This Preaching in Shorts sermon series is called “The Church”.
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We are talking about the church and we said that the church is ultimately about relationships. Relationship with God, relationship with the people of God, and relationship with those who do not yet know Jesus. These relationships are developed in the context of worship, discipleship, fellowship, and mission.
We are going to continue our discussion on the church as a worshiping community and talk about the importance of prayer, both corporate and individual, public and private.
In our scripture reading today we will see that corporate prayer is the first thing the church is recorded as doing.
Acts 1:12-14 (NIV)
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
1. What is prayer?
There is no one verse in the Bible that provides an exact definition of what prayer is. We learn about prayer as we study the many prayers and references to prayer in the Bible. Essentially prayer is talking to God. In the Westminster Catechism (Question 98) prayer is defined as:
Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.
Perhaps one of the best passages of scripture on prayer is found in Matthew Chapter 6:
Matthew 6:5-13 (NIV)
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
The Lord’s Prayer that starts in verse 9 is filled with corporate language, “our Father”, “give us”, “forgive us”, “lead us”. But the verses leading up to the Lord’s Prayer seem to be a warning to stay away from public prayer and to pray in secret.
Is prayer corporate or private? It is both. Let’s dig into the verses leading up to the Lord’s Prayer and see how they help us to understand prayer.
Matthew 6:5 (NIV)
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
This verse is about our motivation for prayer. We are not to pray to try and demonstrate how spiritual we are so that people will admire us. The verse is not saying that praying out loud in a public setting is wrong, it is just making sure our motivation is not for self-promotion.
b. Private prayer is important
Matthew 6:6 (NIV)
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
This verse is about the importance of having a private prayer life as well as a corporate prayer life. It is important to pray together as they church and it is important that you have a spiritual inner life.
Both are crucial. The better our private prayer life the more impactful our corporate prayer life will be and vice versa!
c. Stay focused
Matthew 6:7 (NIV)
7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
One of the things that corporate prayer helps with is that in a group it is easier to stay focused. Sometimes when we pray privately we might have to deal with our minds wandering.
d. Do not worry
Matthew 6:8 (NIV)
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Verse 8 is connected to verse 31 and 32.
Matthew 6:31-32 (NIV)
31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
Don’t worry, pray!
2. Prayer in the early church
Acts 2:42 (NIV)
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Let’s look at an instance of corporate prayer in the early church in Acts 4:
Acts 4:23-31 (NIV)
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. 27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Corporate prayer, as well as individual prayer is never about trying to get God to go along with what we want, it is always about cooperating with Him to bring about His plan.
The heart of prayer is not a way of getting things from God. The heart of our prayers, both corporately and individually needs to be about connecting with God so that we can more fully live in and for Him.
In the Acts 4 prayer we get an excellent model for corporate prayer. The believers started their prayers with praise. Then, they told God the situation they were in and asked Him to help. It is interesting to note that they didn’t ask God to remove the problem, instead they asked Him to help them deal with it. When we pray, sometimes God will change the circumstances, and sometimes He will use the circumstances to change us.