In addition to the other values referred to in other parts of this book, here are several things that happen in a time of corporate prayer that can’t or don’t happen in a personal time of prayer.
I can get to know God more as I hear people pray who have a different personality, background, or theological perspective. In Ephesians 1, Paul says that a reason why he is praying for the Ephesian saints is, “so that they would know Him better.” This is a key reason to pray. In Colossians 2:2-3 there is a series of thoughts which shows how this can happen.
My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ… (my emphasis)
Paul’s thinking begins with being united in love (prayer produces that kind of unity). This unity will lead them to the full riches of understanding. This will allow them to know the mystery of God, which is Jesus Christ.
On many occasions I have had my understanding of Jesus Christ enlarged and even corrected as I have heard the prayers of people who know Christ differently (and in many cases better) than I have known Him.
I can hear the heart of another believer better when I hear them speaking to their Father rather than when they are just speaking to me. In a safe environment, people speak more openly and deeply when they pray than when they speak to another.
One of the clear directives of Scripture is to pray for one another. Getting people into smaller groups (generally 4-6 people) and giving them the following instructions has produced some wonderful times of prayer.
· Randomly select the first person to pray – (based upon their birth-day – “the person whose birthday is closest to today,” their height – “beginning with the tallest person in your group,” their first or last name – “alphabetically according to your first names,” or some other means).
· Explain that this time of prayer is about your own personal needs, not the needs of others. (“Scripture says we are to pray for one another. This is an opportunity for you to share your personal needs and let others join you in that prayer.”)
· Encourage them to consider, “the one thing you would most like the Lord to do in or for you personally.” This helps people share more meaningful things rather than more distant things.
· Ask them to not share their prayer request with the others, but rather just to begin talking to their Father about their concern (“As you begin, just climb up into the Father’s lap and tell Him what is on your mind.”)
· Instruct the others to listen carefully to the person praying so when it is time, they can join them and pray for their request.
· Let them know beforehand about how much time they will have for this time of prayer. Make sure that you give the group ample time to pray. It is not uncommon for this to take about 10 – 15 minutes per person. So a group of 6 people could easily pray in this setting for an hour or so.
As you pray in this manner you will see deeper relationship formed because of the deeper level of communication that has taken place.
It allows a group to worship together, listen together, make common requests, and rejoice together in His answers.
As we will see later, worship is a key component of dynamic corporate prayer. Personal worship is a needed discipline. So is corporate worship. I am not simply speaking of singing together. I am speaking about the sense of awe that a group can experience when they are together considering some aspect of God’s great and wonderful nature.
I was with a few pastors in Northern Virginia. As we were praying, I sensed a transition was coming up. It seemed right for me to ask the group to get away for a period of time and just soak in their favorite “Jesus exalting passage of Scripture.” When we returned, we had a wonderful time of worship simply by these brothers reading and praying from the freshness found in these passages.
It gives people an opportunity to ask and hear together. A pastor led a prayer retreat for the leadership of his congregation after being at a couple Pastors’ Prayer Summits. At one point he sensed God had something He wanted to say to them as a group. So, he invited them to take an hour or so and simply ask God if there was anything He wanted to say to this team. When they returned, there were about a dozen people who shared something and all but one was on the topic of unity. Because this group asked together, they heard together. It was a great confirmation to all of them that God had given them some very specific direction.
It enhances my own individual prayers because I can pray off of the prayers of others and they can do the same with mine. As we listen to the prayers of others, there are many times when one person’s prayers spark a thought in another person. Because of the conversational nature of dynamic corporate prayer, it is not uncommon for several people to pray around one specific topic and even at times add to (or even complete) a thought someone else began. The way I understand this is that Jesus hears one prayer through many voices rather than many separate prayers.
In Matthew 18:19 Jesus uses an interesting word to describe agreement in prayer.
Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
The word translated, “agree” is the word from which the English language gets the word, “symphony.” What a wonderful and creative illustration for corporate prayer. In a symphony many instruments play at the same time. But because they are all playing from the same score and under the same director, the music is complementary, not conflicting. As we listen to the Conductor and to the other instruments our contribution can enhance the overall time of prayer. Sometimes our prayers build upon the prayers of others, sometimes theirs builds upon ours. And sometimes your prayer is a confirmation to my prayer. This kind of prayer produces not only unity but also harmony Symphonic prayer can only be prayed with others. It is very hard to be a symphony all by yourself!
It allows me to agree with another prayer. Another important truth from Matthew 18:19 is the power of agreement. Saying “Amen” should be much more than the signal that my prayer is over or that what has just been prayed is one of my favorite topics. The word “Amen” is a means of communicating my receptivity to what I have just heard. It is like swallowing a spiritual truth. It is stating that this is a prayer that I would have prayed if I had the words. It is adding the weight of my unspoken prayer to the prayer that has just been spoken. It is stating my agreement and therefore increasing our anticipation of God’s answer. This is another unique aspect of corporate prayer.
It makes good use of spiritual gifts. It is clear that whatever one’s view of spiritual gifts may be, they seem to function best in a group setting. They are designed to build one another up. As we are praying with others in a group setting, we have opportunity to receive from the use of other people’s gifts as well
as express ours. Mercy is displayed through prayer. Teaching and learning happens as we pray. Wisdom is gleaned and encouragement takes place. And God performs healings and miracles. Corporate prayer allows us to benefit from, participate in, and appreciate God using people to impact others.
The transparency of one person in prayer can affect many others. I remember when Dave shared the phrase, “bold humility” with me. He was in a small country church when the Lord brought deep conviction to his heart. Without an altar call and even while the speaker was still speaking, he got up from his seat, went to the front of the church, laid face down at the altar and wept over his sin. He was completely unaware of how long he was there or what was going on around him. When he finally looked up, he saw that the preacher had stopped preaching and there were many other people who had followed his leadership. Many others got right with Jesus because of the “bold humility” of one person.
In extended times of prayer, it is very common for one person to share a deep need or conviction over sin and others respond. When one person leads out it gives not only permission but also encouragement for others to respond to the Lord.
These things take place because the orientation of corporate prayer is different than that of individual prayer. We are not thinking primarily about our requests. Instead we are joining with others to focus first on the Lord and secondly on the requests that flow from His heart.
So, does a person need to be involved in corporate prayer? No, but if they don’t, there are many benefits they will miss out on which can cause them to grow more in their relationship with God as well as with others