Cultivating Corporate Prayer
No one prays enough! That’s not just a perception, it’s a reality. Even the most avid prayer warriors I know admit to such. When we pray, it shows our dependence on God. But the fact of the matter is our prayer habits expose where our dependence really lies. We rely on self, money, our own abilities to figure things out and get things done. It is this self-reliant attitude that hinders us from praying.
This is not only true of our individual lives; it is true of our corporate lives as well. We get bogged down in church/ministry activities and give little time or attention to prayer. We buy into Satan’s lie that the success of the church rests and depends on our abilities. Could it be that our individual prayer lives are a reflection of the emphasis of our corporate prayer lives? Could it be the reason prayer isn’t a priority in our personal lives is because it has not been cultivated in the corporate life of the church?
My desire in this post is to encourage churches to recapture, cultivate, and even persevere in the area of corporate prayer.
The book of Acts contains several examples of the saints gathering together for prayer. We see it in the opening chapter as the 120 are gathered in the upper room awaiting the gift of Holy Spirit. It says in : All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer…. Then in , as the early church is meeting together daily, they are not only committing themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and the breaking of bread, but they are devoting themselves to prayer. As the early church is being formed and fashioned, God is uniting them and strengthening them through the practice of corporate prayer. This commitment to corporate intercession continues as the church grows (see , and 13).
If the early church was committed to cultivating a habit of corporate prayer, then it makes perfect sense that we should as well. Here are some suggestions that may help you cultivate corporate prayer in your local congregations.
Devote yourself to it: Like the early church, make it a priority when you gather together. Devote yourselves to going before The Lord to make your petitions known (). Early on in the planting of East Point Church, someone made the observation that we were not praying enough. He was right. So we committed to praying for and with one another. After our time in the Word, we would take prayer requests and praise reports, spending an extended time before the Lord in prayer. I can say without a doubt God used that time to really mold us together as a community. As we prayed, it was clear the Gospel was moving from our heads to our hearts, and God was using prayer to accomplish it.
Start Praying: I know it sounds like a given, but I can’t tell you how many prayer meetings I have attended where most of the time is spent taking prayer requests or studying a passage of scripture, and there is little time left to actually pray. Opening the Word and noting prayer requests are extremely important, but so is prayer. Give time to it. Don’t see it as an afterthought or add on after you have finished with your agenda. Dedicating extended portions of time to corporate prayer communicates your dependence on God, and creates a culture where prayer is emphasized.
Pray Together: Pastors and elders, you should pray with the congregation as well. Sermon prep, counseling, teaching—the work of the ministry—can easily pull you away from corporate prayer. I want to encourage you to resist the temptation to skip it. In Acts , as the early church is together praying, the apostles were among them. If the apostles were not too busy to pray with the body, then neither are today’s pastors. Your attendance and participation will be an encouragement to those you serve. I can also guarantee that your soul will be edified too. I have lost count of the number of times I have been tired or discouraged at the start of a prayer time together with the saints, only to leave that time with my soul once again set on fire for Christ and his people.
Cultivate a Culture of Grace: You might be surprised at how living out the Gospel in community directly affects the quality of your corporate prayer time. It is easy to hide behind clichés and general prayers, masking our sin and helplessness. We fail to deal with the sin in our heart for fear of condemnation or gossip. Cultivating a culture of grace frees people to pray without apprehension because they know they are around brothers and sister who will lovingly point them to Christ. They have committed themselves to those who will bear with them (), searching their own hearts for the presence of sin. This makes the time of corporate prayer rich and comforting, as sin is confessed and prayed for.
Pray “Big God” Prayers: Too often we seem to think we are going to overwhelm God with our requests. We decide what is suitable to bring to him. But that is far from the truth. As Tony Carter likes to say, “God can chew bubble gum and jump rope at the same time.” Ask God for big things, corporately! In fact, He asks us to do just that (). I remember sitting in a corporate time of prayer soon after the earthquake that devastated Haiti. We were praying for the victims and that relief would be provided for those affected, when it dawned on me that God was just as present in Haiti as he was with us. He could handle what seemed to be our minuscule requests compared to the needs of Haiti—all at the same time. God is omnipresent and cares for all of his Children. We won’t catch him off guard with our requests. He knows before we pray (). Ask for big things like church planters and missionaries. Pray that God would save your city or provide for a big ministry need. We need to pray “big God” prayers, together.
Pray with Eternity in Mind: Most corporate prayer gatherings without this focus will quickly be reduced to our everyday “this world” concerns like requests for jobs and healing for the various ailments that plague us or our family members. I want to in no way discourage us from praying about these things. God wants us to bring our everyday concerns and cares to him (). But let’s not forget to think about eternity. Include in your corporate prayers the request that God would make you and your brothers and sisters holy (). That he would unite you in and around the Gospel (). That he would help you see your suffering as light and momentary in the light of eternity (). That love and good works would mark out your local fellowship, so that others may see them and glorify God (). Pray corporate prayers that give people a bigger vision of God, and help give them the heavenly perspective that we all need.
Share Testimonies: God answers prayers! He does. We just don’t believe it. God often uses answered prayer to overcome our unbelief. So encourage the saints to share testimonies about answered prayers. Hearing how God has worked in the lives of your brothers and sisters bolsters the faith of the entire congregation. In fact, those answered prayers spur us on to pray more.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I am sure there are other thoughts that you have as it relates to cultivating corporate prayer. Step up on the porch and share them in the comment section. We all need to be encouraged to pray more.
Enough talking about it, let’s get to praying.
2:1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!
17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy. (ESV)
4:1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
5 On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.
23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
12:1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.
18 Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.
20 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. 21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark. (ESV)
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (ESV)
2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. (ESV)
15:1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (ESV)
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (ESV)
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (ESV)
22 Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved. (ESV)
10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, (ESV)
4:1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (ESV)
17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, (ESV)
16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (ESV)