Sermon Podcast Audio
What comes to mind when you hear the words “Prayer Meeting”? If you’ve been around church for some time, I assume you are familiar with the concept. A prayer meeting is a time where Christians get together and they pray. There can be a lot of variations of this activity. They can be loud, boisterous times like my wife, Kerri and I experienced at a Pentecostal church in Tulsa, Oklahoma one time. Everyone was praying out loud all at the same time. This was a new experience for us, and for Kerri, it was a little unsettling.
Prayer meetings can also be calm, serene times, with light piano music playing in the background while everyone prays quietly to themselves. Maybe your parents dragged you to one like this as a kid. . .it seemed to go on and on, and at the end a pastor or someone that was unafraid to pray in front of other people would say a prayer aloud and at the final “amen,” everyone knew it was over…finally.
Prayer meetings can be emotional or stoic. They can be engaging and exciting or dull drudgery. What comes to your mind when you hear the words, “Prayer Meeting”? For many, if not most, I dare say that the initial reaction to these words are not usually positive. In fact, they might be down-right negative.
Words we equate with “prayer meeting” are boring, waste of time, obligation and quite possibly, unnecessary. Why do churches pray together? After all, when Jesus talked about prayer, he mentioned things like, “Go into your closet,” or “don’t pray so that everyone can be impressed with your fancy language.”
Is this just some ploy for churches to check up on us? To see if we actually pray by gauging if our prayers improve from time to time? “Oh look, there’s a new person praying out loud. They are really making progress!” Or is something bigger in play? Is there a significance to praying together that we need to be aware of?
Today we are wrapping up a series where over the last six weeks we have been looking at the topic of prayer. Often when we think of prayer, we think of our own personal prayer life. In fact, all the messages up until today have pretty much addressed this side of prayer: why you should pray, what you should pray, how you listen to God, when you can’t hear God. But today I want us to take a look at what I think strikes fear into the hearts of most people. We fear because it can seem unnatural and weird, and if we are honest, it strikes fear because often it can feel like a big waste of time.
In fact, let me ask you, have you ever been to a prayer meeting that genuinely changed your life, or where you felt the power of God, or felt a moving of the Holy Spirit so powerfully? I would hope some of you have. But I think the reason many of us de-prioritize praying together is that my first description of dull, boring, waste-of-time comes closer to our mental image of what praying together looks and feels like than maybe what it should be, which is powerful, life changing, world changing.
What is the purpose of praying together? Is it necessary, and if so, why?
In the book of Acts, we find the story of the early church. This book was written by a man named Luke, who also wrote the Gospel of Luke. Acts begins at the end of the forty days following Jesus’ resurrection. Luke in his other writing has told us all about Jesus: his birth, ministry, death and resurrection, and a few things that happened after his resurrection from the dead.
The story picks up now with Jesus, his disciples, and some of his family together at a place called the Mount of Olives. Jesus gives those gathered some final reminders, final instructions, about taking his message to the entire world. And miraculously, right before their eyes, he is taken from their sight. Let’s read from this point what these people did and see if we can understand why.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James, They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brother. —Acts 1:12-14
Before we get to why I think praying together is significant, I think it is important to look at some critical elements from when these people prayed together.
Verse 14 says “they all” prayed together. Who was all there? Well, we know the apostles, or disciples, the eleven men who Jesus called to follow him during his ministry were there, but we see it wasn’t just them. Luke makes a point to also tell us that “the women” were there. Women like Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna. They were with Jesus. They financially supported him. And they were there.
Think about the significance of this detail being included. The first century wasn’t kind to women. Women were barely better than property. They certainly weren’t respected or even considered in significant events. And yet, Luke points out that they were here at this moment. It tells me that when it comes to praying together, we don’t limit participation based on age, sex, race, or any other qualifier we might put on it. We should include all.
Also there were skeptics, doubters, or at least former skeptics. We see that Jesus’ brothers were there. These were the same brothers that had called him crazy earlier. They had said he was out of his mind. (Mark 3:21) And here we find them with the others. Praying together is not limited to certain people. There is no pre-qualification of spiritual status. When they got together, everyone was involved.
Next we see they “were together.” A better way to put this is that they were of one mind or one passion. In the King James translation, this is where my dad would tell the joke, this is where the first car is mentioned in the Bible, because the KJV says they were all in one accord. There was unity among them. This is very important. There weren’t 120 people with 120 agendas. They were all after the same thing. This may seem like a small thing, but spend any time in church and you understand that sometimes the most difficult thing to have is unity.
I think of it like singing in a choir. My background is in music. I’ve sung in church choirs and high school choirs, in college choirs, and even community choirs. And I love it when a group of singers hits some amazing harmony. But did you know that one of the most difficult ways to sing is to sing in unison, when everyone sings the same note? I know it sounds easy, but trust me, it can be the hardest thing to do. There are many elements that can make it sound off: wrong vowel placement, wrong tone, and the slightest variation can sour it quickly. I had a choir director in college that worked us very hard on singing in unison.
But for this group of people, there was unity. No back biting. No gossip. No “Jesus liked me more.” When people don’t like each other, they can’t pray together very long. Either you will stop criticizing or you’ll stop praying because you can’t do both at the same time. These people were united in passion.
Next we see that it was constant, continual. Think obstinate determination. They didn’t just pray once and then move on to something else. And they could have. And I am sure that the temptation was there to go back to their old jobs, to just jump right into the task Jesus had called them to do of telling the world about what Jesus had done and of his love. But they didn’t. They kept praying until there was an answer. And finally, this one is kind of obvious, but I think it is worth pointing out: they prayed.
Now, I think it is interesting to see that during this time, there were other things they did as well. Judas had killed himself after betraying Jesus, so they felt like they needed to replace him. So they did. I am sure they did some reminiscing about Jesus. “Do you remember when Jesus said this,” or “Do you remember the look on that guy’s face when Jesus answered his question,” but even among the other things they did, at the core of it all, the foundation they were building on was prayer. It wasn’t an afterthought. It wasn’t thrown in at the end of their time together. It was the primary reason they were there. It was their first priority. And Luke makes sure it gets put first when he relays the story.
This isn’t the only place we find the early church praying together. A quick look through Acts reveals that this was something they continued to do.
Acts 4 – Peter and John were arrested for teaching about Jesus, and the church prayed for them.
Acts 6 – The church prayed when they needed to select the first deacons to help serve the church.
Acts 12 – Peter was in jail and miraculously he escaped. When he went to find the other Christians, he found them praying.
Acts 13 – Church leaders prayed and the Holy Spirit told them to send out Paul and Barnabas as missionaries.
Acts 14 – Paul and Barnabas prayed as they appointed leaders in the churches they planted.
Acts 16 – Paul and Silas were in jail praying and an earthquake opened the doors and lead to the jailer and his family coming to faith in Jesus.
Acts 20 – As Paul left he church at Ephesus they prayed together.
You get the point. This isn’t a one time thing in the beginning of Acts. A precedent was set and guided the early church and should be a model for us today. We need to have a priority of praying together. But I think that if we fail to understand why they prayed, we will fail to make it a priority for ourselves today. Why did the early church pray together?”
First, praying together reminds us of our dependence upon God and one another. Dependence is not a concept for us red blooded Americans. We like rugged individualism. “I can do it. I don’t need anyone.” But praying together reminds us first and foremost that we need God and that we also need one another. We need God for our daily needs. We need God for forgiveness. We need God for direction. And we need one another for encouragement and accountability. When we are ready to give up, someone is there to pick us up and help us keep going. We remember that we are not in this alone when we see others around us praying like we are.
Also, praying together helps keep a proper perspective. If we aren’t careful, we can become so tunnel visioned that we forget there is a bigger world out there. We forget God has us here for a purpose: His kingdom come. His will be done. We also forget that there are people around us with issues as big or bigger than our own.
When we only pray alone, we find our prayers can become shallow and self-centered. By nature we are selfish people. And we find our prayers become selfish as well. “Help me God. Bless me God. Bless my family. Do this for me.”
While praying together, in community, I see the foolishness of some of my prayers. I look around and see the mom and dad asking for others to pray with them for their son who has a debilitating disease and I am reminded that my prayer for stuff isn’t nearly as important as a prayer for healing, and if not healing, then a prayer for the parents to have grace and faith to walk through a trial this large.
Praying together reminds me about the parent praying for their child to return to God, or the salvation of a co-worker, or the desire of the church to see lives and communities transformed by Jesus. It keeps things in perspective.
Praying together also prepares us for things to come. Go back to the passage we read in Acts. Why did Jesus tell them to wait and pray? What were they waiting for? Acts 2 tells us they were waiting for The Holy Spirit. Praying together prepared them for what was to come.
When we pray, it prepares our hearts. It brings us to a place of corporate confession and unity as a group. Prayer prepared the early church for the Holy Spirit and the thousands who would come to know Jesus. The empowering of the church came about because they had spent time praying as a group. They were ready.
Whenever God wants to do something great in the world, he first stirs his people to pray. When God wants to touch a family, a church, a city, or a nation, he begins by moving his people to pray. Prayer is always the first stage in God’s plan to change to the world.
Lastly, praying together equips us for the real battle. This isn’t a struggle against one another or us against our world or the culture. In Ephesians 6, Paul writes to the church about the struggle we are in. The real battle that is taking place to keep the message of Christ from reaching all nations. He writes,
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”—Ephesians 6:12
And after describing how we prepare ourselves with salvation, faith, truth, and peace, he writes,
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. —Ephesians 6:18
Again, this was not written to an individual. This was written to a church. Together we should be praying for the real battle that is being waged, not against your coworker or neighbor, but in the heavenly realms. Prayer is what equips us for this.
Results of Praying Together
I think the best example of praying together is illustrated in the most famous prayer ever prayed: The Lord’s Prayer. We don’t often think of the Lord’s Prayer as corporate prayer unless we are saying it together in worship, but when looking at the phrasing that Jesus used, the pronouns in the prayer indicate that these are not instructions on how to pray when you are alone. This prayer is how we are to pray when we are together.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Notice anything about who is doing the praying? Even the very first word is collective: our Father, not my Father, not your Father, but our Father.
Give us. Forgive us. As we. Our debtors. Lead us. Deliver us. Is there any question that Jesus himself made it a priority for those who followed him to pray together?
Why is this so important? What can happen if we take time to make praying together a priority? I think we can go back to the book of Acts to see what did actually happen. . .The Holy Spirit came and empowered the people, miraculous things were done, people had boldness in telling others about what Jesus had done in their lives. Many thousands came to Christ, missionaries were sent out, churches were planted, lives were changed. Neighborhoods, communities, cities, nations and even the entire world were transformed.
Acts 17 tells us that these men and women were actually accused of turning the world upside down, all because God’s people came together and prayed.
I wonder if we are not praying together as a church, could it be a sign that we don’t really expect great things to be done through us? Or is it that we really don’t want anything more than what we’ve already got?
Yes, we should be praying individually, but we need to be praying corporately as well, remembering the words of Jesus when he said
Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. —Matthew 18:19-20
So, what do we do? First, know that prayer doesn’t have to be led by the church. It can begin with one or two people who have a burden to pray. Share that burden with others and just start praying.
Or corporate prayer can happen when someone asks you to pray with them about something, do it…right then. You may have seen this here at church. Someone will stop me and say would you pray with me about this and I usually say, let’s do it now.
Take advantage of the times we get together as a church to pray. Every Sunday morning at 8:45 we pray. This coming Wednesday, we are praying. As Author J Edwin Orr wrote, “No great spiritual awakening has begun anywhere in the world apart from united prayer.”
Let’s all make praying together a priority, praying continually and of one mind and passion, for Jesus Christ to be known and lives and communities transformed by the Holy Spirit.