Praying Together – Does It Matter?
In the late 1880’s, the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, John Charles Ryle, wrote a short booklet on the subject of prayer entitled A Call to Prayer. Bishop Ryle had gained both local and international prominence as a preacher, Bible expositor and writer, and brought a simple yet profound style to his presentations on practical and spiritual themes targeting ordinary parishioners in the pews. As the worldwide Anglican Communion of today brings forth new expressions of reformation, J.C. Ryle’s works are being rediscovered and appreciated anew, by both orthodox Anglicans and evangelical Christians of other stripes.
"It is as much a part of their new nature to pray, as it is of a child to cry."
– J.C. Ryle
In his booklet on prayer, Bishop Ryle presumes to challenge regular church-going Anglicans as to whether they have a practice of personal, private prayer. No doubt controversial at the time, he makes a definitive link between true conversion to Christ and the practice of prayer. He says, “God has no dumb children. It is as much a part of their new nature to pray, as it is of a child to cry. They see their need of mercy and grace. They feel their emptiness and weakness. They cannot do otherwise than they do. They must pray.”
It is an invigorating read and I would highly recommend his booklet. I am always in the need of challenge in the area of my personal prayer life. I can offer a hearty “Amen” to Bishop Ryle as he concludes his booklet by saying, “I offer these points for your consideration. I do it in all humility. I know no one who needs to be reminded of them more than I do myself.” Yes, prayer is absolutely vital to our spiritual health and well-being. It is our lifeline to the Father. You probably wouldn’t be reading this meditation if you didn’t believe this to be true.
But let me ask you this – is praying together with other Christians also important? Does it really matter if we just pray on our own? Does making the effort to attend a prayer gathering with other believers really make any difference?
Does making the effort to attend a prayer gathering with other believers really make any difference?
To my mind, it’s a question of both/and, not either/or. Both private prayer and corporate prayer are vitally important to the life of the individual Christian and the body of believers, the Church.
Let’s look at what Jesus said concerning coming together in prayer:
Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Matthew 18:19-20 ESV
In her lovely little book, Jesus – Man of Prayer, Sister Margaret Magdalen makes the point, “There is no explanation given as to why special authority is given to a small group praying together. Jesus merely advocates something the he himself had practiced with his disciples, for clearly he valued cooperation in the work of prayer.” She goes on to say, “If in prayer each of us becomes a channel for God to reach others, it means that in a group of people the channel widens for the inflow and outflow of his love. . . We are the body of Christ and we need to know that, in prayer, we are linked with other members of the body in united concern and petition.”
We are the body of Christ and we need to know that, in prayer, we are linked with other members of the body
She concludes by saying, “Although we know that even when we pray alone there is no such thing as private prayer when we belong to the body of Christ, we need those times when we express our corporateness literally by gathering in prayer together. We need the sense of support it gives, the increased energy of desire and the mutual comforting – strengthening. We grow disheartened when we always “go it alone”.
The early church certainly understood the importance of praying together. Acts 2 records that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Not long after Pentecost, Peter and John were arrested and interrogated by the Sanhedrin for healing a lame man in the name of Jesus. Look what happened upon their release:
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God... And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
Acts 4: 23, 24, 31 ESV
Now I don’t believe that every time the early church prayed together there were amazing divine pyrotechnics. Nor will there be every time that we pray together. But it is noteworthy that there was a release of power and great encouragement filled the hearts of each believer who was gathered together to pray.
Recently, I was struck by an image from the natural world that supports this fact. At our elderly summer cottage in Algonquin Park north of Toronto, we have a massive stone fireplace, built from rocks taken directly off our lakeside property. On a cold, damp evening in September, a roaring fire on the hearth wonderfully warms both the ambient temperature of the cottage and the hearts of all who behold it.
When the individual pieces of wood are dispersed, the flame is quickly lost.
An enduring fire like that is constructed by strategically piling logs together in a structure that maximizes their proximity to one another. Together they make a blaze that throws off great heat and lasts for an amazingly long time. However, if one of the logs slips off the pile and rolls into the corner of the firebox on its own, it rapidly looses its flame and burns out within a short space of time. Indeed, one of the ways we are taught to extinguish an outdoor fire before leaving it is to separate all the logs from each other as much as possible before pouring on water. When the individual pieces of wood are dispersed, the flame is quickly lost.
So it is with us as Christians who believe in the power of prayer. We need the faith, passion, and gifts of the Spirit that each “log” brings to “the fire”. God has called us to work together as a body, with different parts and functions, even in the area of prayer.
We need the faith, passion, and gifts of the Spirit that each “log” brings to “the fire”.
Does your parish have a weekly or monthly prayer gathering? Have you ever gone? Can you see the importance of each “log” contributing to the intensity of the “flame”? As we consider our fresh resolves for the new year, let me suggest that you consider regular attendance at a prayer time with other brothers and sisters, even on those occasions when it’s a sacrifice to go. I believe that you will find, as I have, that the Lord richly blesses you. Yes, it really does matter that we pray together!
First Friday - February 2
We urge you to set aside the first Friday, February 2nd, as a day to pray and fast for our diocese (ANiC), the Anglican Church of North America, and the Anglican Communion worldwide. We live in an age of immense pressure against the Gospel. It is critical that we unite together in prayer.
Notable Prayer Quotes
“Prayer is acknowledging that, even though what we are praying for may seem impossible to us, with God all things are possible.”
– Jack Hayford