Looking to the New Testament for Models of Corporate Prayer
Scripture records some astonishing moments when God’s power was put on display, and I would like to have seen every one of them with my own eyes. Of course, for sheer power, nothing compares with the six days of creation in which God spoke the universe into existence.
But what would it have been like to see the worldwide flood of Noah?
Or the Red Sea crossing, when the water of the sea walled up to the left and the right, and the pillar of fire led over two million Jews through the darkened corridor on dry land?
Best of all, maybe, would be to have seen the angel roll back the stone and sit on it, beckoning us to inspect the recently emptied tomb of Jesus. Just to have been there and seen these displays of power would have energized my soul.
Now when it comes to prayer meetings in church history, I wish I’d been there when the Spirit’s power was poured out in Acts 4:31: “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness.” There is evidence in Acts as well as in church history that the Holy Spirit wills to use such prayer meetings to pour out his power again and again on local churches:
1) Power to preach the gospel (Acts 2): The church was assembled continuously for prayer, waiting for the gift the Father and Son had promised. On the Day of Pentecost, that power was poured out on the church, and they poured out into the streets of Jerusalem to change the world. That offers something of a paradigm for all local churches, although the Day of Pentecost itself was unique in redemptive history.
2) Courage and boldness to face persecution (Acts 4:23–31): Generally, the bolder and more faithful a local church is in witnessing for Christ, the greater the Satanic opposition. This should cause the church to meet again and again for ongoing power and boldness in witnessing.
3) Deliverance in suffering (Acts 12:1–17): The grieving church (bereaved of James) assembled to pray for Peter’s release, and the Lord supernaturally answered their prayers. This provides a paradigm for a church gathering to pray for suffering or afflicted church members: terminal illness, the imprisonment of a pastor, perhaps a critical court case that will affect all Christians in that nation, etc.
4) Wisdom for ministry (Acts 13:1–4): The church at Antioch gathered for prayer, and by the power of the Spirit, the Lord called Barnabas and Saul to their first missionary journey. So also today, a local church can call a prayer meeting for wisdom and guidance in specific paths of ministry.
5) Launching new churches (Acts 16:13–15): Paul and Silas met some women at a prayer meeting by a river in Philippi, and that was the start of that local church. God uses specially-called prayer meetings to birth new churches.
6) Shared sorrow (Acts 20:36–38): Paul’s wrenching goodbye from the elders of Ephesus shows how local churches can gather to derive mutual comfort in times of sorrow and great distress. Corporate prayer meetings are good places for many to “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom 12:14).
7) Intimate unity (Acts 21:1–6): The church at Tyre assembled on the beach to see Paul off the Jerusalem, warning him not to go. Free-flowing corporate prayer in which many feel free to pray is a great way to build strong community, especially through small groups that meet weekly.
8) Church revitalization (Revelation 2:5, 3:2): The Spirit is speaking to every local church in Revelation 2–3, and the call is for church revitalization. Local churches that are dying can call out the remnant that is left by means of prayer meetings.
9) Repentance for sin (James 4:1–10): Churches should occasionally have times of corporate confession, fasting, and repentance from sin. This can be done during the worship service, but there is another kind of power when confession is done for longer times with only believers present.
There are many ways to see these kinds of prayer meetings flourish in a local church today. Among the most common are small groups where members meet together week after week for Bible study, prayer, and fellowship. These prayer times can be rich because the people have grown in their knowledge of and commitment to one another. In our small group, often the men and women break up to pray separately, because sometimes men and women open up a little more when that happens.
We’ve also periodically held (maybe two to three times a year) “concerts of prayer” in which the whole church comes for dedicated prayer at the church building. The elders organize the time, breaking the evening into small time segments to pray for specific issues in the church, and for missions. We find it very helpful to break the large group up into smaller groups so people will feel more comfortable to pray. We also have a leader open and close the subsections of the evening to structure the time.
Just recently, we began a “prayer supper” once a year in which we serve a simple meal, and then people break up into smaller groups after the meal to pray. Again, it’s helpful if leaders prepare topics and guide the evening so people’s minds are not empty but engaged. However, I know of other churches that advocate a freer flow with little preparation.
At the beginning of this year, I called on the church to join me in focused prayer for local evangelistic fruit. The clearly defined time frame—eight weeks, one hour per week on Wednesday mornings—motivated upwards of 30 people to make the sacrifice. It was a really rich time of sacrificial and earnest prayer, and we’ve seen some answers to those prayers already.
These times of informal group prayer are amazing avenues of blessing for the church, supplementing the powerful prayer ministry of the elders from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. May the Lord richly bless your church as you seek the power of the Spirit for the advance of Christ’s kingdom.