Monday, October 20, 2014

Rising Incense: The Value of Corporate Prayer

“Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given 
much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended 
before God from the angel's hand.” (Rev 8:3-4)

The healthy church is one that prays. I don’t just mean individual Christians praying individually, although this is important as well. Certainly every true church will be led in prayer during the Sunday service, probably some requests and a short prayer time at the end of a Bible study, but do these alone make the church a praying church? While they are praying certainly, a praying church is one where prayer is much more a priority than something that’s part of the order of service or tacked on the end of a Bible study. When was the last time you gathered with other Christians just to pray? When was the last time you gathered on the behalf of a brother or sister who was hurting or sick? Have you gathered with the church to lift up your persecuted brethren around the world, to lift up the community you live in, the nation and its leaders you have been placed under? When was the last time you spent more than 10 minutes alone or with others praying?

Again, it is certainly important that Christians pray alone, and we are called to pray “continually” (1 Thes. 5:17). But there is something powerful about the body of Christ coming together to lift its voice in one accord. E.M. Bounds (a man known for his writing on prayer) writes,

“The past has not exhausted the possibilities nor the demands for doing great things
for God. The church that is dependant on its past history for its miracles of power
and grace is a fallen church… The greatest benefactor this age could have is the
man who will bring the teachers and the church back to prayer.”

By all means give me a church that preaches the Gospel faithfully, this is of first importance. But closely on its heels is the need for prayer. It is a key identifying mark; the church is to be a “house of prayer” (Isa 56:7). Not only is prayer commanded but it is exemplified all over the Bible. In the book of Acts, the church was centered around three main things, one of them being, you guessed it, prayer:

Acts 1:14 – they all continued “with one accord in prayer and supplication…”
Acts 2:42 – “they continued steadfastly in… prayers.”
Acts 3:1 – Peter and John went up “together… at the hour of prayer.”
Acts 4:24 – “…they raised their voices with one accord…”
Acts 12:5 – “but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
Acts 12:14 – “And… he came to the house of Mary… where many were gathered together praying.” (Acts 12 concerns Peter’s miraculous deliverance from prison – very much I believe an answer to fervent prayer, even to the extent that many were gathered in the middle of the night praying!)
Acts 13:2-3 – “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted… Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”
Acts 16:16 – “Now it happened, as we went to prayer…”

And yet, we hardly think it is as important as the early Christians did. Paul also exhorted believers to prayer many times. Here are some key ones: Rom 12:12, 15:30, Eph 6:18-19, Phil 4:6, Col 4:2-3, 1 Thes 5:25, 2 Thes 3:1, 1 Tim 2:1, Heb 13:18, Jam 5:14-16, 1 Pt 4:7, 1 Jn 5:16, Jude 1:20.

A Christian cannot not have some desire to pray, we have the Spirit of God dwelling within us. But what if we lack desire to devote serious time to prayer? “In such circumstance” E.M. Bounds wrote, “…we ought to pray for the desire to pray; for such a desire is God-given and heaven-born.” And again, we are commanded to pray – not because it’s burdensome, rather Spurgeon writes that we need the command to pray because we forget, are often too discouraged to pray or lack faith (see Spurgeon on Prayer and Spiritual Warfare, p. 270-271). We are called to pray despite weakness and unbelief. It takes time to pray… something we Americans are hard pressed to give up. We think we have “more important” things to do.

Is prayer important? Does prayer really matter? I mean why we should pray? If God is sovereign than everything is already set in motion then God does not need me to pray does He? It is certainly true that God does not need anything in the sense that He is needy. But at the same time God has ordained a means for His activity. He moves in answer to prayer. Look throughout the Scriptures and you’ll find a myriad of examples of God moving and “changing His mind” in response to prayer. Two examples:

Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said… So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.  (Ex 32:11-14)

“But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you.” (Philem 1:22)

D.A. Carson writes, “It is worth praying to a sovereign God because He is free and can take action as He wills; it is worth praying to a personal God because He hears, responds, and acts on behalf of His people, not according to the blind rigidities of inexorable fate.” (A Call To Spiritual Reformation, p.165). God works through prayer, and if you do not pray you dare not presume for Him to work. In a sense, God’s work in the world, in the church and in us is conditional. God says in 2 Chron. 7:14, “…if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”  If”, He says. While this was originally written to Israel, we today are the people of God and God is waiting on our repentance and prayer to bring “healing” to our land, our churches, our families. Prayer can be hindered by unconfessed sin (1 Peter 3:7). Spurgeon writes, “God blesses His people when they begin to pray, as well as when they confess their sins… We are sure to receive the blessing from God when the entire church is interceding with urgency and persistence.” (Spurgeon on Prayer and Spiritual Warfare, p. 333). If we want answers to prayer, if we want people to be saved, to be changed than we must be committed to humbling ourselves before God, confessing sin and being engaged in serious prayer!

Give me a church that prays! Be a Christian who seeks to be committed to prayer personally, but also corporately. Be a church that is committed to prayer and when there’s a prayer meeting, GO!

“We almost forget that we wield the power, seldom exercising it, though it would be blessed to countless myriads. Weep, believer. We have been defeated and our banners trail in the dust because we have not prayed.” – C.H. Spurgeon

For more on this subject, check out this great message:

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