Not only does the Bible encourage (indeed command) private prayer, but also calls for a corporate expression in prayer, the results of which are startling. Examples are seen both the Old and New Testaments of the efficacy of many people agreeing in prayer concerning the purposes of God, and releasing God’s awesome power into the earth. Be inspired to join with your brethren to synergise your effectiveness…
As well as the many kinds of prayer and revealed principles for their exercise, the Bible also shows that there are various contexts within which these principles can be utilised. These include:
- Privately and secretly
- Together with another or others
- Together with many others
Private prayer should form the foundation of our public and corporate expression, and the strength of the corporate voice in the heavenlies will be significantly influenced by the private devotion of its members. Too often people fail to develop the life of personal prayer and simply ‘piggy-back’ on the strength of others in corporate contexts. We should aim to strengthen and develop in both private and public prayer.
“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matt 6:6 NKJV)
Jesus, our example of private prayer
Jesus’ own life was an example of this kind of private prayer. The Scriptures refer often to Jesus prayer life, both private and public. Most often however, reference is made to His private prayer life with the Father.
- He would often take time before daybreak to retire and seek the Father (Mark 1:35)
- At times He would spend whole nights in private prayer for direction and fellowship with God (Luke 6:12)
- He retired to deserted places away from the crowds to pray (Matthew 14:23)
- At times His prayers were desperate, and always passionate (Hebrews 5:7)
- He taught His disciples principles of devotional, personal prayer (Matthew 6:5-18)
- His prayer life made a deep impression upon His disciples and they came to ask Him how to seek God in a similar manner (Luke 11:1)
- Jesus continues to pray today in His High Priestly ministry (Hebrews 7:25)
Prayer was an indispensable part of Jesus life. Even in the demands of ministry life He always made time to spend with the Father. Whatever our role, at home, in the workplace, in the church; we also must set our heart and mind to seek God without relenting. Jesus Himself urged the disciples never to give up, and even implied that prayerlessness is not only a sin, but a dangerous situation to be in, especially in these last days:
“Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”” (Luke 21:36 NKJV)
The disciples appear to have taken His advice and we often glimpse Peter, Paul and others in the process of private prayer (Acts 10:9; Acts 9:9; Eph 1:15-16). Tradition tells us when James the Apostle died, it was discovered that His knees were callous, like a camel’s knees; a result of his much praying. This indeed was the secret of these primitive ministers!
Prayer together with another or others
As in any subject that we study, we must be careful to take God’s Word in context. If we were to apply Jesus words to His disciples in Matthew 6 generally, no one would ever pray with anyone else, all prayer would be private. Jesus words here however were concerning the personal prayer lives of His listeners. Other sections of Jesus teaching, and indeed His example, make it clear that there is also a side of prayer that is connected with others.
Jesus, our example of corporate prayer
- He would often pray in the presence of His disciples (Luke 11:1)
- Jesus prayed a lengthy prayer at what we call the last supper, in the presence his disciples (John 17)
- Jesus taught concerning agreement in prayer (Matthew 18:19,20)
- Jesus prayed in public at His baptism (Luke 3:21)
- Jesus prayed with Peter, James and John (Luke 9:28-29)
Again we see the continuation of Jesus’ ministry through the church flowing and following His example and instruction in respect to corporate prayer. Just a few examples from the New Testament record include:
- One hundred and twenty disciples in the ten day prayer meeting between the ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost:
“And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” (Acts 1:13-14 NKJV)
- Over three thousand disciples in small groups in houses across the city of Jerusalem:
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42 NKJV)
- Together with the local assembly of believers:
“So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, and when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:24,31 NKJV)
“Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.” (Acts 12:5,12 NKJV)
- Church leaders and elders together:
“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” (Acts 13:2-3 NKJV)
“So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” (Acts 14:23 NKJV)
- Paul and Silas together in the prison:
“But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25)
- Paul together with the church:
“And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.” (Acts 20:36 NKJV)
“When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed.” (Acts 21:5 NKJV)
United prayer in the local church can take many forms. These include:
- Prayer couplets
Two people praying together. This could be a specific prayer of agreement (which we will consider later in this session) or an ongoing prayer partnership.
Spurgeon said of this:
“If one Jacob can prevail over a wrestling angel, what can two do? What victory would come to two joined in the same wrestling? ‘One of you shall chase a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight!’ There is accumulated power in united intercession; two do not only double the force, but multiply it tenfold. He then added, “God grant to each of us a praying partner.” Quoted from ‘Mighty Prevailing Prayer’, Wesley Duewel
One of the most natural and powerful prayer couplets would be man and wife. Doubling the power of agreement with the oneness of the marriage covenant is dynamic.
- Prayer triplets etc
A group of three (or more) who meet regularly to pray for one another and intercede together in agreement. This unity of heart extends beyond their times of physical proximity as they also hold up one another (and agreed requests) when they are going about their individual business.
- Prayer groups
More organised and formal gatherings of members of the local church or churches specifically for the purpose of prayer and intercession. Most powerful when meeting regularly under leadership endued with the spirit of prayer so the group learn to flow together under the direction of the Holy Ghost.
- Prayer concerts
Larger gatherings where many groups come together to join for focussed worship, prayer and intercession together. Possibly being a regular event across churches and regions.
- Prayer days and weeks of prayer
Proclaimed times where the Body is called to join in prayer (and fasting) to humble and intercede on behalf of others. These can be on an individual church basis right through to Global initiatives such as the ‘Global Day of Prayer’ which brings millions together around the nations (http://www.globaldayofprayer.com/)
- Prayer chains
Groups of people who work together with a church or churches. Each person in the chain calls the next person in the chain and so on, rapidly mobilising a large body of believers to intercede over a particular subject or request.
- 24/7 Prayer initiatives
Initiatives where people sign up to fill particular time slots, allowing a body of believers to continuously pray for many hours, days, weeks or even more. http://www.24-7prayer.com/ and http://www.ihop.org/
A mix of the above possibilities plus others can be entered into at the same time. Like the early church our lives both personal and corporate must be saturated in prayer. The church was birthed in prayer, and continues in like manner.
Consider as a class the following 4 accounts of corporate prayer
“After they were permitted to go, [the apostles] returned to their own [company] and told all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. And when they heard it, lifted their voices together with one united mind to God and said, O Sovereign Lord, You are He Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything that is in them, who by the mouth of our forefather David, Your servant and child, said through the Holy Spirit, Why did the heathen (Gentiles) become wanton and insolent and rage, and the people imagine and study and plan vain (fruitless) things [that will not succeed]? The kings of the earth took their stand in array [for attack] and the rulers were assembled and combined together against the Lord and against His Anointed (Christ, the Messiah). For in this city there actually met and plotted together against Your holy Child and Servant Jesus, Whom You consecrated by anointing, both Herod and Pontius Pilate with the Gentiles and peoples of Israel, to carry out all that Your hand and Your will and purpose had predestined (predetermined) should occur. And now, Lord, observe their threats and grant to Your bond servants [full freedom] to declare Your message fearlessly, While You stretch out Your hand to cure and to perform signs and wonders through the authority and by the power of the name of Your holy Child and Servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place in which they were assembled was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they continued to speak the Word of God with freedom and boldness and courage.” (Acts 4:23-31 AMP)
“And when they had entered [the city], they mounted [the stairs] to the upper room where they were [indefinitely] staying—Peter and John and James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas [son] of James. All of these with their minds in full agreement devoted themselves steadfastly to prayer, [waiting together] with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. AND WHEN the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all assembled together in one place, When suddenly there came a sound from heaven like the rushing of a violent tempest blast, and it filled the whole house in which they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were separated and distributed and which settled on each one of them. And they were all filled (diffused throughout their souls) with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other (different, foreign) languages (tongues), as the Spirit kept giving them clear and loud expression [in each tongue in appropriate words]. Now there were then residing in Jerusalem Jews, devout and God-fearing men from every country under heaven. And when this sound was heard, the multitude came together and they were astonished and bewildered, because each one heard them [the apostles] speaking in his own [particular] dialect. And they were beside themselves with amazement, saying, Are not all these who are talking Galileans? And all were beside themselves with amazement and were puzzled and bewildered, saying one to another, What can this mean? But others made a joke of it and derisively said, They are simply drunk and full of sweet [intoxicating] wine. But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: You Jews and all you residents of Jerusalem, let this be [explained] to you so that you will know and understand; listen closely to what I have to say. For these men are not drunk, as you imagine, for it is [only] the third hour (about 9:00 a.m.) of the day; But [instead] this is [the beginning of] what was spoken through the prophet Joel: Therefore those who accepted and welcomed his message were baptized, and there were added that day about 3,000 souls. And they steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] and prayers.” (Acts 1:13-14; 2:1-7,12-16,41-42 AMP)
The following account is excerpted from the highly recommended book, “The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever” by Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter (ISBN 1-56955-217-7).
The account is included to highlight the power of united prayer, and give insight to some of the dynamics of this kind of prayer.
The Moravian Revival (1727)
No one could anticipate what would transpire…as the small group of Moravian Christians gathered in Herrnhut, Germany, to observe the Lord’s Supper on Wednesday evening, August 13, 1727. Those present had a growing recognition that all was not right among them. Though they weren’t as openly critical of one another as they had been only weeks earlier, their leader challenged them to “quit judging each other.”
The Moravians in Herrnhut lived in harmony as a Christian community, but the sweetness of the faith seemed to be missing in their lives. When they assembled that summer evening, however, they experienced the presence of God. As a result, they were changed, “in a single moment into a happy people.” The revival went on for a hundred years.
The Moravian movement had begun with Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf, a young nobleman converted to Christ early in his childhood. At age four, he wrote and signed his own covenant with God: “Dear Saviour, do Thou be mine and I will be Thine.” When asked later in life about the driving force of his life, Zinzendorf responded, “I have one passion: It is Jesus, Jesus only.”
His passion was often expressed in prayer. As a teenager, he established seven prayer groups while studying at the University of Halle. When he graduated at age sixteen, he furthered his education by travelling to various foreign countries.
Zinzendorf had a great love for art, and it was in the Dusseldorf Gallery that he saw the painting that moved him most, a painting of the crucifixion of Jesus. Over the picture was the Latin motto: Hoc feci pro te; Quid facis pro me? which means, “This have I done for you; what have you done for me?” As he stood gazing at the picture, Zinzendorf determined to use his resources and influence in the service of God.
Later, Zinzendorf encouraged a small band of religious refugees to establish a community on his estates in Saxony. The Moravian Brethren saw themselves as the spiritual heirs of Bohemian reformer John Hus. For generations, they had wandered from place to place to escape intense persecution. Many had died for their faith. Others had been imprisoned and tortured.
Fleeing to Germany for refuge, the Moravians found it in Saxony. They named their community Herrnhutt, “the Lord’s Watch,” as a testimony and reminder of God’s watch over them.
Their new home greatly improved their physical conditions, but all was not well spiritually. Early in 1727, the community members were deeply divided and critical of one another. Heated public controversies were not uncommon; it seemed they argued about everything: predestination, holiness, baptism. It was doubtful the community would survive much longer.
Zinzendorf himself chose to intervene, visiting the adult members, urging them “to seek out and emphasize the points in which they agreed” rather than emphasizing their differences. On May 12, 1727, they all signed a covenant agreeing to dedicate their lives to the service of the Lord.
A “Baptism of Love”
While it was one thing to stop fighting, it was something completely different to “have fervent love for one another” (1 Pet. 4:8). To address this need, many began praying for a baptism of love. By July, a number of them were meeting together to worship God by singing hymns and calling on God to visit the community. On the fifth of August, the Count and about a dozen others spent the entire night in an emotional prayer meeting. They sensed God was about to do something significant.
On Sunday, August 10, the community experienced a foretaste of what was on the horizon. While Pastor Rothe led the service, he was overwhelmed by the power of God. As he collapsed to the ground, the whole congregation fell in the presence of the Lord. Prayer, singing, and weeping continued until midnight.
It was with this sense of expectation that the community gathered together three days later to share in a communion service. What took place at that service can be described only as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. According to one Moravian historian, “The Holy Ghost came upon us and in those days great signs and wonders took place in our midst.” So great was their hunger for the Scriptures in the days following that service that they gathered daily at 5:00 A.M., 7:30 A.M., and 9:00 P.M. for services. One observer noted, “Self-love and self-will, as well as all disobedience, disappeared, and an overwhelming flood of grace swept us all out into the great ocean of Divine Love.”
Many in the community believed the outpouring they were experiencing was the result of increased prayer over the summer. Out of that conviction, twenty-four men and twenty-four women covenanted together to pray continually on August 26. They drew lots and began praying around the clock, each couple praying for an hour. Others joined in, swelling the ranks of intercessors to seventy-seven.
Among the children, a similar emphasis on prayer was begun. The prayer meeting begun on August 27, 1727, outlived any of the people who began it. A century later, one could still find people praying in Hernhutt at any hour of the day or night.
Though some church historians think of the celebrated English Baptist missionary William Carey as the father of modern Protestant missions, the Moravian outpouring and hourly intercession that grew out of it gave birth to missions half a century before Carey sailed to India. Within fifty years, a hundred missionaries had been sent from Hernhutt to various parts of the world. Carey himself was inspired by mission reports published by Moravian journals, and he challenged British Baptists to follow their example.
One result of the Moravian revival was “a joyful assurance of their pardon and salvation.” This was the message they took to all who would listen. It crossed social, economic, and cultural barriers with similar effect. Through this message the Moravian revival had its greatest impact…
As we shall see when we look more closely at the revival in England, the Moravian outpouring also planted the seeds of the Methodist movement through its influence on that movement’s founder, John Wesley. In time, the Methodist movement was to touch millions around the globe.”
The following account is excerpted from the highly recommended book, “The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever” by Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter.
Again, the account is included to highlight the power of united prayer, and give insight to some of the dynamics of this kind of prayer.
The Fulton Street Prayer Meeting (1857)
In New York City in 1857, the Fulton Street Church (Dutch Reformed) hired Jeremiah Lanphier as a missionary to those working in the city who were unreached by the church. Not quite sure how to proceed in his new ministry, Lanphier decided to organize a noon hour prayer meeting for businessmen in the neighborhood. He printed an invitation to take part of the lunch hour to gather for prayer in a designated room at the Fulton Street Church. Then he distributed the flyers on the street to as many as would take them. On the appointed day, he set up the room and waited.
Twenty minutes after the prayer meeting was scheduled to begin, no one had arrived. Then a few steps were heard coming up the stairs. By the end of the hour, only six had attended the first noon hour prayer meeting at Fulton Street.
In the weeks following, the numbers attending began to increase. By October, the weekly meeting had turned into a daily prayer meeting attended by many businessmen. By year’s end, the crowd had grown to fill three separate rooms in the church.
Similar prayer meetings were organized throughout New York and in other cities across America. By March 1858, front-page stories in the press claimed that 6,000 people were attending noon hour prayer meetings in New York, and another 6,000 in Pittsburgh. In the nation’s capital, prayer meetings were conducted five times during the day to accommodate the crowd. As the movement spread from city to city, it became increasingly more common to see a sign posted in various businesses throughout the city: “Will open at the close of the prayer meeting.”
Throughout February 1858, Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald gave extensive coverage to the prayer meeting revival. Not to be outdone, the New York Tribune devoted an entire issue in April 1858 to news of the revival. The news quickly travelled westward by telegraph. This was the first awakening in which the media played an important role in spreading the movement.
In all the major cities of the Eastern seaboard, the lay prayer meetings flourished. Taking up the challenge of Christ, who once asked the apostle Peter, “Could you not watch with Me one hour?” (see Matt. 26:40), most of the prayer meetings were held for exactly one hour, from noon until 1:00 P.M. Many factories began to blow the lunch whistle at 11:55 A.M., allowing workers time to dash quickly to the nearest church (since the revival crossed denominations, they didn’t have to attend their own churches) so they could pray for one hour. The whistle then blew again, signalling them to resume work, at 1:05 P.M.
The prayer meetings were organized in the cities by laypeople and were interdenominational. With earlier awakenings, preaching had been the main instrument of revival, but this time prayer was the tool instead. The meetings themselves were very informal – any person might pray, exhort, lead a song, or give a word of testimony, with a five-minute limit placed on each speaker. In spite of the less structured nature of the prayer meetings, they lacked the extreme emotionalism that some had criticized in earlier revivals.
By May 1859, 50,000 people had been converted to Christ through the prayer revival. Newspaper reports throughout New England reported there were no unconverted adults in many towns. In addition to an unknown number of nominal church members won to Christ by the revival, more than a million unchurched Americans were converted to Christ and added to church membership roles. The movement seemed to be God’s call to America to repent before the Civil War, in which more Americans were killed than in any other of the nation’s wars.
The revival begun on the American continent spread to the Old World, beginning in Ulster, the most northerly province of Ireland, in 1859, About 10 percent of the population professed faith in Christ during the revival. Similar results were experienced as the revival spread to Wales and Scotland. An awakening also began and continued for several years in England. As in America, a million converts were added to church roles during the British awakening.