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Jesus taught that corporate prayer, or believers agreeing together in prayer, was very important. For instance, in Matt 18:18-20, He said:
"Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."
Jesus teaches that prayers get answered when believers pray together in agreement for them. I don't think He is referring to a pact between Susan, John and David to agree that Susan will get a new BMW, John will get a new sports car and David will get a new Cadillac. He is not saying that we should use the power of agreement in prayer for selfish personal gains. But if Susan is sick and they pray together in agreement for her healing, then I believe God will heal Susan. If David was laid off and needs to find a new job and they pray, then I believe God will provide for David and his family in the interim and then bring him a good job opportunity. If Susan and John and David pray for revival in their community, and if they back up their prayers by sharing the gospel as good news, I believe God will make them effective witnesses and they will see people come to know the Lord.
When we pray for one another's needs and when we come together in unity in corporate prayer, things happen! At least they happen when we pray in faith, actually expecting God to answer our prayers. There is power in praying together in agreement -- that is why Jesus said what He said in Matt 18:18-20. He meant what He said. If we come together in unity with each other, in faith, gathered in His name and in right relationship with Him and with each other -- powerful things happen when we pray together. Corporate prayer changes things, it impacts our environment. Part of the reason that the devil works so hard to sow division and strife and disunity within the church is because he is truly afraid of what will happen if believers come together in unity and pray together.
Of course, it is important for those who come together to pray to have faith. I once heard a story about Charles Finney, a famous evangelist of a past generation. I think this is a true story, but I have never had the opportunity to verify it. The story goes as follows: He was preaching in the Midwest and there was a terrible drought. This was leaving the farmers destitute because the drought was killing off their crops and they don't get any income if they don't have any crops to sell. So they asked Charles Finney to lead a prayer meeting to pray for rain. He agreed and a date and time was set. Pretty much everyone showed up at that meeting -- believers and unbelievers alike. They were pretty desperate, they needed it to rain or they would loose their livelihood. They started with a few songs and then Charles Finney got up to address them. Instead of speaking, he stared intently at the crowd for several minutes and then said, "Everyone may as well go home. It would be a waste of time and energy to pray because not a single person in this room has faith that God will make it rain." Then Charles walked out of the meeting.
People were astonished. They sat there for a few minutes in disbelief and several mouths were hanging open. Finally people began filtering out of the church. One of them went to Charles Finney and asked him what it was he saw as he looked over the crowd that had made him cancel the important prayer meeting. He replied, "Not a single person had brought an umbrella to the meeting. That showed me that they don't really expect God to hear and answer their prayer."
Word spread and the prayer meeting was rescheduled. This time people's expectations where high. Many came with umbrellas, rain coats, rain boots, etc. They prayed together and before long the prayer meeting was interrupted by the sound of rain drops hitting the windows! God had answered their prayers because they came expecting Him to do so.
Corporate prayer is very important to the church because it is very powerful. We need to incorporate it back into our services. I am not talking about having a single person lead a prayer from the microphone and having the others agree silently in prayer. I am talking about true corporate prayer, where everyone is engaged in the process.
One way is to have people break into groups of two to three and pray for each other's needs. Incorporate this into your service at least once a month. Instead of spending five minutes having people greet each other after worship, have them break into paris or small groups and pray for each other's needs. Give them about 5 to 10 minutes to do this so that everyone has a chance to share their needs/requests and receive prayer. Then have some sort of feedback system in place where people can report on how the prayers are answered. Maybe a bulletin board or an insert of written reports in your bulletin.
Teach people how to pray corporately and have that in your services on a regular basis (at least once a month). Start with a short explanation of the power of corporate prayer. Explain you will open the mic for some people to come up and lead short prayers. Encourage those who don't come up to the mic to be a part of the process by agreeing in prayer with what is shared from the mic. Give quick logistical guidelines from the platform along these lines:
- spend a minute in silence waiting on the Lord and let Him put it on your heart what to pray about
- choose a single subject for prayer at the microphone. If God has burned 3 or 4 subjects on your heart, then ask Him to prioritize what is the most important one for this prayer session and only pray that one topic from the microphone.
- keep your prayers short -- shoot for about 30 seconds to a minute.
- don't include any details in the prayer that may boarder on gossip or be unedifying.
Then give them an open mic for people to come up and pray as they feel led for a specified amount of time. You may say, "we are going to take the next 8 to 10 minutes to pray together..."
If you have a congregation that has problematic people who tend take over the mic and not give it back, you might want to consider having a pastor or elder hold the mic for whoever comes up to pray. If the person begins to seriously overrun their time period, you can take the mic away and then pray a quick prayer of agreement on what they said before moving on to the next person. Most churches won't need that type of pastoral intervention because most congregations are pretty good at following the prayer guidelines when they know that everyone in the room has heard these guidelines. But holding the mic is certainly an option for the pastor if he is uncomfortable (for any reason) with having an open mic in service.
If you want to create an atmosphere where prayers get answered, you should seriously consider putting corporate prayer into the main service. Then people begin to understand that it is powerful and valuable. Ideally you should have the individuals pair up and pray for each other once a month and have short corporate prayer once a month. If that is not possible, then try to have five to ten minutes of corporate prayer in your service at least once a month -- and maybe alternate which type of prayer (partners vs. open mic) from month to month.