It is said that a visitor to C.H. Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle once asked Spurgeon to tell him the key to his ministry’s great success. In answer, the famous preacher took the visitor to a basement room where a group of church members bowed in intercessory prayer. “Here,” he explained, “is the powerhouse of the church.”
As usual, Spurgeon was correct. A healthy church must have her saints on their knees. What the surrounding world surely sees as something entirely unremarkable—a group of people with every head bowed and every eye closed—is actually one of the most important events in all of Christ’s kingdom.
Corporate prayer has been a central practice of God’s people throughout redemptive history. The sons of Seth “began to call upon the name of the Lord” as they gathered in the new-created world (Gen. 4:26), Esther and Daniel each called for a prayer meeting in times of crisis (Esther 4:15-16, Dan. 2:17-18), and Jesus himself jealously guarded prayer as a priority for God’s people (Matt. 21:13). Whenever the church gathers for a Wednesday night prayer meeting or bows her head for the Sunday morning pastoral prayer or intercedes for one another in small groups and Bible studies, she takes up the work that God’s people have always done.
This is also the lesson of the book of Acts. From the earliest days of the church, we find God’s people gathered for prayer: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14). The prayer described here is deliberate (“devoting themselves to prayer”), it was united (“with one accord”), and it included the full diversity of Christians (“all these. . .with the women. . .and his brothers”).
Two thousand years later, the church is still built on this foundation. In prayer, God’s people admit their own frailty and together call upon the name of almighty God. And in answer to our prayer, God stirs and refreshes the hearts of his people and pours out his Spirit on the church (Isa. 62:6-7, Luke 11:13). God holds out wonderful promises to the church on her knees! In Scripture, he pledges to answer our united prayer with judgment on his and our enemies (Rev. 8:3,5), with forgiveness and revival (2 Chron. 7:13-14), with healing and salvation (James 5:14-15), and with his very presence among us (Matt. 18:19-20). How could we neglect so great a privilege?
Corporate prayer is essential for a healthy church in another way, too. Not only is praying together the clear duty and privilege of Christ’s church in every generation, praying together is also God’s means to bind his church together in mutual love.
I remember clearly the first time I attended the prayer meeting at the rural church where I spent my college years. I walked down the stairs to the church basement on a Wednesday night to find a small group of people who seemed to have little in common with me. I was a teenager, they were middle-aged and older. I was studying for a liberal arts degree, they were farmers and housewives. But in that hour of prayer—and all the hours that would follow over the years—I learned that my fellow church members were not so dissimilar after all. Each of us was a sinner saved by grace, united to Christ, and entirely dependent on the Lord for every good thing. And as we bowed before the Lord in prayer together, we grew in love for one another.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15), writes Paul, and “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). What better way to do this than by taking up one another’s burdens and lending each other a hand to cast them on the Lord? In prayer together, my brother’s joys and sorrows become my joys and sorrows. In prayer, his needs become my own.
Paul’s prayer for the church in Rome highlights the resulting circle of love: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:5-6). As we pray together, we stir up love for one another. And as we love one another, we cultivate one harmonious voice—with which we joyfully pray together all the more.
Brothers and sisters, let us pray.
Megan Hill is the author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches. She lives in Massachusetts and is a member of West Springfield Covenant Community Church (PCA) where her husband serves as pastor.