What keeps us from Corporate Prayer? (Various Scriptures)

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

–  Hebrews 10:24-25

The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if he be not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be slothfulness in prayer.”[1]

If true, and I believe they are, these words spoken by Charles Spurgeon are a powerful indictment against many churches in North America and Europe.  And they would also serve to explain why so many churches are closing their doors, impotent in their witness and unable to affect any transformation in their communities.  You see, prayer is almost entirely gone from the weekly schedule of most churches.  Sure, there are some times of prayer at the opening and closing of our gatherings.  And there is the a pastoral prayer on Sunday where one man prays for everyone else, and that is how most people see it.  He is praying for me, instead of we are praying together.  That is one of the reasons why our corporate prayer time is interactive, it allows all of us to participate in the process, though my hope for our body would be that over time even the interaction would be replaced by actual prayers that each of you pray and which others echo, affirm, expand and springboard from instead of putting out your requests expecting me to tie them with a nice bow and pretty words.

 

But aside from that, it is rare to hear of a church holding a prayer meeting any longer, and even rarer to hear of a church with a regular monthly or weekly prayer meeting, particularly one that a majority of the congregation attends.  Most church prayer meetings consist of half a dozen or less folks.  And what is even more heartbreaking for the church of North America is that most Christians don’t even know someone who regularly attends a prayer meeting.  So not only has corporate prayer been lost, but it is also in danger of extinction since the typical Christian in the pew doesn’t even know someone who has experienced the transformative power of corporate prayer.

 

When we look at the corporate body of Christ in the Western World, we seem to be suffering from prayerlessness.  Why might that be?  Why is the church of the west so bereft of prayer?  Today, I hope to cover 7 reasons why corporate prayer might be missing from our churches.  Next week I hope to look through the book of acts at the power of prayer and the week after that to give us a some of the nuts and bolts of how we as Christians can engage in a more meaningful corporate prayer life.

 

So why is the church of North America missing a vibrant life of corporate prayer? Might it be that we are an arrogant people?  Does our failure to pray together betray a deeply held belief among men and women that we can do it on our own?  Have we bought into the Marlboro man ideal of rugged individualism?  Yes, women, you too can exhibit all the characteristics of the Marlboro man in your corporate prayer life too – alone, independent, strong, and rugged.  But that isn’t what the Scripture says.  We aren’t alone, independent Christians, [we] are the body of Christ, and each one of [us] is a part of it (1Cor 12:27). We need each other.

 

A second reason we don’t pray together is our great national struggle with pride.  Pride and arrogance are similar, but I am using arrogance to refer to the attitude that says, “I can do it on my own,” and pride to refer to the twin beliefs, “I don’t care about your perspective” and “I don’t want others to known what’s in my heart.”  One of the reasons many churches fail to have vibrant prayer ministries that gather a significant portion of the body into corporate prayer is that we just don’t care about what God has laid on the hearts of one another.  And isn’t that really a form of pride.  But a second reason corporate prayer gatherings have floundered in the last century is that we don’t want others to know what is really on our hearts.  Maybe that is because our desires, our motivations, our hopes and dreams don’t aspire much beyond the temporal comforts of life and we are too proud to let our sins be known to others. As one author wrote, “Proud people don’t pray. In fact, the only people who pray are those who need God, know they need God, and can’t go on without God.”  Corporate prayer will never grow in the western church until a majority of people in the Church are willing to be humbled and share what is truly on their hearts in order for those hearts to be transformed.  Speaking of pride, the Proverbs declare: Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov 16:18).  Might it be that the weakness of the Church in North America and Europe is rooted in a form of pride that has affected our dependence upon God in prayer and our connections to one another?

 

A third possible reason we don’t pray together is fear.  We are afraid that our prayers aren’t good enough, articulate enough or fancy enough, and so we have bought into the argument of a professional clergy who pray for us whenever we gather in a group.  Really, what’s to fear?  Does God hear us based upon our great words and fine sounding lines?  Does God hear us because we have it all worked out in wonderful prose?  Does God hear us because we can rhyme?  Certainly not, in fact, quite the opposite, God despises those who pray more for sounding good than from the depths of their heart.  A simple prayer from a tax collector, God have mercy on me, a sinner (Luke 18:13) is a powerful and effective in the ears of the Almighty.

 

A fourth reason why many don’t pray together is because they don’t believe that prayer is effective.  They have either bought into the idea that God is distant and uninvolved in this world – that is Deism – or, they have bought into the idea that everything is firmly established by God’s divine rule and so prayer is pointless and doesn’t change anything – that is Fatalism.  Both perspectives are summed up by Job as he describes the life of the wicked: (Job 21:14-15) Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’  Did you catch that? It is the wicked that view prayer as ineffective.  But if we are in Christ, as Christians who believe the Scriptures, we know that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16).  The question is do we believe it?  Are we willing to gather together corporately and pray to our God?

 

A fifth reason the church doesn’t have much of a corporate prayer life is because we have lost a sense of our corporate responsibility for sin, repentance and even welfare.  (And I am not talking about food stamps, etc. but about the common concern we must share for the health of the church and the nation.) But even a cursory perusal through the Scriptures reveals men like Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah who all call the people to national repentance.  Each confessing their sin and the sin of the nation.  They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers (Neh 9:2).  In fact, in that particular story of national repentance and confession, the people of God stand for ¼ of the day listening to the Word of God being read and they spend another ¼ of the day in confession and worship.  That is 12 hours in corporate prayer and worship that was informed by the Word of God. Or how about the account of Ezra calling a corporate fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions…So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer (Ezra 8:21, 23).

 

Did you know that this lack of corporate responsibility wasn’t always so.  In the 1640’s the British Parliament instituted a monthly day of fasting and prayer for all her subjects from the conviction that

…we are likely to be blessed by the providence of God, bringing good out of evill, with twelve Nationall, solemne, publike Fasts every yeare, which (if rightly kept) will be as the twelve Gates of the New Jerusalem, spoken of, Revel. 21.  Every Fast will be as a Gate to let us in, into a part of the New Jerusalem of Mercy, and happiness promised to the people of God, here upon earth.[2]

Imagine gathering the nation once per month to fast and pray for God’s guidance and intervention and his exaltation.  What would the world be like if 50 million Christians in America gathered every month to pray together?  Even our own continental congress

“issued a proclamation recommending that “a day of publick [sic] humiliation, fasting, and prayer” be observed on July 20, 1775…to acknowledge the gracious interpositions of Providence; to deprecate [to pray or intreat that a present evil may be removed] deserved punishment for our Sins and Ingratitiude, to unitedly implore the Protection of Heaven; Success to our Arms and the Arms of our Ally, [therefore] The Commander in Chief enjoins a religious observance of said day and directs the Chaplains to prepare discourses proper for the occasion; strictly forbidding all recreations and unnecessary labor.” —George Washington, First President of the United States”[3]

 

There was a time when nations understood the value of corporate prayer, but not only have nations forgot its power, but most of the churches in the first world countries of the world have forgotten about it too.  This must change.  It has to change, or we will die as a nation and a people.

 

A sixth reason we don’t pray together as Christians might be that we are lazy.  Like the apostles in the garden of Gethsemane, we go to be with God, but we aren’t willing to put forth any of the effort it takes to be in communion with God.  Have you ever noticed that when Jesus invited the disciples to pray, he didn’t invite them into a personal time of devotion, all of the pronouns he used were corporate?  He didn’t say, “You as an individual pray that you, yourself, won’t fall into temptation.”  Quite the opposite, he commanded, “All y’all pray that all of you will not fall into temptation” (Luke 22:40).  He was inviting them to pray together for one another’s spiritual vitality, but they were too lazy to be able to do it.  And then when he came back and chastised them, he didn’t say, “Why are you as an individual sleeping.  You as an individual get up and pray for yourself so that you personally wont fall into temptation.”  No, again the address was to the whole group as a body, with the implication that they were being called together to pray. Why are all y’all sleeping?  Every one of you get up and all of you pray so that al of you will not fall into temptation. (Luke 22:46)

 

And because seven is a nice whole number, the last reason I want to propose about the prayerlessness of our churches is that we are simply too busy with all the distractions of this world to sit down and engage in the most important parts of life – the nurturing of our souls and the souls of those with whom we will spend eternity.  In our rush not to miss anything, or be left behind, we have filled every moment of every hour of every week to the point that there is no room in our schedules for a monthly prayer meeting. There are just too many other things to do.  We have become like Martha, distracted by all the preparations that had to be made (Luke 10:40) instead of like Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what [Jesus] said (Luke 10:39).  Corporate prayer is one of the most profound ways that the church and the individual can learn to hear and discern the voice of God for the present and the future, but we are too busy.

 

We have covered 7 pretty major reasons why Christians fail to pray together.  Which one do you struggle with the most?  Is it arrogance and the belief that you can live your Christian life alone, without the input of others?  Is it pride displayed in an unwillingness to know what is on the hearts of others?  Or maybe it is pride expressed in an unwillingness to let others know what is on your heart?  Maybe fear keeps you from praying with others because you don’t think you pray well enough.  Maybe you are the one who doesn’t believe in the power of prayer, or doesn’t want to take responsibility for the lives and the sin or others.  Maybe it is laziness or its evil sister busyness.  What is it that keeps you from enjoying the benefits of a vibrant life of corporate prayer?

 

The first step back into the benefits and enjoyment of God’s presence is always an acknowledgement of one’s sin.  So I urge you to reflect on what it is that keeps you from praying with others and then confess it to God and to someone else who can start praying with you, that you would not fall into that temptation any longer.  The apostle John reminds us that if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9) and James tells us to confess our sins to one another and pray for each other so that [we] may be healed (James 5:16).

 

The second step is to pray and invite others to pray for you.  Pray that God would give you a heart to pray more alone and to pray more with his people.  When David recognized his sin with Bathsheba, he confessed but he also prayed, Create in me a pure heart, or God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Ps 51:10).  David understood that though he recognized his sin, nothing would change in his life if God didn’t change his heart, and that same lesson applies to a lack of prayerlessness.  You see,

 

It would be easy to say, “If I really loved God, I’d pray.” And then try to, by force, to pray more.

 

It would be easy to walk out today and feel guilty about not attending a corporate prayer meeting and that is not my intention, unless of course, the guilt is a prompting of the Holy Spirit as a means to repentance, conversion and sanctification.

 

We won’t ever enjoy [corporate] prayer if we don’t ever do it, but we won’t ever do it out of an enjoyment of God unless God does a work in our hearts.

The Lord [must] turn our hearts to lov[ing] Him…[and his people if we are going to love praying with one another.]  Love always precedes obedience.[4]

 

Are we willing to pray for a heart that grows in its desire and ability to pray with others?  Are we willing to turn to God and ask him to change us?

 

The third and final step to growing in corporate prayer is simply committing to attend and participate in corporate prayer meetings.  Prayer like many other things in the Christian life is a spiritual discipline that must be practiced and developed over time. As Paul urged the Corinthians concerning the need to practice the spiritual life, he said, (1Cor. 9:25) Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. And again to Timothy he declared, (1Tim. 4:7-8) Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. And just like giving generously or serving cheerfully or loving greatly, we are all called to pray boldly with and for one another and that will take training and practice.  Will you commit to attending a corporate prayer boot camp consisting of 4 prayer meetings over four months and participating in each one?

 

And most importantly, remember that Jesus came to earth to die for our sins, including prayerlessness because God wanted to renew our shattered relationship with him.   In dying, Jesus tore down the curtain which separated us from God and by doing so he allows us direct access to God through prayer.  In obedience, but also because we desire to know Him greater, we participate in corporate prayer, not because it earns us salvation…only Jesus’ blood can do that…but because he tells us to come before him with boldness and confidence.  He promises that there is power where 2 or more are gathered in His name.

 

 

 

Today we are going to take a few moments to model some corporate prayer for you.  I know that many of you are uncomfortable with the idea still and we want to give you some visual images and practical experiences of what corporate prayer can be.  It doesn’t have to be all confession, it just happens that today’s theme lends itself to confession, but it could just as easily be praying for the world, church,  or adoring God for who he is.  So though we wont pray for all 7 of these sins which may hinder, you may find your sin being prayed for in the life of one person, accept the prayers you hear as prayers not just for them, but also for you too and join with us from your seats, or if you feel like joining, come forward and participate either on the chair or with those around the chair.

 SERMON OUTLINE 

  1. Quotes on Prayer
  2. Why we don’t pray together
    1. Arrogant –1Cor 12:27
    2. Prideful – Prov 16:18
    3. Fearful –Luke 18:13
    4. Don’t believe prayer is effective – James 5:16, Job 21:14-15
    5. Don’t want to take responsibility for corporate sins – Neh 9:2, Ezra 8:21, 23
    6. Lazy – Luke  22:40, 46
    7. Busy – Luke 10:38-42
  3. Challenge
    1. Confess your sin to someone – 1Jn 1:9, James 5:16
    2. Ask God to change your heart – Ps 51:10
    3. Commit to a period of obedience – 1Cor 9:25, 1Tim 4:7-8

 

 


[2] Eifion Evans, “Worship through Corporate Prayer” IN WRS Journal 7/1 (August 2000) 32-35, pg. 3 FROM John F. Wilson, Pulpit in Parliament: Puritanism during the English Civil Wars, 1640-1648. Princeton, 1969, pg. 63.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Day_of_Prayer accessed July 2, 2012, 2:58 p.m.

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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