There is scarcely a subject so sacred as prayer, propelling us to unfathomable heights and into the very ear of God (Psa 18:6). Upon examination, we come face to face with the fact that praying together is an integral and essential part of the Christian life.
Scriptural Examples of Collective Prayer
While there are multiple examples of collective prayer in Scripture, we will confine ourselves in this section to the present dispensation of the Church. Unsurprisingly, in Acts 1 it began with collective prayer, when in an upper room in Jerusalem 120 disciples gathered together anticipating the descent of the Holy Spirit. This was no casual prayer meeting. For many, they were far from home in Galilee, and outside the door stood a blood-stained world fresh from the crucifixion. With the palpable absence of their blessed Master, they began to pray. What precious first principles we discover, that, if heeded, will stand us in good stead in the assembly.
Verse 14 begins with the statement that they “all continued.” In that elevated and separated place they earnestly and perseveringly began to lay hold of God. “With one accord” would communicate the harmony that existed among them. Though diverse in background, occupation and personality, the tone of their prayer ascended as one. But if there was harmony, there was also variety, as it declares that they sought God in both “prayer and supplication.” Prayer is a picture of the collective company on their knees in dependence upon the Lord. God expects regular, ordered, consistent prayer, and we suggest it’s the very engine room of an assembly! We’re not clones repeating identical prayers, neither do we read from a “prayer book,” but it’s expected that we come with exercise and specific items to pray for.
Along with regular and ordered prayer, “supplication” would imply the company on their faces in reality and urgency. This doesn’t mean that we attempt to work ourselves into some frenzied state of emotion, but rather the urgency of a situation drives us to plead with our God. Intercessory prayer is the company on their feet, entreating God on another’s behalf.
The phrase “with the women” emphasizes the basic necessity for unity. The Greek word translated “with” reveals that these women were no bystanders but were intimately and equally involved. Let’s never think that because the women are silent in the assembly prayer meeting, they are ineffective – No! As we observe the godly character of the women who ministered to our Lord (Mar 15:41,47;16:1), we quickly understand that such women were the backbone to prayer ascending. How delightful that “Mary the mother of Jesus” took her place in humility among them. Of the 3 distinct groups mentioned, she’s in the midst among the women, with no elevated rank, just saints praying together. The same is true in the assembly. There are no “eminent brethren” that the Lord especially listens to, and younger men need to be encouraged to take part.
Finally, in the statement “with his brethren,” we learn that it’s only according to mercy that any of us are found in His presence (Titus 3:5). It’s amazing to think that after 30 years of observing a perfect Son, the earthly brothers of Jesus rejected His claims. Truly, the flesh would give no further opportunity to such underserved treatment, but not so our Blessed Lord! Nothing of Adam’s fallen nature marked that Holy Man, and in resurrection He revealed Himself to James (1Co 15:7). Amazing grace!
Some additional Scriptures concerning collective prayer for the reader to develop are: 1) Acts 4:29 – Courage in hostile conditions. 2) Acts 12:15 – Confidence in God’s ability to answer. 3) Acts 16:16 – Conflict experienced. 4) Romans 15:30-32 and Philemon 22 – Circumstances overruled. 5) Ephesians 6:18-19 – Clarity in speaking. 6) Colossians 4:3 – Continual open doors.
Historical Occasions of Collective Prayer
There have been a number of significant spiritual revivals in the history of mankind. Just over 160 years ago, there was a move of God which shook parts of this world and changed the eternal destiny of thousands of souls. In Northern Ireland, the torch of revival was lit when in 1857 four new converts began meeting for prayer in a schoolhouse in County Antrim. News of a spiritual awakening in America had reached their ears, and in new-found zeal, they began to lay hold upon God for the souls of men. What followed can only be attributed to a mighty movement of God, and thousands of people were converted to Christ. Was there a magic formula to such prayers? For the answer, we turn to one of the most notable historic revivals.
Nineveh, the capital city in the Assyrian empire, a superpower of human glory utterly opposed to God, was reached with the message of impending judgment. In Jonah 3:8 we read that the king arose from his throne and encouraged the people to “cry mightily unto God.” Literally, hundreds of thousands of souls were saved. No prescribed “formula prayer” was offered, but total dependence upon God. Do we desire to experience revival in our day? Let it be with true prayer!
Detrimental Actions in Collective Prayer
In Matthew 6:7, our Lord issued a stark warning in the context of collective prayer: “Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (ESV). Hypocrisy in assembly prayer meetings is a sad possibility. In our Lord’s statement, we can almost envisage a growing pile of empty words, clichés and long-winded rhetoric filling the hall as prayer is made. We’re not there to impress others nor should we use the opportunity to vent pet peeves, correct fellow saints or preach mini sermons. Prayer does not require spiritual gift, and may we never assume that eloquence is the benchmark of acceptable prayer. God delights in sincerity and humility, and a good test is to ask ourselves if we are “praying together” or just “together praying.”
Practical Encouragement from Collective Prayer
I have a dear friend now in heaven who in elderly years and unable to visit the saints devoted himself to an incredible “phone ministry.” He was renowned for concluding each call with a prayer. “Let us speak to our Father,” he would say, which turned the conversation from two- to three-way, and lifted the recipient into the presence of God. My wife’s grandfather, who served as a medic in WWII, spoke fondly of times when he met a fellow Christian, and in the midst of the carnage they prayed together. Let us all be encouraged to pray together, in the assembly, in the home, out in public or down the phone. Husbands, wives, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren – pray together. “People that pray together, stay together!”