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Peter was in prison, and Herod had probably ordered his execution for the next day.

Sounds like an impossible situation, doesn’t it? Imagine being a brand-new, multiplying church with the entire Roman army against you, and 16 soldiers surrounding your leader-who happens also to be in chains.

How did this church in Acts 12 respond? They didn’t have any armies or weapons. They said, “We have an impossible situation. Our beloved leader, mightily used by God, is in prison. We will pray earnestly unto God specifically for His deliverance.”

There are several principles of prayer in this passage. First and foremost, the church prayed “to God.” They knew the One to whom they were praying-His power, His authority, His great compassion and love. But there’s also another principle they practiced that we can learn from: They prayed “earnestly” (Acts 12:5).

The word “earnestly” here is a compound word in Greek. It has two parts, the first part meaning “out” and the second part meaning “stretched.” It’s the idea behind our English word for tension. It’s translated in 1 Peter 1:22 as deeply or fervently, and it’s used in Luke 22:44 where Jesus prays “in anguish” and “more earnestly” in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The image given is of focused and passionate prayer-coming to God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and saying, “God, I mean business! I want what I’m asking of You; I’m not just going through the motions.”

Those of us who have children may remember a time when a little one’s temperature rose to 102, then to 103, and then to 104. You may remember how our prayers changed as the temperature went up. Have you ever sat there with a little baby who’s burning up? We don’t pray, “O Lord, we would really like, if it’s in Your will, according to Your sovereign plan, to bless this child according to Your purposes,” do we? We pray, “O God, save my child!”

That’s what this word “earnestly” is saying: We need to come to God like we mean it. We need to know Who we’re really talking to, and then earnestly-with our soul stretched out before God-to say, “God, hear our cry.”

Earnest Together

A crucial aspect of the church’s earnest prayer was its corporate nature. They were united in their earnestness. The early church believed that it was the most powerful force on this earth, so when the body of Christ gathered and approached Jesus and the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, they asked in unity.

For the rest of the post…

“This is our problem–and it seems many churches simply don’t realize how little they pray together, or how little their prayers reflect the bigheartedness of God.” pray more. Not rocket science, I know.”

~ John OnwuchewaPrayer, 14.

“As Mark Dever says, ‘It is impossible to answer the question “What is a Christian?” without ending up in a conversation about the church–as least, in the Bible, it is.’ If prayer clings to to the hope we have in Christ, then prayer should reflect our togetherness in Christ. If prayer has a gospel shape, then by implication, it must have a church shape.”

John OnwuchekwaPrayer, 37.

“…a church’s commitment to prayer is one of the greatest determiners of its effectiveness in ministry.

Prayer is oxygen for the Christian. It sustains us. So it follows that prayer must be a source of life for any community of Christians. It is to the church what it is to individuals–breathing. Yet many of our gatherings could be likened to people coming together merely to hold their collective breath. This would explain why people seem to have so little energy for actually living out the Christian life.

But breathing together is what our churches need.”

John OnwuchekwaPrayer23.

“Breathing–as a metaphor for Christian prayer–captures so much of what prayer should be. It reminds us that prayer is something essential to our existence. Breathing is necessary for everything we do. It enables every activity. Likewise, prayers is basic and vital. It’s tied to both our present existence and perpetual endurance. Prayer is breathing. There’s no better metaphor of what prayer should be for the Christian.”

~ John OnwuchekwaPrayer17.

Prayer

“Oh! yes, (the prayer meeting) is the place to meet with the Holy Ghost, and this is the way to get His mighty power. If we would have Him, we must meet in greater numbers; we must pray with greater fervency, we must watch with greater earnestness, and believe with firmer steadfastness. The prayer meeting…is the appointed place for the reception of power.”

~ Charles H. Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon

 

The Danger of “I” in Christian Prayer

This article is an excerpt from my book, The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution. This post is the third in an eight part series on the Lord’s Prayer. 

There is No “I” in Prayer: Combating Individualism in Our Prayers

Over the past several decades I have noticed that many Christians tend to begin their prayers by presenting their needs. Of course, in some sense, I understand why we naturally turn to petition almost immediately upon entering into prayer. We tend to begin with petitions because prayer reminds us of our deep need for God to sanctify us in our circumstances and save us from our trials. Additionally, our circumstances and trials are often the very thing that drives us to pray in the first place. Thus the tyranny of the urgent has a remarkable way of consuming our intellectual life and our thought patterns. As a result, our prayers, from beginning to end, are often marked by petition.

But the Lord’s Prayer begins in a very different place. Petitions certainly are a part (a major part, in fact) of the Lord’s Prayer, but Jesus does not begin with requests. He begins, instead, by identifying the character of the God to whom he prays while at the same time challenging our individualism in prayer. Jesus does all of this in the first two words, “Our Father.”

The word “our,” at first glance, seems like an insignificant little pronoun. But Jesus is making a tremendously powerful theological point by beginning his prayer with the word “our.” Jesus is reminding us that when we enter into a relationship with God we enter into a relationship with his people. When we are saved by Christ, we are saved into his body, the church. In fact, this emphasis on our place in the corporate identity of the church is reiterated throughout the prayer. One way to notice this emphasis is simply to read through the prayer and stress each personal pronoun:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Do you notice what is stunningly absent? There is no first-person singular pronoun in the entire prayer! Jesus did not teach us to pray, “My father who is heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give me this day my daily bread and forgive me my debts as I also have forgiven my debtors. And lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil.” The point is not to deny our own sins or our own needs, but never to leave ourselves there.

One of the besetting sins of evangelicalism is our obsession with individualism. This obsession with individualism chronically besets us as evangelicals. The first-person singular pronoun reigns in our thinking. We tend to think about nearly everything (including the truths of God’s Word) only as they relate to me. This is why when Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he emphasizes from the very outset that we are part of a corporate people called the church. God is not merely “my Father.” He is “our Father”—the Father of my brothers and sisters in the faith with whom I identify and with whom I pray.

If we are honest, even many of our prayer meetings fail to take into account Jesus’ emphasis on the corporate character of prayer. Yet we must never lose sight of the fact that even when we pray by ourselves, we must pray with an eye toward and with love for Christ’s church. We must remember the pattern of our Lord’s speech in the model prayer and recall not only the words he used, but the words he didn’t use. The first-person singular (I, me, my, mine) is completely absent from the Lord’s Prayer. Evidently, prayer should not center on you or me.

The problem of overemphasizing ourselves in our prayers reminds me of G. K. Chesterton’s famous answer to a question put forth by a major London newspaper, “What is the problem with the world?” This question was sent to many public intellectuals in Victorian England, many of whom sent back long essays delineating the complexities of everything wrong with the world. Chesterton, however, responded with a simple handwritten note that read, “I am. Sincerely yours, Chesterton.”

What is the biggest problem with our prayers? Perhaps the most fundamental answer mirrors Chesterton’s: “I am.”

For the rest of the post…

 

“Many times, prayer is the most practical thing you ‘do’ to encourage change.”

Mark Dever & Jamie Dunlop, The Compelling Community132.

“A congregation without a prayer meeting is essentially defective in its organization, and so must be limited in its efficiency”

~ J. B. Johnston

July 2019
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