In The Congregation
“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. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)
Corporate or community prayer goes beyond the prayers of an individual Christian. It is that prayer which involves more than one member of the body of Christ. And while there are many aspects (or characteristics) of corporate prayer, today I want us to think about only two. The first is the aspect of togetherness, and the second is the aspect of purpose.
First, the aspect of togetherness, or praying together as a team. The Christian faith is unique in many ways, especially in the sense that it is not limited to the individual but it is actually communal and cooperative in nature. It stresses the assembling together of the believers. All other religions promote personal or individual piety or holiness. Yet the Christians faith alone calls people to assemble together, especially in prayer. The Bible tells us that a special kind of grace falls upon those believers who are gathered together, especially in prayer.
Because of this, the word of God commands us not to forsake assembling together. Let me read you Hebrews 10:25. It says: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another— and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” From the Old Testament we know that God meant for his people— the Jews— to assemble together. Psalm 68:26 is clear about that: “Praise God in the great congregation; praise the Lord in the assembly of Israel.” To be a congregation, they had to assemble together. Therefore, in the Old Testament God made his desire clear, that his people gather together.
Then in the New Testament, it is a whole lot clearer that God’s desire is that his people assemble together in worship and praise, and especially in prayer. He wants us to do so that we might receive his grace and blessing all the more. He tells us: “Let us not give up [or forsake our] meeting [or assembling] together” and he continues saying: “As some are in the habit of doing.” It seems clear that many Christians had been perfectly content to be by themselves, avoiding the congregation. They kept to themselves and lived personal secluded lives of faith apart from the congregation. But in doing so, they were not doing right in the sight of God and his congregation. More than that, they were also forfeiting the grace and blessing that could be theirs. So the Bible tells us not to forsake our assembling together that we might not forfeit the many blessings that are ours as a believing congregation. It is indeed foolish to stop gathering with the other saints of the Lord. Many times the forfeiture is great, and the cost is very high to the individual Christian as well as to the body.
The Bible tells us of many occasions of gathering or assembling together, especially in the life of our Lord Jesus, our glorious example. While Jesus was on earth, he often met with his disciples. Although sometimes he did converse with them individually, yet he was more interested in gathering with them together. He gathered with them in boats, in homes, on top of mountains, and even inside a borrowed upper room on the night of his suffering and death. Then after his resurrection, he met with them behind closed doors and blessed them together as a body, and shed much grace upon them as a congregation, no matter how small they had been at first. Then before the day of Pentecost, we see the disciples themselves gathering together. For days they gathered together with one heart and mind, and a steadfast spirit, as they prayed together. There were some 120 of them at the time. Then on the day of Pentecost itself, they were all gathered together in one place, and as they prayed and waited for the gift of God to descend upon them together, it happened according to the Lord’s promise. It was a glorious blessing and grace aimed at the whole congregation. What would have happened if they had each gone their own way and forsaken meeting together? Then in Acts chapter 2 we see that all who received the word of God and were baptized into the name of our Lord Jesus, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42) Later on, when they were persecuted, they assembled together to pray together. When Peter was miraculously released from prison, he too went to the home where God’s people were assembled together in prayer. The word of God commands us not to “give up meeting together.” not to forsake it. In the letter to the Corinthian church, Paul gives special mention of the whole church coming together. No one who belongs to the church of our Lord Jesus should keep himself or herself away from such gatherings. They are vital to the life and spiritual health of the individual as well as to the church.
What does “church” mean? It is more accurately translated as “assembly”, or those who are called out to assemble together. Today, God has called out a people for himself from among the nations, and shed his grace upon them calling them to be his children. They are the true believers. And he has called us (commanded us) to assemble together. Imagine if each one of us who is called by God were to maintain his or her independence, what would happen? There would be no church today. It is imperative that we assemble together.
When we talk about church prayer, we are not discounting individual/personal/private prayer, nor are we lessening its importance. Yet, we should see that it is a rule of the kingdom of God that what one person is not able to do on his or her own, is clearly to be done through mutual and corporate help— through togetherness. And this is especially true in matters of prayer. In matters of prayer, there is a tremendous need for togetherness. All those who belong to the Lord Jesus and who follow him closely, often understand and see the need for praying with other believers. Sometimes they feel the inadequacy of their own prayers, especially when it comes to the glorious subjects of the coming kingdom of God. They understand and see that such awesome topics require the strength of the whole church— that it requires the togetherness of prayer. The Lord explained this well to us when he said: “My house will be called a house of prayer”. (Matthew 21:13) And the author of Hebrews explains to us what this “My house” is when he says: “And we are his house”. (Hebrews 3:6)
The body of Christ (this togetherness) delivers us from more than we can imagine. But it certainly delivers us from the divisiveness of “denomination” and the narrow mindedness of separatism and racism and clannishness (sectarianism). In addition, it delivers us from the self and from individualism. How terribly sad it is that the life principle of many Christians is not the body of Christ— the togetherness— but the individual self. No wonder then at times non-believers look at us with contempt thinking that we are no different than they are. Selfishness, individualism, aloneness, self-seeking— even if it is in the form of personal prayers with no regard to the body of Christ— cannot be the heart and soul of our faith. The whole blessed glory of the Christian faith— based on the example of our Savior— is sacrifice, self-giving, love and unity. Without them, we cannot expect to be recognized as Jesus’ people.
Yet, we see that this principle of individualism is rampant in many areas of our lives. For example, when we are praying together, someone can only pray by himself, and does not know how to pray with another. He or she might bow the head together with others, but his or her attention is limited to herself or himself. When he prays, he wants other people to listen to his prayer. But when others pray, he will not listen to them, but will think on something else. In that sense he has no inner response to another person’s prayer and is ultimately unable even to say amen to what is being said. He prays his prayer and lets the other pray their prayer without getting consciously involved in their prayer. There appears to be no relationship or connection between his prayers and those of the others. He does not care what prayer burden others have. He only cares about his own. This is the rule of individualism, not the rule of the body. The body— of Christ— cares for every member and every member’s concern is its own concern. In a sense, this person, although a believer, has not really seen the body and has no concept of togetherness, and so he cannot cooperate with other believers before God.
We need to learn fellowship or togetherness in prayer. We need to learn fellowship or togetherness in difficulties. We need to learn fellowship and togetherness is seeking God’s will. We need to learn togetherness concerning our own future, concerning the Word of God, and many other things. And this is what fellowship/togetherness means: It means that I know that I am inadequate in the matter of prayer, so I seek out two or three others to pray with me. I by myself am incompetent in solving difficulties, and so I ask two or three other believers to deal with the situations together with me— and I don’t give up praying with them time and again until the difficulty is resolved. Alone, I am unable to know God’s will, therefore, I ask the help of two or three others, and I do not give up praying with them until I know the will of God. I myself am a little confused as to my future, and so I request two or three other believers to fellowship with me and to help me decide what my future should be. I trust them to help me well, but more than that, I trust God to whom my brothers and sisters in the Lord pray. I cannot understand the word of God alone, and so I study the word of God with two or three other believers.
In fellowship— in togetherness— I acknowledge my insufficiency and lack of ability and I also acknowledge my need of the body. I confess that I am limited and liable to make mistakes. And for this, I humble myself and plead with those brothers or sisters of mine who have spiritual insight to help me, even if at times these believers are not really friends of mine. I could ask those who are unspiritual but who love me nonetheless as a friend, because I know they will lean towards helping me with their affection, and with advice I know I will like to hear. But I should not do that. Rather I should humble myself and ask advice and prayer support from those who are sure to give me spiritual advice and pray for me and with me. Like young Mary who received the news that she would be pregnant with the Son of God. She could have sought the affection and advice of her fiancé, Joseph. But rather she went to an elderly woman Elizabeth and spent 6 months with her in fellowship and prayer so as to find out the full will of God. I am truly inadequate and therefore, I need the help of other believers.
Because we are members of the body of Christ, and members each in its part, we must seek how to help the body in gaining life and strength. In any assembly, in any togetherness in the Lord, even if we do not open our mouths, we may pray silently with other believers. Even if we do not speak we can still look at God and lift our hearts to pray with others. This is body consciousness— being conscious that we are part of a body and not individual cells functioning for the self. I am a member of the body and I have a duty to perform. I cannot and should not be a spectator in this body. And as we all function together, the life of the entire gathering or assembly will defeat death and despair, trouble and hardship, want and need, struggle or temptation. There is life in the body. There is life when two or more gather to pray.
The second aspect of corporate prayer is purpose. “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. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)
One of the first lessons the Lord teaches is that prayer is not to be seen by men, but for one to enter into the secret chamber or room, close the door, and be alone with the Father. When we had learned this, we understood that prayer must be personal and intimate with God, and not a public show for gaining personal recognition. However, we learn further that as much as we need this secret solitary place of prayer, we are equally as needy of public united prayer with other believers. He says: “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. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Why is that? Because the bond that unites a believer to other fellow believers is no less vital than the bond that unites that believer to God the Father. We are one with each other as we are one with God. Jesus once taught us to pray “Our father” and not “my father”. There is nothing more unnatural than for children of the same family to meet with their father separately all the time, and never in an expression of love and unity. Just as each member of the body depends on the others, the body itself depends on the union and cooperation of all its members. Then what marks or characterizes true united prayer? The Lord himself gives these to us here.
The first mark of united (togetherness) prayer is agreement as to the thing we ask for. He said: “If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for.” This is not general agreement about certain things; it must be some special thing— a matter of distinct united desire. The agreement must be in spirit and in truth as we come before God to ask for it. The second mark or character of united prayer is that it must be done in the name of Jesus. As Jesus said: “come together in my name.” Jesus teaches us that the name of our Lord must be the center of union to which believers gather together— the bond of union that makes us one, just as a home contains and unites all who are in it, so also the name of Jesus must unite us in our corporate prayer. “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” It is the living presence of Jesus, in the fellowship of his loving and praying people that gives united prayer its power. And the third aspect of corporate prayer is this: “That it will be done for them”. It will be done for us! In other words, corporate prayer, or togetherness prayer, is for what purpose? It is for the sake of receiving an answer, receiving what we ask for. We pray together in order to get an answer. We pray so that our prayers may be answered. There are prayer meetings for the sake of maintaining fellowship with each other. But what Jesus meant here is we pray together so that we might secure special answer to our prayer. Praying together without expecting an answer is not rooted in Christian faith.
When any of us have some prayer topics that we feel we are too weak to exercise the proper faith for it on our own, then we should seek strength in the help of others. It is too prideful to depend on our selves in prayer, especially in matters that are unresolved in our lives, even though we’ve prayed time and again. We should seek each other’s prayer support. And not only in personal matters of urgency, but in matters related to the church, and the health and growth of the church. There is power in our union with one another and in God. There is power because in the unity of faith and love and the spirit, the power of the name of our Lord, and the presence of the Lord among us, acts more powerfully and flows more freely and the answer comes more surely. This is what the Lord is teaching us here. The mark of united prayer is the fruit, the answer, the receiving of the thing we have asked for. “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.” Therefore if in every prayer meeting, standing at the forefront is: the coming together in the name, the faith in the presence, and the expectation of the answer, who can say what blessings and graces we may receive.
The Lord wants those who are convicted of, devoted to, and have assurance that prayer is vital to the life and health of a church and body of believers— enough to launch a prayer revival among us. Someone or some ones who are touched by the truth that God answers prayers as long as they agree in what they pray for, meet together in his presence, ask in his name, and have an expectation to receive what they pray for. The Lord and his church want someone or some ones who will not be discouraged when members are not initially participating, who are not troubled by the lack of other’s commitment to prayer— someone or some ones who can give themselves to prayer— and who understand that all great things (revivals) begin with a seed and that that seed must die first before any fruit can be borne. The Lord is looking for someone or some ones among us who are ready to die through giving themselves to prayer so that the church might live— someone or some ones who have a vision that if only the seed is planted then the whole congregation will be blessed and will join them in prayer— if they only maintain the vision. The Lord wants this church to be a praying church, a congregation that is convinced that if we pray together we will become a force that even Satan cannot withstand. We spent 3 months talking about prayer and learning the basics of prayer. We can spend another 3 months learning prayer and not get out of basics. So whatever else we need to learn about prayer we will have to learn it through personal reflection and communion with the Lord, as well as through grabbing every opportunity to pray together.