Prayer is a vital component for the health and effectiveness of the local church. The local church simply must be given to prayer. As Thomas Watson put, “Prayer is a glorious ordinance, it is the soul’s trading with heaven. God comes down to us by His Spirit, and we go up to Him in prayer.” This is true on an individual level, and it is equally true on a corporate level.
The New Testament commands that the church be given to prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Throughout the New Testament prayer is an essential characteristic of the local Church life (Acts 2:42). A church that is not committed to collectively sharing the burden of ministry through prayer is a church that is out of sync with the New Testament.
This commitment to prayer should manifest itself in several specific ways
I. The church must be committed to praying for the growth of the kingdom
God is the One who grows His kingdom and victoriously builds His Church (Matthew 16:18). The church must depend upon God through prayer to accomplish this work. Dependent prayer for God to bless the work of the ministry is consistently modeled throughout the New Testament. When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, one of the first request he instructed them to pray for was the work of the kingdom (Matthew 6:10). Later, during his last hours, Jesus prayer for the church and its future work on earth (John 17). In the apostolic age, Paul models persistent and powerful prayer on behalf of local churches.
The church must be committed to following the clear New Testament pattern of praying for the growth of the kingdom through the work of the local church. This means that the individuals of the church must habitually pray for the lost, the strength of the church, the spread of the gospel, the purity of the church’s teaching, the leaders of the church, and the work of the kingdom being done worldwide. Such a commitment must begin with the leadership of the church (Acts 6:4), and continue to every member of the church (Hebrews 13:7.
II. The church must be committed to praying together in gathered worship.
Prayer is a necessary element of the gathered worship of the church. As the church gathers together to corporately praise God and hear from His word, the submissive attitude manifested through prayer must be evident. In the corporate context this must be modeled for the church from the pulpit through substantive pastoral prayers. These prayers should regularly include:
- Prayers of corporate confession of sin to stimulate humble worship, and it highlights the grace of God.
- Prayers of thanksgiving for the grace already received, as well as the grace anticipated from the worship service.
- Prayers of petition and intercession on behalf of the needs of the body.
- Prayers of adoration in response to teachings of God’s word, and the revelation of God’s character through the word.
III. The church must be committed to praying as individuals for one another
Individuals within the church have the distinct responsibility and privilege of bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Since prayer is the preeminent way for God’s people to deal with their burdens (Psalm 55:22), Christians must be committed to praying for one another. Believers must habitually make supplications for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18). Furthermore, Christians also must be willing to be prayed for. This requires that that we share our needs, our weakness, our concerns, our fears, and our sins with other Christians so that we can be supported in prayer. As God’s people we must recognize not only our dependence upon one another, but also our God-ordained dependence on one another. Both truths work together to spurn God’s people on to prayer.
IV. The church must be committed to praying through conflict
Conflict will arise in the church. Doctrinal conflict will arise threatening the message of the church; conflict over purity will arise threatening the integrity of the church; and personal conflict will arise threatening the unity of the church. In each instance, when conflict arises, the people of the church must be committed to “praying through the conflict.” Whether it be false teachers, unchecked sin, or personal grievances the first priority for the church in the midst of conflict must be to seek God’s wisdom and help through prayer. This must be especially emphasized in cases where personal conflict threatens the unity of the church. Personal conflict among believers within the church is frequently the subtlest method used by Satan to attack the church, and it is usually the most effective! When God’s people fail to pray in the midst of personal conflicts “fighting and quarreling” will ensue as unchecked lusts and desires grow (James 4:1-3).