"The Incense of the Saints"
From the very beginning of the churchs history collective prayer has characterized the Christian testimony. The Lord Himself taught the value of collective prayer (Matt 18:19), the apostle Paul encouraged it throughout his epistles, and early assemblies never hesitated to practice it. As we consider our own interest and involvement in the assembly prayer meeting, let us never forget the long and effective record of saints who gathered together to pray.
The Importance of Prayer
Prayer is, first and foremost, an expression of dependence upon God. It is a declaration before God and men that the circumstances that we are confronted with are beyond our ability to direct and control. We are declaring our creature incapacity and seeking Divine intervention and assistance in the particular situation. This is a healthy attitude, because it puts us in our rightful place in relation to our God. Prayer does not accomplish what we can and ought to do; it seeks the power of God to do what only He can do.
But the fellowship of collective prayer is a special claim on our God. The Lord Jesus encouraged us to pray together, so that the resulting answer would be to the glory of the Father (John 14:13). In the same manner, collective prayer was to be a significant part of the conflict resolution process between brethren, which would result in restored fellowship and the conscious sense of His presence among them. (Note Matt 18:19 in the context of verses 15 to 22.) It is impossible for brethren and sisters to pray together and expect to be heard when they are at odds with each other. The fellowship of prayer must be unhindered or the Spirit will be quenched. Notice again how closely linked the subject of prayer is with the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24.
The Instances of Prayer
In considering this subject of assembly prayer, I went immediately to the Book of Acts to see the evidence for it in the early church. I must admit my surprise to note the spontaneous nature of prayer among the early churches. Being together, as situations arose they simply made them a matter for prayer. If we, today, are not in the habit of being together regularly, how can we pray together when issues and difficulties arise?
In Acts 1, the PROBLEM of the vacancy left in the apostolic group was resolved in the atmosphere of collective prayer (verse 14 and 24). Peter knew from the Lords own words that there must be twelve recognized apostles (Matt 19:28 and Luke 22:30), but they took the resolution of the problem to the Lord even as they acted themselves.
In Acts 2:42, the PATTERN of collective prayer was established as a cornerstone of assembly activity. It was to be a hallmark of their togetherness, just as much as the teaching or the breaking of bread.
The PERSECUTION of the saints, as they were reproached for the Name of Christ, was an immediate motivation to pray (Acts 4:24). They did not pray for the removal of the distress, but rather for increased boldness, power, and evidence of the Lords blessing upon their service. The resultant power (v 31) was attractive (v 32) and effective (v 33). Oh how powerful we could be if we prayed together about our reproach and suffering for the Name of Christ!
But practical needs arise among the Christians, and PEOPLE are needed to meet those needs, so in Acts 6:4 we find the apostles praying while solutions are being worked out for the daily service of the saints. How wholesome to find saints praying together for the simple fulfillment of daily needs and service!
In Acts 12:5, the PRIVATIONS of Peter are another cause for collective prayer. Whether they prayed all together (which is doubtful), or in "home groups" (as suggested by verse 12), the attitude of the church was one of full fellowship in prayer for Peters present need. How wholesome when we can pray together for the particular needs of the Lords people as they are brought to our attention! This writer will never forget when a call came to him about a critical need in another brothers life just before a weekly prayer meeting. He shared that need with the saints, and in the ensuing time thirteen brethren lifted up their voice to God in supplication. That individual is well and serving the saints again. God does answer prayer!
The commissioning of missionaries to PREACH the gospel was another opportunity to pray as in Acts 13:3. Again, they were together, and the will of the Lord being made known; they cast the workers upon God in prayer. How important that we regularly and faithfully hold up the hands of missionaries and any other servants of God who accept the responsibility to proclaim the gospel of the grace of God! Paul expressed his longing for the prayers of believers when he said, "Brethren, pray for us" (1 Thess 5:25).
Again, the PLACEMENT of individuals into positions of responsibility by the Lord to be recognized by the saints is a matter for collective prayer (Acts 14:23). They will not be able to function effectively among the Lords people if the saints are not praying for them and with them. Brethren and sisters, remember to pray for the elders among you, because they must give account in a way that most do not (Heb 13:17).
There are times in our assembly lives when individuals leave us to move elsewhere for various reasons. These PARTINGS should be further occasions to pray together with them and commend them to the God whose blessing and fellowship we have enjoyed together. In Acts 20:36 and 21:5, Paul and his companions prayed with the saints as they left them for the last time. God forbid that we should ever release a brother or sister or family from our company without praying for them and following them with prayer!
In these instances that have been mentioned there is a very significant point. With only one exception (20:36), we do not know a single individual who prayed at one of these assembly prayer meetings. The unity in prayer was too obvious to single out any one individual. As we who pray take part, let us remember that we are leading the whole company of the saints in unity into the presence of God with our petitions.
The Instructions in Prayer
When we come to the teaching of the epistles, the writers call out to us, through the Spirit, to pray together with a PERSISTENCE and PERSEVERANCE that is characteristic of the Lords parable in Luke 18:1-8. Such is the teaching of Ephesians 6:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Our prayers do not inform God, but they express our desire to see His will fulfilled in reference to our particular needs.
We are also taught that assembly prayers must be PUBLIC. The Christian outlook must be universal and international (1 Tim 2:1-3). Anyone who comes to our prayer meetings should sense that our interest includes the blessing and spiritual progress of the community and the nation in which we live. Never hesitate to tell the leaders that they are included in your prayers. Members of Parliament, both at the provincial level and the federal level, as well as the Mayor of our City, have been told that they are the objects of the prayers of the Christians in this community. It is spiritually healthy for them to know that, and for us to do it.
Another aspect of our prayers is that they should be intensely PRACTICAL. In James 5:13-18, we are told of some who are sick and afflicted, and their condition has produced a weariness of mind. Notice that the weakness (sick) of verse 14 has resulted in a weariness (sick) in verse 15. (The two words are distinct.) Part of our responsibility within the assembly fellowship is to pray for one another so that the knowledge that fellow-Christians are praying for us will comfort and sustain us. God help us to be that caring.
Please allow one final thought from my personal experience. Brethren who profess to have poor memories often hesitate to express themselves publicly because of fear of making errors in names or needs. I have noticed exercised brethren come to the prayer meeting with a list of the needs they are exercised to pray about carefully prepared, and as they rise, they simply hold it in their hands and refer to it as necessary. Thank God they come PREPARED and with specific desires on their hearts to present to God. The Lord encourage us to emulate their desire to pray.
"Pray, brethren, pray!"