Why We Pray Together
In cities and towns all over the world, Christians gather weekly on the Lord's Day for public worship. It's the centerpiece of a church's life together, and the natural highlight of the week for the worshiping community. Given the prominence of the weekly worship gathering in the life of a congregation, it's good for us to think about what we do when we gather for worship each week, and why we do it. A couple weeks ago I addressed one of the major components of Christian worship: congregational singing. (Read the blog for a reminder.)
Today, I'd like to address another important element of the church's gathered worship: prayer.
To be clear, I'm not speaking here of the discipline of private prayer, but the role of prayer in our weekly worship gatherings. This is an area where I believe many churches have sort of given up, believing prayer to be too slow and difficult. Honestly, the majority of worship services I've attended (and led!) in my life relegate prayer to a barely noticeable position, usually nothing more than a brief transition between elements of the service. And it's easy to understand why. Prayer is deliberate, thoughtful, quiet. People are fidgety. Kids are squirmy. It's tough to focus for very long.
But I believe praying together is too important to put it on the sideline. Addressing God in prayer during our times of gathered worship is for our spiritual good, the health of our church, and the glory of God. We minimize it to our detriment and the Lord's dishonor.
Prayer in a public worship service may take some different forms: a pastor or member voicing a prayer on behalf of the congregation; the congregation reading aloud a scripted prayer; pairing up with people seated near you for a season of guided prayer. And the content of those prayers will vary: You may hear prayers of praise and adoration of God; prayers confessing our own sin; prayers giving thanks to God for his provision and grace; prayers making specific requests/petitions of God. But throughout these forms and themes of prayer, there is one constant reality: The congregation is jointly ("we") addressing God directly, bringing our hearts before him in worship and in need.
Here area few reasons praying together in our worship services is so valuable:
1) Praying together reminds us who God is.
When we come together as the church, we gather before God Almighty, the Creator of the universe and the rightful King of all his creatures. It's easy to slide right into singing, giving, and listening without ever truly acknowledging the incredible privilege of having audience with God. Offering prayers of praise and thanksgiving calls our minds to behold and marvel at the manifold beauties and mercies of our God.
2) Praying together reminds us who we are.
Perhaps even more dangerous, without prayers of confession and repentance, we can forget that the only reason we have a right to gather in God's presence at all is because of the mercy poured out on us at the cross. It's easy to presume that we have the right to address God personally, and to ask him to do things for us, without pausing to take note that we come to him as broken, needy people. We come to him as sinners in need of divine grace; grace that's been given to us in the gospel. Praying together helps us maintain a posture of humility before God, and to remember our daily need for his grace.
3) Praying together forces us to be still.
Amid the cultural noise and personal chaos in which most of us live from day-to-day, it's very easy to go hours - even days - without pausing, quieting our hearts, and approaching God intentionally. Taking time in our weekly worship gatherings in deliberate prayer forces us to sit still, get quiet, and focus our attention and affections on God. (Or at least, to try to do these things!) If we're being honest, we won't do this perfectly. It will still probably feel uncomfortable, maybe even difficult. But it's worth the effort, and in the long run, I believe we'll find ourselves strengthened in our faith - maybe even looking forward to these times of focused prayer as the church!
There's certainly more that could be said, but take this as a primer of sorts. A gentle exhortation to give ourselves in gathered worship to humble, intentional, deliberate prayer to God with your church family.
Brothers and sisters, let us pray!