Do you ever have trouble praying? Maybe you don’t know what to say. Or what you do say sounds like you pushed the replay button. You even get bored with your prayers. Or maybe the problem is motivation. You have the best intentions but actually getting around to prayer is a different matter.
God has an answer. It’s called corporate prayer. Corporate prayer is where you gather with other believers around the throne of grace to pray together.
The genius of corporate prayer is that where you don’t have the words, others have them for you. They lead you in prayer, often in ways you would not even have thought. Sometimes they express things that are on your mind. As you pray along with them in your heart and utter the “amen” of agreement, their prayers becomes yours. You have prayed.
Often what happens in these situations is you find yourself opening up, warming to the task. Before you know it, you have said something out loud. The prayers of others have not only led you, they have emboldened you. As they have drawn you into the wonder of God’s presence, you become eager to speak up. You express something to God in the way of praise or thanks, maybe pray for another’s need. You hear someone in the group say “amen” out loud. You have actually led others in prayer, blessing them with words to say!
Then there is the matter of motivation. Your best-laid plans to pray can often be waylaid by disaster or simple distraction. Another day has gone by and with it the opportunity for concentrated prayer. Sure, you pray on the go, conversing with God throughout the day. But you still know how important it is for concentrated time with your Lord.
While praying without ceasing is akin to breathing in new life with Christ as we livecorum deo, and while the prayer closet is something to be practiced for focused prayer in communion with God, corporate prayer can be a big help for cultivating prayer. It can be a setting for the discipline of prayer as it is for training in praying.
If you plan to gather with a bunch of friends to watch TV, what will you do when you get there? You’ll watch TV. When you get together with other believers for the express purpose of prayer, what will you end up doing? You’ll end up praying. Your mind might wander now and then, but if the activity going on is prayer, you’ll get back into it. Certainly, you will pray more than if you stayed away.
So corporate prayer leads us in prayer and leads us to prayer. It is stimulating others to love and good deeds at its best (Heb. 10:24-25).
There’s something else about corporate prayer. God seems to have a special design for it. It helps you to pray but it does more than that. It carries with it a power and purpose at God’s design.
In teaching His disciples about church discipline, Jesus made a remarkable statement: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mt. 18:20) “Two or three” brings to the fore a corporate dimension. Our Lord is applying the general principle of His promised presence for those gathered in His name, in this case to the specific circumstance of church discipline.
To apply the general principle to corporate prayer: because we gather in the name of Jesus, He says He will be with us. But isn’t Jesus with us in our private prayer closet? Certainly He is. He is with us always. But here our Lord impresses something about His presence with those assembled shoulder-to-shoulder for the work of His kingdom. That work has to do with making disciples (including our own spiritual formation) and building His church.
I’m not sure we can pin down all this means for Jesus to be with us in some special way, but it has got to mean something remarkable. Jesus, to whom all authority has been given, who rules on high for His church, who beckons us to ask in His name and, through James, chastises us that we do not have because we do not ask, assures us of His personal presence in the endeavor. Talk about an encouragement for gathering with fellow believers in expectant prayer!
God has provided many helps to our prayer. The psalms give us words, expanding the range of our prayers, enlarging our view of God, engaging us in holy communion. The Spirit inhabits our prayers and fosters expression even beyond the limitations of vocabulary and deficiencies of our own wisdom. Corporate prayer finds a distinct contribution among the provisions of our God to rouse us to pray.