people became involved in a round-the-clock "Chain of Prayer." And just before the elections, nearly 30,000 people came together at the "Jesus Peace Rally" to seek the Lord and his face for our land. Astonishingly, it was in the VIP lounge of this rally where proposals were given to IFP leader Chief Buthelezi and his African National Congress rival that eventually led to Inkatha's entry to the elections. Many believe this "miracle" staved off massive civil war.
And, as we stood in queues of 1000’s of people, miles long on voting day … we knew God had heard the corporate cry of His people. Corporate prayer moves our God. We see it in Scripture, we see it in history.
V. Praying together and God's works today
In almost every quarter of the globe, Christianity is advancing...except for four primary areas: North America, Japan, Australia, and Western Europe. According to your last census, to that list we can add Norwich. According to Christianity Today, guess what one of the common denominators is everywhere Christianity marches forward? Christians spend time in prayer together. Track what God is doing in Korea, in China, in India, in Eastern Africa, and you will find behind the scenes prayer meetings.
I know what you're thinking. Our prayer meetings don't seem to convey that sort of power. And you're right. Something is missing from our prayer meetings and that something is perhaps … You.
One of my favourite Christian scholars from the last century is the Welshman David Pawson. Chris and I have had the pleasure of sitting under his ministry at a conference in Israel in 2008, just a few weeks after the start of the financial crisis. Regarding prayer, he says something quite simple yet quite profound: You learn to pray by praying.
Our next Tuesday corporate prayer meeting is in over 2 weeks’ time. To teach this and next Sunday on corporate prayer and then to have a meeting nearly 10 days after that would be very silly. I would hope that I’ve inspired you a little today; and I suspect that if you give Him the chance, our LORD will inspire you a lot more. So, for the next 17 days until our next Tuesday prayer meeting, I am going to be leading corporate prayer in the chapel every morning at 7am and 12noon, Monday to Saturday, for half an hour. You’re all invited … you may need to arrive late or leave early and that’s fine if you do it in silence; and we will pray every day into a specific international, national or local situation; we’ll have time for individual prayer needs; and you’ll join in aloud if you wish, or silently; you may come often, which I hope for, but you may only come once, you may not come at all.
We’ll do this because;
I. Praying together was a priority for the apostles
II. Praying together was modelled and practiced by Christ
III. Praying together occurs throughout the New Testament
IV. Praying together has changed history
V. Praying together works today