Prayer is an important part of the Christian life (Luke 18:1; Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17). But in addition to private prayer, the New Testament also teaches the importance of corporate prayer. As a church, we set aside the Sunday school hour on the first and third Sunday of each month as a prayer meeting. Here are some New Testament passages on corporate prayer along with some comments on their application in the local church:
The local church is called “the household of God” in 1 Tim. 3:15. Each local church should feature prayer on its menu of activities like the International House of Pancakes features pancakes on its menu of meals.
The early church, formed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies like Joel 2:28, was characterized by the devotion of the believers to “the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” The word “devoted” means “to hold fast to;” “to be busily engaged in;” “to give constant attention to;” “to be continually devoted to.” It conveys a steadfast and single-minded resolve to follow a certain course of action. The definite article is used in the original language, so “the prayers” is a correct translation. It implies that there was a definite, marked out time of prayer to which people devoted themselves (see Acts 3:1).
This is an example of corporate prayer in the early church (“they lifted their voices together to God”). We’re not told if it was a scheduled time of prayer or if it was an impromptu prayer meeting. But what is clear is that these believers prayed together for something of common concern and urgency. They prayed in an understandable language (otherwise the content of the prayer would not have been preserved). And God dramatically demonstrated that He heard and answered their prayer (see v. 31).
1 Cor. 14:12-16
The context of this passage deals with what takes place in church (v. 12). In church, believers are to pray in an understandable language so that everyone is able to add their “amen.” This assumes of course that corporate prayer (not just pastoral prayer) takes place “in church.”
1 Tim. 2:1-2
These “supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings” urged by the apostle Paul are not primarily private in nature. They are primarily corporate (1 Tim. 3:15). So here is a direct apostolic command that local churches should pray together corporately.
In addition to these main Bible passages, here are some helpful quotes on corporate prayer:
“The Vital Place of the Prayer Meeting” by Erroll Hulse: “It is said that the weekly prayer meeting is the spiritual barometer for any local church. You can tell with a fair degree of accuracy what the church is like by the demeanour or substance of the weekly prayer meeting.” You can read the entire article here.
“Only a Prayer Meeting” by Charles Haddon Spurgeon: “It is good for us to draw nigh unto God in prayer, and especially good to make up a great congregation for such a purpose. We have attended little prayer meetings of four or five, and we have been glad to be there, for we had the promise of our Lord’s presence; but our minds are grieved to see so little attention given to united prayer by many of our churches. We have longed to see great numbers of God’s people coming up to pray, and we now enjoy this sight. Let us praise God that it is so. How could we expect a blessing if we were too idle to ask for it? How could we look for a Pentecost if we never met with one accord, in one place, to wait upon the Lord? Brethren, we shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians.”
A.W. Tozer: “The neglected heart will soon be a heart overrun with worldly thoughts; the neglected life will soon become a moral chaos; the church that is not jealously protected by mighty intercession and sacrificial labors will before long become the abode of every evil bird and the hiding place for unsuspected corruption. The creeping wilderness will soon take over that church that trusts in its own strength and forgets to watch and pray.”
“Made for His Pleasure” by Alistair Begg: “Prayer is an acknowledgment that our need of God’s help is not partial but total… Yet many of our church prayer meetings have dwindled in size and influence. Ultimately, the explanation can be traced to spiritual warfare. If, as the hymn writer says, Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees,” then we may be sure that he and his minions will be working hard to discredit the value of united prayer. The Evil One has scored a great victory in getting sincere believers to waver in their conviction that prayer is necessary and powerful.”
“The Autobiography of George Mueller”: “Our prayer meetings have been a blessing to us and united us more than ever in the work.”
“The Line of Prayer” by John Piper: “The reason for praying is so that God will be thanked when the blessings come. And God loves to be thanked. He loves to be acknowledged and praised as the giver of all good gifts. His great goal in history from beginning to end is to be glorified as the source of all blessing. Therefore, when we urge many people to pray for something that we need, we create a situation in which the provision of that need will produce many thanksgivings to God. And in that way we tap into a tremendous incentive that God has, namely, to glorify Himself by winning the gratitude of many people. God loves to be thanked by many people. Therefore, there is a power in church-wide prayer, because the more people there are praying for the spiritual life of our church, the more thanksgiving will ascend to God when He gives it.”
Jonathan Edwards: “When God is about to bestow some great blessing on His church, it is often His manner, in the first place, so to order things in His providence as to show His church their great need of it, and to bring them into distress for want of it, and so put them upon crying earnestly to Him for it.”
“What is an Evangelical?” by Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “I have known men…who have been utterly, entirely orthodox, but the churches to which they belonged not only did not have prayer meetings, but they did not believe in prayer meetings. You could not wish for anything better from the standpoint of orthodoxy, but they do not believe in prayer meetings. Prayer has very little place in their lives. Now while they may be orthodox, I take leave to suggest that they are not truly evangelical. This element of prayer is essential to the evangelical; it is his life; it is vital to him.”
Oswald Chambers: “The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. But Scripture (Ac. 2:1-2; 4:24, 31; 12:5; 13:1-4) and experience combine to teach that the united prayers of many righteous accomplish still more.”
R.A. Torrey: “We are too busy to pray, and so we are too busy to have power. We have a great deal of activity, but we accomplish little; many services, but few conversions; much machinery, but few results.”