Prayer, individually and collectively, is vital to being a healthy church and being strong in our faith.
By Bob Regazzoli, pastor, Australia
The Word has always taught how important prayer is in our Christian lives and in our relationship with our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, in the Spirit. Most of our prayer life is private and personal, and corporately we are led in prayer during our worship services. What may not be quite as common for many Christians is praying with others in a small group setting.
As we look at the dynamic life of the early church, we find that coming together in prayer was part of their way of life and worship. Following Jesus’ ascension, we read of the apostles arriving in Jerusalem and meeting together in an upstairs room. “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). This was just prior to the day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
In the next chapter we see how they lived this new Spirit-filled life. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The Holy Spirit inspired the new believers to learn the teachings of Jesus from the apostles, brought them together in fellowship for the sharing of meals and the breaking of bread (which could have been referring to Communion) and a devotion to prayer. In this context of learning how to strengthen their new community, prayer was part of what believers did together.
One of the joys of sharing our lives together as Christians is when we are together in connect groups or small groups, where we can spend time building relationships by sharing what’s going on in our lives, worshipping and praising God with thanksgiving and praying about various needs. All this lays the foundation for other optional activities. While some groups meet primarily for prayer, others may include a time of shared prayer as part of their Bible discussion, book reading, or other type of meeting/gathering.
In a GC podcast, Anthony Mullins interviewed Carmen and Charles Fleming on “The Impact of Connect Groups on the Local Church.” https://resources.gci.org/media/gcpodcast
One notable statement made by Charles was “transformation takes place in community.” This was evident in the early church. Following the arrest of Peter and John, they went back to the other believers and reported what the chief priests and elders had said to them. The response of the community? “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God” (Acts 4:23). The following verses contain their prayer, and we read that “after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (v. 31). This community prayer led to the Holy Spirit working more powerfully in their lives, increasing their faith and confidence.
Later, Herod had Peter arrested and imprisoned, “but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5). He was miraculously released from prison by an angel, and he then went to where the members were meeting. “When this [the reality of his miraculous release] had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying” (v. 13).
Praying together deepens our love and appreciation for one another as we seek the lead and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and it builds and strengthens the unity of our faith.
One couple in our congregation has been facilitating a prayer group for almost 20 years. The group meets for about 30 minutes before every worship service to pray about members’ needs and for the worship service and all involved. This has been a significant ministry.
Our national church board instituted the practice many years ago of spending time in prayer before any business was discussed. A devotional is given by one of the board members, followed by various members praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all that is said and done. Further prayers are offered during the meetings.
We see from the history of the church in Acts that there is a direct connection between the church members praying together and being filled with the Holy Spirit. As Paul reinforced later, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19).
As Christians, we come to the Father through Jesus, our high priest, in the Spirit. He is always living to intercede on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25). As we live in him and he in us, we join with Jesus in his faithful response to the Father. We join him in intercessory prayer. We participate with him in his ministry. As we have seen, intercessory prayer within the community was an integral part of the life of the early church.
Prayer, individually and collectively, is vital to being a healthy church and being strong in our faith. If you haven’t participated in a prayer meeting or connect group where there is prayer, do yourself a favour and join one, or initiate one with other members. There are mature Christians who would be more than willing to assist.
Paul’s timeless message to the church communities in his day and down through the ages is this: “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).