As Pastor Jacob has been preaching verse-by-verse through the book of 1 Corinthians over the past year, one of the recurring topics we have seen is the danger of division. Paul addresses this issue in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, 1 Corinthians 3, and 1 Corinthians 11:17-22. Churches are very fragile. If we are not careful and cautious, division can ever so subtly creep into our church and ruin the unity that we experience with one another. Thus, as believers, it is our responsibility to protect the church from division. Ephesians 4:3 instructs us to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” We must do all that we can to preserve and foster unity in our church. And one of the single most effective means that God has given us to strengthen our unity with one another is corporate prayer.
Prayer meetings are an integral part of the life of our church. If we want God to move in power in our lives and in our church then it has to begin with prayer—specifically, corporate prayer. This is why, when instructing Timothy on church life and practice, Paul made the priority of corporate prayer very clear when he wrote, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,” (1 Timothy 2:1). Prayer must precede everything else we do as a church.
The early church certainly understood this truth. If you were to read through the book of Acts and pay attention to every occurrence of believers gathering together for prayer, you would see how much of a priority the early church put on praying together. Recently, I had the opportunity to preach from Acts 4:23-31. You can watch or listen to the sermon here. This passage highlights the significance of corporate prayer in the early church. After Peter and John are released from custody and charged not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus (see Acts 4:1-22 for context), they immediately go to their brothers and sisters in Christ so that they can lift their voices together to God (Acts 4:24). These believers recognized the link between corporate prayer and spiritual power. They knew that apart from God they could do nothing (John 15:5) and so when opposition and persecution came their way, they fled to God in prayer. Prayer was the only recourse they had. And in response to their fervent, united prayer, God filled them with his Holy Spirit, gave them boldness, and blessed them with gospel fruit (Acts 4:31). If we want God to use us the way he used these early believers, then we need to be a church that prays together. No exceptions.
However, when I preached this text, I did not have time to discuss how corporate prayer also cultivates and contributes to the unity of the church. It draws us together. The verses that immediately follow this passage highlight the supernatural unity experienced by these early believers. Acts 4:32,34-35 says, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” What a compelling picture of unity and oneness! United prayer leads to united hearts which leads to one-another love. When we gather together for prayer we not only experience fellowship with God, we also experience fellowship with the saints. Corporate prayer is one of the most significant, God-given means we have of cultivating unity in our church. There is something about praying with one another that knits our hearts together in love for Christ and in love for his church.
This is why small groups are encouraged to prioritize our church-wide prayer meetings. Your time together in prayer will contribute to the unity you experience within your small group as well as the unity you experience within the church itself. In his book, Transforming Prayer, Daniel Henderson writes, “Those who neglect the consistent habit of praying in extended fashion with a community of believers are robbing themselves of great blessing,” (p. 190). There is spiritual blessing to be found when we pray with one another. It unites us together and grows us in love. When you choose to prioritize church-wide prayer meetings, you are choosing to prioritize church unity.
I look forward to our next church-wide prayer meeting when we gather together with one accord to devote ourselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). The task is too great, the church is too fragile, and our God is too good for us not to pray together. I will be at the next prayer meeting and I hope to see you there too.
As we all seek to protect our church from division and preserve its unity, let’s remember this simple truth: a church that prays together, stays together.