Pray with Other People
We have lost the art of corporate prayer, which is a shame because corporate prayer is particularly blessed by our God.
The Problem with Corporate Prayer
At the root of the problem is that when we are engaged in corporate prayer—whether at the First Wednesday prayer meeting, or at one of our Home Fellowship Groups, or in Sunday worship—it is often the case that I’m not the one praying, and when we’re not praying, we lose interest. This is someone else’s prayer. It’s not really mine.
That’s the first idea that’s gotta go. When we are praying together we are praying with one another. One of us may be speaking and the others may be silent, but this is our prayer. Praying with other people means humbly allowing other people to pray on your behalf, to pray in your place. It means allowing them to intercede for you in the act of praying. When you are gathered, their prayer is your prayer–you are doing this thing together. My duty, then, is to hear, acknowledge, receive, and add my amen (not necessarily literally) to that which is being said.
Prayer Isn’t Just Private
Surely, though, private prayer is more important that corporate prayer? Surely I’m “closer” to God when it’s just me pouring out my heart?
Private and personal prayer is of course important and necessary. Jesus tells us that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” for unseen and personal deeds of piety, and so he instructs us to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is secret” (Matt. 6:6). However, religion is not a merely private affair, though sometimes we like to think it is. Jesus wants us to pray with and for one-another. It is therefore no accident that when he provides for us a model prayer, it begins with the words “our Father.” Our Father. The prayer assumes it is being prayed by a crowd.
What is more, Jesus elsewhere reminds us that this kind of prayer is particularly blessed. “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19-20). Thus the early church gathered together for prayer, putting into practice Jesus’ encouragement to do these things as a body, and not just in the privacy of our own homes (Acts 2:42).
The Power of Corporate Prayer
Why is corporate prayer so important? What effect does it have? Is it more powerful than private prayers?
When we say that corporate prayer is particularly blessed, we don’t mean that it is somehow “more powerful.” It’s not that corporate prayer is “louder” and so God is more likely to hear it, nor is there some kind of special magic in it. God is present with us in private prayers, and our private prayers are heard by God and answered by him in accordance with his will.Nevertheless, corporate prayers have a number of effects that private prayers, by their very nature, do not. It’s similar to music. There is beauty in the solo, the sonata, the aria; but there is a different kind of beauty in the choir or the orchestra. They provide a form of expression not available to the individual (and, of course, the lone violist can accomplish things that an orchestra cannot—there is a beauty appropriate to each).
So what are some of the advantages of corporate prayer? Here is an incomplete list to prime our thoughts (and I would delight to hear some of your answers as well).
- Corporate prayer intensifies our petitions, our praises, our confession—all of our prayers. They add a weightiness to it. There is great mystery here, but what we can say for sure is that God is delighted with us when we function as a body, when we are of one mind, and when we approach him together.
- Corporate prayer supplements our weaknesses. We all have different perspectives, concerns, and gifts. For example, some of us are able to remember everything that’s going on, and others are more forgetful. Some of us understand what a certain experience is like and can therefore more effectively intercede for a person going through it, while others have never had that experience and don’t know how to pray. When we pray as a group we are able to limit the effect of our weaknesses and pool our strengths. We are greater together that we are individually.
- Corporate prayer both demonstrates our need for one another—our interdependence—and simultaneously fills that need. We are told time and again in Scripture that we need one another, that we can’t do this alone. Remember that Jesus himself asks for his disciples to pray with him (Matt. 26:36-46)! Corporate pray is both a humble recognition of that and also a fulfillment of the call to serve one another.Corporate prayer furthers our fellowship. Praying for someone binds you together—it makes you more a part of their lives and engages you in a common cause. Praying with someone does all of that even more powerfully. Don’t just pray for other people—particularly other people you care about and want to cultivate a friendship with—pray with
- Corporate prayer creates and expresses our unity. We are one people Paul says, and when we pray we demonstrate that unity. What is more, we cultivate it. By His Spirit God binds us together in the act of praying.
Pray with other People
So commit to praying with other people. Corporate prayers don’t have to be long affairs. Pray short prayers. Pray with your spouse and children. With your Sunday School students. With the person next to you in the pew. Make every effort not to zone out during the pastoral prayer on Sunday, but rather add your (silent or audible) amen. Join us on First Wednesdays for our prayer meeting—your presence adds to the blessedness of that time. For in all of this we approach God as “Our Father,” and he hears his people.