Corporate prayer is like an orchestra playing

My friend Mike Betts has written a new book on corporate prayer. I’ve had the privilege of helping out a bit with it. It’s there to give a little bit of weight to our prayer initiative which I encourage you to check out and to consider joining in with. The next prayer night is the 15th November and the book is being launched to coincide with that. So this week I’ll be sharing some brief extracts from the book in the lead up to the launch.

Blow the trumpet in Zion; 
consecrate a fast; 
call a solemn assembly; 
gather the people. 
Consecrate the congregation; 
 assemble the elders; 
gather the children, 
 even nursing infants. 
Let the bridegroom leave his room, 
 and the bride her chamber. 

Joel 2:15-16 

In my study amongst the books, papers, laptop and so on I have a small tuning fork. It’s the note A, I believe. I have it there to remind me that as I do my best to serve the church I am required by the Lord to make sure that whatever I teach, build, practice, say, display and encourage is all in alignment with both the Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit. As anyone who has heard a live band can testify keeping things in tune is vital to a beautiful melody…

Music, played by multiple musicians, is very much like how a good prayer meeting can and should flow – emotion, content, same key, same pace, unity and harmony, agreement of content and style. It is interesting that Jonathan Edwards referred to these widespread prayer meetings as a ‘concert of prayer’[1]. The musical comparison was not lost on him. Continuing this metaphor further what are some of the comparisons and applications with music and corporate prayer? 

Prayer, effective prayer, requires us to be in tune with each other. No discord or disunity. Unity is not firstly about having people geographically in the same place doing the same thing, though at times this may be an expression of the deeper meaning of unity. Neither is unity about papering over issues that need addressing.

Unity is instead nurtured through heart agreement, affection, love and honour for the body of Christ. Psalm 133 indicates that such unity is conducive to God initiating blessing. Jesus main prayer for His church is found in John 17 where Jesus prays repeatedly in several verses ‘that they may be one’. Jesus deliberately says this part of His prayer is not only for His small band of current disciples but ‘for those who will believe in me through their word’. He is praying for a future aspect of His church. Such an important theme to Him must not pass us by quickly. What matters to Him should matter to us also.

We also find in Ephesians 4 the encouragement to ‘maintain’ unity in the church. Paul then gives a broad, sweeping overview of what Christ is doing in his universal church. This is worked out in each local church but Paul’s point is clear: unity in the church matters. 

One of the best ways to build unity is to pray together. Praying has a way of joining hearts that might not otherwise be joined. There will be numbers of different doctrines and practices within local churches so working out unity is not always easy. It’s important for leaders to be clear about the authentic gospel, and ‘unite’ all believers in prayer and mission from a common understanding of the Gospel. Then they can pray with a united desire to see the gospel spreading locally nationally and internationally.

John Wesley, no stranger to disagreement with Gospel partners said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”[2]

When hearts begin to be softened and turned toward each other; when leaders begin to care for, pray for and desire to see blessing come upon other leaders in other churches, you know then that the ground is being prepared for a more significant moving of the Holy Spirit. A common feature of genuine revival is that unity across a wide range of churches is visible and heartfelt. A softening of hearts leads to listening and appreciating one another which leads to praying together and as we pray God begins to move. I would observe that the further a society moves away from God’s good order and changes its moral compass the more evident the lostness and hopelessness. Eventually, this greater need begins to govern the thinking of the church more than our minor (though important) intra-church differences. The agenda becomes ‘God we need you to have mercy on our nation’. The issues that once seemed crucial to unity become secondary compared to the desperate condition of souls travelling in droves into a Christ-less eternity.

[1] Jonathan Edwards, A Call to United Extraordinary Prayer: An Humble attempt… (James Nisbett, 1831) p. 61.

[2] Sermon 39 Catholic Spirit from the 1872 edition of Wesley’s Complete Works – Thomas Jackson, editor

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