For some Christians, praying in small groups is understandably a faith-stretching experience. I remember that when I was a young believer, I would feel intimidated by another’s eloquence and was concerned about what others might think about the words in my prayer (or the lack of) instead of focusing on God. In addition, there are well-meaning Christians who raise the question of whether we will be alienating worshippers or whether we are pressuring people to go through the motion if the latter are unable to identify with the prayer needs presented before them. Finally, some are uncomfortable with praying with another believer and think it would suffice to pray quietly on their own.
Regardless of what our concerns or struggles may be, it is important for us to understand that our corporate worship on Sundays is not exactly meant to be an extended individual devotional time with 500 hundred other worshippers. Our acts of worship during service such as singing, praying and listening to God’s Word are meant to be carried out with one another as this is a concrete and loving expression of our corporate identity as a body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27) and a spiritual family (1 Pet 2:9-10, 1 Jn 3:1). With regards to corporate prayer, it is a wonderful demonstration of the spiritual unity that we have as we literally speak with one voice unto God.
Furthermore, while our object of worship is the Triune God, the Bible teaches us that what is done during the worship service is also meant to be edifying. When we glorify God together, the worshippers are built up in their faith as they are being reminded of Christ and exhorted to trust in God. Thus, one could say that our corporate worship is also for the spiritual well-being of one another.
If our words can bring healing and life to others (Proverbs 12:18, 18:21), then surely the Holy Spirit can take the fervent prayers we utter before one another to encourage us in our faith as well. In my experience, when I listen to the prayers of a mature Christian, I not only get to learn how to pray but it also spurs me in praying. This is because there is a resounding “Amen!” that arises from my heart when I discover there is a fellow brother-in-Christ who shares similar passion for God and God’s kingdom purposes.
Evidently, we need to guard against an individualistic understanding of Christianity where it is only about me and my relationship with God. The early church had a different mindset and continued to gather regularly for prayer and fellowship (Acts 1:14, 2:42-47, 4:24-31) despite persecution and opposition. Likewise, one hopes that as we learn to pray aloud alongside each other, it will help to strengthen our unity and reinforce the truth that our lives as followers of Christ are tied up with one another. By participating in corporate prayer, we are identifying ourselves with the individual, family, ministry or country whose needs are being presented. Our spiritual lives would be impoverished if corporate prayer is done away with in our worship service.
Admittedly, there will always be things that could derail us in our attempt to grow together as a faith community. Nevertheless, we take heart that God will help us in our weaknesses. With regards to praying in a small group, some thoughtful considerations would include praying simply instead of using spiritual jargons and praying short prayers so that no one dominates the time. Another would be to avoid covering the same grounds when someone else has already prayed over this concern. Finally, give time for silence since we want people to be directed by the Holy Spirit rather than being pressured to just say something in their prayers.
Since Jesus has taught us that “my house is to be a house of prayer for all nations” (Mk 11:17), then what we are seeking to do every Sunday through corporate prayer is simply putting into practice what is God’s will. As we practise praying with fellow believers in church, I pray that it will become easier for us to extend our prayers to our non-Christian friends, colleagues from a foreign land or neighbours whose doors are usually closed. Just as we rejoice whenever someone puts his faith in Christ, I trust that we are all looking forward to the glorious rejoicing when worshippers from every people, tongue, tribe and nation gather in worship before the Lamb (Rev 5:9, 7:9). Until then, our first step as Christians may be to just pray together along the pews.
October 9, 2011