The Importance of Praying Together

Asbury Free Methodist – By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett

November 14, 2021 – Acts 2:41-47

            Today is the last sermon in our series, “Pray!” This morning we are going to look at corporate prayer.

            We are about 20 months into the pandemic. It is wonderful to see things open a little. We look forward to a time when things will be opened completely. Last Sunday, we had 75 people in church, which is a little over half of what we were running pre-pandemic. It felt good to be in a room with people.

I have been reflecting on some of the lessons that we have learned during this pandemic, and I have been listening to other people’s reflections.

            One of the things that we have learned is that it is difficult to be alone. I am a real introvert. Yet, I know that I need people. Isolation has been one of the major challenges of this pandemic. Yet here is the flip side of that. People are now having difficulties getting back together. For some, it is still the fear factor. However, for many others, they have become used to hibernation and isolation, and they are not so sure that they want to re-engage socially.

            Some of these people have mental health challenges. They now find themselves anxious when they are around people. For other people, they have just come to love their own company so much that they feel no need for community. Others are trying to make healthy choices. Before the pandemic, they were unhealthily busy. They found that during the pandemic that they did not need to live that way. So, they find themselves reluctant to re-engage.

            I am seeing both healthy and unhealthy reasons for a reluctance to re-engage in community. Because I am a pastor, I tend to think about how this dynamic affects the church at large and Asbury in specific. Here is what we know about being a follower of Jesus. We were made to live our Christian lives with each other.

            As I say that, I realize that many of you are going to interpret that to mean that I am saying that we need to show up on Sunday morning. I believe that showing up on Sunday morning is an important spiritual discipline. I believe that it is important to worship together and to take communion together. Those things do not translate well online. People who establish the discipline of showing up for church on Sunday morning tend to have a healthier spiritual life. So, I am a fan of people showing up on Sunday morning.

            That, however, is not what I mean when I said that we were made to live our Christian lives together, with each other. I realize that the fellowship that happens on Sunday mornings really only serves as a gateway to deeper fellowship that can be had at other times.

            When we think about fellowship, we tend to lump it all together. But there are different kinds of fellowship. When I am talking about fellowship, I am not talking about sharing the hockey scores with each other – although there is nothing wrong with that. But I am talking about when we connect around Jesus, around what it means to live out the gospel, around our internal and external experience of God. Fellowship can encompass all of life as long as we are keenly aware that we are meeting in Jesus’ name and that he is with us.

There are different kinds of fellowship. There is a kind of fellowship that we have over coffee after church – which I hope restarts soon. That is different than the kind of fellowship that we have during a Bible study, which is different than the kind of fellowship that we have when we get together with two or three friends and talk about the things of life and God. But probably the most crucial kind of fellowship and the kind that gets neglected most often is corporate prayer.

            I call this kind of prayer “fellowship,” although it is in a category all its own. When we pray together, we have fellowship with God and with each other at the same time. Prayer is simply talking to and listening to God. When you are talking to and listening to God together, it can be one of the most profound experiences of fellowship that there is.

            When I said before that we were made to live our Christian lives together, part of what that means is that we were made to pray together. This is one of the most important reasons to come together.

 I know that the thought of praying together makes some of you feel uncomfortable and maybe even insecure. A lot of people think, especially when they’re starting out the Christian life that they do not know how to pray. They hear others using flowery words, and they think I can’t do that.

            But some of the best prayers that I have heard are from people who would say that they don’t know how to pray. Because when they talk to God, they talk with sincerity. That matters more than anything else. And here’s the thing, the way you learn to pray with each other is by praying with each other.

            Let me take you to Acts chapter 2. The early church was just born. Here was the practice of the first Christ-followers.

Acts 2:42 (NIV)

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

            The early believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They would go to the temple just like you come here on Sunday, and they would hear teaching about Jesus and the Christian life.

            They devoted themselves to fellowship. They were doing life together in the presence of Jesus. So, they talked with one another about the things of God. They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. We would call this communion.

            They devoted themselves to prayer. It is obvious from the context that they did this together. They went to each other’s houses. If you want to grow in your Christian life, devote yourself to hearing good teaching, to fellowship, to communion, to prayer. You will notice that they did life together.

            Praying together was a primary feature of the early church. The church was birthed in prayer.

Acts 1:14 (NIV)

14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

            It was in this prayer meeting that Pentecost happened. They were filled with the spirit. The church was born. This happened because they were together in prayer.

            After Pentecost, it was the habit of the people of God to pray together. Notice

Acts 3:1 (NIV)

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.

            They were going together at the time of prayer. It was their habit to pray together. Out of this habit, an amazing miracle happened.

            The church face problems together by gathering in prayer. Peter and John were arrested at the temple because they were preaching in the name of Jesus. They were threatened and then released. Here is what the scripture says.

Acts 4:23–24 (NIV)

23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.

            After a traumatic event, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. They prayed together. In acts chapter 12, Peter had been arrested and then supernaturally released from prison. He goes to the church, and he finds them in prayer.

            When the church had important decisions to make, they prayed.

Acts 13 records how the church in Antioch was praying. This is what it says,

Acts 13:2–3 (NLT)

One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.

            The church at prayer set into motion the great missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul.

            Here is what we know about the New Testament church. As they went about life, they prayed. When they encountered problems, they prayed. When they escaped from problems, they prayed. Out of habit, they prayed. When they needed wisdom, they prayed. If they needed to pray that much, so do we.

            Here are some of the things that happen when we pray together.

Jesus loves to show up when his church gathers to pray.

Jesus said, Matthew 18:19–20 (NLT)

19 “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

            It is good and necessary and right to have a personal prayer life. You need to connect with God on your own. But there is something about getting together with other followers of Jesus that makes a difference. When we gather in his name, he is there. When we agree together in prayer, he answers. God is everywhere present, but he promises to show up in a different way as we meet together in his name.

            Here is another thing that happens when we pray together.

We are encouraged to start and continue to pray.

            Andrew Murray said, “When we work, we work; But when we pray, God works!” When we pray corporately, it encourages us to pray individually. When we see answers to prayer corporately, it encourages us to seek God privately. When we see the church persevering in prayer, we are encouraged to persevere in prayer.

            Praying together gives us the opportunity to be discipled in prayer.

            All through the Gospels, you will see that Jesus modelled prayer for his disciples. So much so that the disciples say teach us to pray. Jesus takes that request seriously, and he does teach them to pray. As we pray together, we learn from each other to pray.

            Here is what I know as a pastor. If I teach on prayer or hold a seminar on prayer, that is only moderately effective. It only becomes very effective as we practice prayer together.

            Just as a side note, praying together prevents weird behaviour. When we are praying together at listening to God together, we have the opportunity to talk to each other about what we are hearing from God. If weird behaviour and falls teaching raise their head, it is easier to deal with when it is seen rather than when it goes unseen. That is all part of being discipled in prayer.

Praying together gives us the opportunity to receive God’s grace through others.

            God has so built the church So that we need each other. We need to pray for each other. Healing and wholeness come as we pray for each other. When we are sick, we are to ask others to pray. When we are tempted, we need others to pray. We cannot get all the grace we need from God by ourselves.

            Sometimes we need others to lead us in prayer. Possibly when you gave your life to Jesus, someone led you in prayer. There have been times in my life, even as a mature believer, that I needed someone else to lead me in prayer.

Prayer and Asbury

            We know that if anything of eternal value is to be accomplished through Asbury, it will happen because God does it. But it seems that God has so ordered the world that much of what happens, happens because his people pray.

            So, if anything of eternal value is to happen around Asbury, it will happen because you and I are praying. God changes lives because people pray. God does what he otherwise would not do because people pray.

            I also know that there are a large number of you who want to see Asbury become a church of prayer. In fact, as you considered what Asbury was to be, before you called me to be your pastor – prayer was high up on the list of what you wanted to see.

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            I also know this: getting a church to pray together is one of the most difficult tasks of leadership. We know it is good. We know it is right. It is just plain hard to make happen.

            There are a number of reasons for this. As mentioned before, some people are not comfortable praying with others. Some know that prayer is work, and you feel like you don’t have the energy to enter in. Sometimes it is hard to make our schedule align.

            But here is the biggest reason why it is hard to make corporate prayer happen in a church. Satan knows that a praying church is a dangerous church. He will do everything he can to thwart prayer, distract from prayer, lie about prayer so that prayer falls by the wayside. He will cause disunity, so we can’t be unified in prayer. He will tempt us towards relying on ourselves rather than relying on God because he knows that a praying church is a dangerous church.

            This is why prayer getting corporate praying happening in church is difficult.

            But we are not of those who shrink back. Let me remind you of the promises of God

1 John 4:4

            Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.

2 Corinthians 10:3–4 (NIV)

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

            We have been given the power we need to fight the battles we will face. So, I am calling you to prayer.

            In this upcoming year, there are going to be a lot of opportunities for you to pray. There are going to be a lot of opportunities for you to pray together.

            We will have events that will help you learn how to pray and how to listen to God. We will have weekends that will allow you to both be prayed for and pray for others to be set free from their past and walk into the life that God has for them. We will have evenings of prayer and concerts of prayer. There will be Zoom prayer meetings and large prayer meetings, and small prayer meetings. There will be lots of opportunities to pray together.

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            But here is what we need from you right now. Would you bump to the top of your prayer list this prayer – Lord help Asbury to be a church of prayer.

            What do we do when we are going to face opposition from the evil one – we pray. What do we do when we need wisdom – we pray. What do we do when we launch new ministries? – we pray.

 I am asking you to pray that this would be a place of prayer, that Asbury would be a church of prayer because everything flows from there. If we are going to be a church full of extremely well-discipled people, it will flow from Asbury being a church of prayer. If we are going to be a church that experiences deep transforming community, it will be because we have learned how to pray together. If we are going to be a church that effectively reaches out into our town and our county, it will be because we know what it means to be a church at prayer.

So my question will to you is – will you commit to regularly pray that Asbury will be a church of prayer?

Sermon Questions – The Importance of Praying Together.

November 14th, 2021 – Acts 2:41-47

Introduction

1. What are you thankful for?

2. Are you closer to God now than you were four months ago? Why/Why not?

Digging in

3. How would you define Christian fellowship? What are different kinds of fellowship? Could praying together be fellowship?

4. Look up the following verses. What do they tell you about the New Testament Church and praying together?

  • Acts 2:42
  • Acts 1:14
  • Acts 3:1
  • Acts 4:23
  • Acts 13:2-3

5. The sermon listed four things that happen when we pray together. What is the most important one for you? What is the most important one for Asbury at this point in her history?

  • Jesus loves to show up when we gather to pray.
  • We are encouraged to start and to continue to pray.
  • Praying together gives us the opportunity to be disciples in prayer.
  • Praying together gives us the opportunity to receive God’s grace through others.

6. What are the challenges to getting a church to pray together?

7. Do you agree with the statement, “Satan knows that a praying church is a dangerous church.” If you do, how do we live in light of that truth?

Application

8. Are you willing to regularly pray, “Lord help Asbury to be a church of prayer.”

9. Spends some time praying together.