Before I tell you the two reasons we need corporate prayer, let me tell you why flying makes me nervous: At some point on every flight an unsettling thought will rush into my mind: I’m in a metal tube, moving hundreds of miles per hour, thousands of feet in the air. My heart begins to beat a bit faster. To make myself more worried, I’ll look out the window and think, What if that engine stopped working right now?
Like a twin-jet aircraft, the church has two primary engines: the Word of God and corporate prayer (Acts 6:4). Both matter, and we should never be comfortable carrying on without them. And yet, if we’re honest, many of our churches seem to be flying without our second engine.
While commercial jets can fly with only one engine, I’m not interested in seeing that happen while I’m on board. In fact, I bet no one wants to fly in a plane with only one working engine. No good pilot would request permission for take off with only one jet firing. So why are we comfortable in churches that rely only on the preaching of the Word and not also on corporate prayer?
Corporate Prayer in Today’s Churches
In many worship services today, prayer is little more than a perfunctory nod to the Lord between songs or after the sermon. During many small group meetings, prayer is consistently crammed to the last few moments. On many church calendars, you’ll be hard pressed to find an hour set aside for corporate prayer.
But even a cursory reading of the New Testament shows us a very different model of church life. Jesus assumes that his disciples will be people of prayer, which is why he does not give them instructions “if you pray,” but “when you pray” (Matthew 6:5).
Jesus calls his followers to persist in prayer, once telling them “a parable to the effect that they ought to pray always and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Paul makes it clear that in every gathering of believers, people should pray (1 Timothy 2:8).
God’s people are called to be a praying people.
Why does God call us to receive his Word and offer him prayer? Why should we rely on corporate prayer in our churches? Let me offer two basic, but massive reasons:
1. We pray for the sake of the church.
Everything God calls the church to do is impossible without his help. We do not have the ability to make dead sinners alive in Christ (Ephesians 2). We do not have the ability to transform believers into Christ’s image (2 Corinthians 3:18). New life and continued growth are the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore we are in a constant state of dependence, whether we recognize it or not.
I love the way Charles Bridges¹ puts this when says:
This, then, is the main source of ministerial success. Unless the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, the wilderness, notwithstanding the most diligent cultivation, must remain a wilderness still… Let all means be used in diligence, but in dependence.
In other words, do you want your church to be successful? Do you want to see your church doing great things for the glory of God and the good of people? Then you need the Holy Spirit. Otherwise nothing will happen. So work hard, with great diligence, but do so in dependence.
And how does a church cultivate a spirit of dependence? Prayer! When we pray we confess that we don’t have the wisdom, the power, or the skills to do anything of eternal value, but our Father does. When we pray we acknowledge how badly we need his help. And when we pray like that, he responds (Luke 11:13).
2. We pray for the sake of the world.
I don’t know about you, but I find the news overwhelming. Every day we witness massive problems in our world. In a fallen world there is widespread injustice, natural disasters, abuse, poverty, irreconcilable political divisions, the rise of secularism, the lie of false religions, and the thousands of people groups who still have no access to the gospel of Jesus Christ. What is a church to do in the face of such issues?
There are two things all Christians can do and all Christians must do: We must proclaim the gospel and we must pray.
I appreciate this story from John Stott, found in a 2016 article by Zach Schlengel. Stott writes:
I remember some years ago visiting a church incognito. I sat in the back row. . . . When we came to the pastoral prayer, it was led by a lay brother, because the pastor was on holiday. So he prayed that the pastor might have a good holiday. Well, that’s fine. Pastors should have good holidays. Second, he prayed for a lady member of the church who was about to give birth to a child that she might have a safe delivery, which is fine. Third, he prayed for another lady who was sick, and then it was over. That’s all there was. It took 20 seconds. I said to myself, it’s a village church with a village God. They have no interest in the world outside. There was no thinking about the poor, the oppressed, the refugees, the places of violence, world evangelization.
God calls his church to pray for this world. The Bible calls us to pray for the Kingdom of Jesus to advance as people from every tribe, tongue, and nation find salvation in him (Matthew 6:10). The Bible calls us to pray for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Timothy 2:2). It calls us to pray for the welfare of our cities as long as we call this world home (Jeremiah 29:7).
Corporate prayer can feel like a small thing, but one day we will learn of great evils stopped and great good accomplished on planet earth because God’s people prayed, and he answered.
Turn on the engine
Friend, whatever other commitments you have in your church, you are called to pray. Perhaps you’re at a church that really gets this and values prayer. Praise God! Engage this crucial ministry in any way you can.
Or perhaps you’re at a church that seems to be flying with only one engine. In all humility, ask the Lord if he would use you to turn the engine of prayer back on so your church can be more prepared to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pray on your way to church each Sunday, begin a small regular prayer meeting, humbly ask your pastor how you can help foster more prayer in your church.
Whatever you do, devote yourself to the Word of God and prayer, for the sake of the church, for the sake of the world, and for the glory of God.