A Praying Church is a Powerful Church
William Burnett, Oakville, Ontario, Canada [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
In the interval between the ascension of the Lord Jesus and the descent of the Spirit, 120 believers gathered together in an upper room, Acts 1. 13- 15 Ahead of these simple men and women lay the daunting task of introducing the gospel to a waiting world, and afterwards, to handle the formidable task of establishing local churches where the new believers could find fellowship, and put into practice the apostles’ doctrine. Faced with such a task, and considering their seeming lack of qualification by worldly standards, we might well ask how they spent their time in preparation? Luke gives us the answer when he records that ‘these all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication’, Acts 1. 14. Again he states, ‘they were all with one accord in one place’, Acts 2. 1. They knew instinctively, that prayer was the key to success in service, and that nothing more was needed, and that nothing less would do. It isn’t surprising therefore, that when they stood up on the day of Pentecost and preached the gospel for the very first time, that about 3000 souls were saved. There can be no doubt that was a direct link between the exercises of the upper room, and the success they experienced in the city.
One feels that there is a need to get back to the example of these early pioneers. We bemoan the lack of results in the gospel, whilst our prayer meetings are often the poorest attended. Not only so, but the sense of ‘continuing with one accord’, is being lost also. Modern thought has the mistaken idea that if more people pray, the more God will be impressed, so instead of being united in prayer, some fragment into groups, even separating the men from the women, with subsequent loss of unity and power. I appeal to local church elders to get back to the format described in Acts chapters 1 and 2, and to wait for the results to follow.
Corporate prayer and personal prayer
In the exercise before us we will consider the subject of corporate rather than personal prayer. Undoubtedly the two are linked together, because those who know intimacy with God in private are those best qualified to engage in public prayer. But there is a distinct difference between public and private prayer. In private, God is addressed on a personal level, dealing with such things as thanksgiving for blessings received personally, confession of personal sin, and the presentation of the needs that are specific to the person or his family, etc. By contrast, the brother who engages in prayer when the church is gathered is not engaging in a personal exercise, but he is leading the whole assembly into the presence of God, and vocalizing their united expressions of worship, and prayer. He is then, by the Spirit, speaking to God on their behalf. Hence, the language of corporate prayer will avoid the use of personal pronouns, such as ‘I’ and ‘my’ and embrace all of the Lord’s people present by use of the collective pronouns ‘we’ or ‘our’. He will not be occupied with matters of a personal, domestic nature but will be occupied with what the church would say to God on such occasions.
Another of the differences between public and private prayer is that the exercise of leading corporate prayer is confined to the males in the company. Paul writing to Timothy says, ‘Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth’, 1 Tim. 2. 4. In this verse the word ‘men’ in the Greek text is the generic word for ‘humanity’, and embraces both male and female. When we come to verse 8 of the same chapter, Paul writes, ‘I will therefore that men pray’, 1 Tim. 2. 8. Here, the Greek word used for ‘men’ is different, and should be translated ‘the males’. So the verse could be translated, ‘I will therefore that the males pray’; this restriction is consistent with all of the New Testament teaching which precludes the woman from leading in any of the public exercises of the church, including prayer.
The addressing of prayer
Another important matter we should consider is to ‘whom’ prayer should be directed? In the New Testament, prayer is addressed to both God the Father and the Son, but never to the Holy Spirit. It would appear that the normal mode of addressing our prayers is to offer them to the Father, Matt. 6. 6, in the name of the Son, John 14. 13, and with the help of the Holy Spirit. Of this Paul states, ‘likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered’, Rom 8. 26.
A model for public prayer, 1 Tim. 2. 1-8
1 Timothy 2 verses 1 to 8 provide us with a clear model for the exercise of corporate prayer, and we will use these verses as a foundation for our remarks in this study as they answer many of the questions that are currently being asked regarding the assembly prayer meeting.
1. The charge to pray
As the apostle moves forward from the teaching of the first chapter in this epistle, he begins this second chapter with the word ’therefore’ followed by the phrase ‘first of all’. He is indicating that the logical extension of what he had already taught them in the first chapter is that public prayer must have priority. How one wishes that this sense of priority would grip all of God’s assemblies, and that prayer would have a prominent place in our gatherings it certainly holds in scripture. Unfortunately, in many cases, the prayer meeting is looked upon as an optional exercise, not to be taken too seriously, and attendance is poor. We need to remind ourselves that the ceaseless round of meetings, and programmes of activities, will yield nothing, unless we ‘first of all’ give ourselves to prayer. Let’s put meeting for prayer at the top of the list of essential activities in our assemblies, and if we find ourselves too busy to get to the prayer meeting, reschedule or cancel other exercises in order to be there. Remember what the apostle said ‘first of all . . . prayers’.
2. The components of prayer
The apostle now gives us a list of components that could be included in prayer. They are supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks. ‘Prayer’ would of course embrace all of our communications with God, and what a wonder this is. Man has created so many amazing and sophisticated means of communication in our modern world, but none can compare to prayer. Saints can be on their knees communicating with God across the vast infinitudes of the universe, whose dimensions are measured in billions of light years, and have the answer back from God before they rise from their knees! See Daniel chapter 9 verses 21 to 23. ‘Supplication’ is more specific, and involves ‘seeking’, ‘asking’, or ‘entreating’ God or man on behalf of others. ‘Intercession’ means ‘seeking the presence and hearing of God on behalf of others’, and asking Him to intervene. Finally, ‘giving of thanks’ would involve having a thankful spirit for all the blessings that God bestows upon us. We well remember the story of the ten lepers, where only one returned to give thanks. May we ever and always cultivate a thankful spirit and let God hear what we have to say to Him about His manifold blessings.
3. The compass of prayer
Twice over in this chapter the apostle uses the term ‘all men’, vv. 1, 4. In both cases he is using a generic word meaning ‘all of humanity’. In the first reference, he is describing the scope of our prayers, and in the second reference he is describing the scope of God’s great salvation and His desire that all men should be saved. Verse 6 of our text shows that ‘Christ Jesus . . . gave himself a ransom for all’ and our prayers must reflect the expansiveness of the heart of God towards the lost. Unfortunately, in these days when the rising tide of hyper-Calvinism is creeping over the church at large, many have lost their fervency in prayer and have ceased pleading with God on behalf of the lost. Hyper-Calvinism has dried the tears that once were shed over lost sinners, because if God has already made up his mind about the destiny of men, we do not need to pray for souls, and in fact, we need not get passionate about the gospel. This thinking is foreign to the teaching of the word of God. If there is one thing that Paul is teaching in this chapter, it is that there is not a single soul on the face of the earth who is beyond the reach of salvation, since Christ ‘gave himself a ransom for all’. God has done His part, and made His desires for man known. Now, man has been left to make a choice in the matter, and our prayers can make a difference in bringing souls to Christ as we side with God in His desire for men. Sadly, despite the desires of God, and the prayers of saints, many will choose to take the broad road that leads to destruction. How this must grieve the heart of God. We hear again the words of the Lord Jesus, when faced with a city that had rejected Him ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ Matt.23. 37.
Conditions necessary for effective corporate prayer
It would be a mistake to think that God will hear and answer personal or corporate prayers where conditions are absent that would make that possible. So, there are certain conditions that scripture defines as being necessary to be effective in prayer. 1 Timothy 2 verse 8 reads, ‘I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting’. There are two preconditions described in this verse:
1. Holy hands
The priest in the Old Testament washed his hands and feet at the laver before he approached the altar, and before he entered the holy place, Exod. 30. 18-20. So it is with us. We must have the cleansing of God’s holy word before we engage in prayer, corporate or otherwise. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts, ‘Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water’, Heb. 10. 22. Truly effective prayer can only be enjoyed by those whose lives are free from the contamination of sin. Relationship with God can never be broken, but unconfessed sin will break our fellowship with Him. Hence we read, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’, 1 John 1. 9.
2. Without wrath and doubting
The idea of being ‘without wrath’ can be related to the fact that we cannot come to the exercises of worship and prayer when there is contention between ourselves and another brother. We read, ‘leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift’, Matt 5. 24. God does not want to hear from us if we have a spirit of ‘wrath’ towards some other fellow believer. Of course we can extend this condition beyond fellow believers and remind ourselves that the Lord Himself, in the extremity of suffering being inflicted upon Him by men, did not invoke God’s wrath upon them, but rather prayed to His Father for their forgiveness. This is a very timely exhortation in our day, because as we see the horrors being inflicted upon the innocents of civilization by certain extreme elements, the natural reaction is one of wrath. We indeed feel that God should give them what they deserve. It might be difficult to think otherwise, but our Lord thought differently, ‘Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously’, 1 Pet. 2. 23. The word ‘doubting’ in the verse means, ‘reasoning or questioning hesitation’. We can link this condition, with that of James when he wrote, ‘but let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord’, Jas. 1. 6-7. We must not come to God in prayer with reservations on our mind, but with the utmost confidence that He is able and willing to hear and answer our prayers.
In closing this short study, we recognize that there is so much more that could be said about the exercise of prayer, and the importance of it in the local church. As we look at the world scene where already preparations are advancing fast towards the day of His coming, we as saints know that our time here must be short. Oh, that we might be especially gripped with the lost condition of those around us, and make heroic efforts in prayer on their behalf, that many of them will be saved before the time comes when their prayers will go unanswered, and their doom is sure. We should also be praying for the families of believers who are not saved, that God in His mercy would gather them in before the door is closed. We also need to pray for the church of God, that there might be an awakening, a trimming of lamps, before the Lord comes. He has said ‘Behold, I come quickly’. May there be nothing that would keep us from responding with the words of the aged John, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus’.
AUTHOR PROFILE: W.BURNETT is an engineer, now retired from the oil industry. He left Scotland for Canada in 1972 and is active in both written and oral ministry. He is a board member for Counsel magazine. He and his wife Beth are in fellowship in the assembly at Oakvill.