On the center of our kitchen table we have a little jar filled with popscicle sticks. On each stick is written a prayer concern. As we sit together for meals each day, we take turns praying. Whoever is praying takes a stick and prays for that need. We pray for health concerns of loved ones, missionaries, salvation for loved ones, cultural issues, as well personal prayer concerns.
Each time we pray together as a family, we are participating in corporate prayer.
When most of us think of prayer, we think of our individual prayer life. In Megan Hill's new book, Praying Together, she talks about the importance of corporate prayer, of praying together with other's in the Body of Christ. And not only the importance, but the joy and privilege of joining together with our brothers and sisters in Christ to pray.
Praying Together is divided into three sections: the foundations of praying together (the why of praying together), the fruits of praying together (what God does through our praying together), and the practice of praying together (the how and practical suggestions for praying together). The book includes study questions for use in group settings.
One of my favorite truths that Megan starts out the book with is the fact that "a Christian never prays alone" (p. 17). Prayer is relational and the Trinity is actively involved in our prayers. "Our relationship with the God who is three-in-one assures us that all three will involve themselves in our praying--making the prayers of a Christian part of a grand, heavenly conversation..In prayer, we approach a loving, listening Father, and we are helped by the intercession of the Son and the groaning of the Spirit." (p. 22-23). What a joy to meditate on this truth!
I also appreciated the chapter on revival. Megan shares a number of stories about the ways God has used the corporate prayers of his people to bring about spiritual revival. From just a few people meeting weekly to pray together for their city, God moved in the hearts of thousands.
In her chapter on discipleship, Megan shares how God uses corporate prayer in discipleship. "In praying together we disciple one another: we strengthen one another's faith, testify to our experiences of God, shape one another's repentance and desires, stir one another to thanksgiving, and encourage one another in godly habits." (p. 70). And it's so true! As I thought about the times I have prayed with those in my church, all these areas of discipleship were true for me.
Christina: What prompted you to write this book and who is the intended audience?
Megan: I wrote this book because I truly love praying with other people. I am a daughter of the church, and from my earliest years I can remember sweet times of praying with God's people--in Lord's Day worship, in church prayer meetings, and with my family. And because I love praying with others, I was surprised to discover that there was really no contemporary, Reformed book on the subject. Many excellent writers and theologians have addressed the topic of private prayer, but there isn't much modern writing on corporate prayer. I hope this book will be read by individual Christians, but I especially hope it will be read by communities--by families and discipleship groups and even whole churches--who can then take up the work of praying together with greater enthusiasm.
Christina: Was there anything that came out of your research/study for the book that you didn't expect or surprised you in some way?
Megan: I discovered some wonderful anecdotes about prayer meetings throughout church history. Praying with other people is not a new idea, and I found and retold some stories in my book that still bring me to tears even on the 10th or 12th re-reading. I'm particularly moved by the rich tradition of children's prayer meetings and the way the Lord often used groups of praying children to bring blessing on his church. (I discuss some of these stories about children in this article here.)
Christina: Did your own prayer life change at all in the process of writing this book?
Megan: I think writing this book has certainly made me look forward to times of corporate prayer even more than before. Also in the course of writing I grew in my conviction that saying an audible "Amen" during corporate prayers can be a valuable act of whole-hearted participation--even for Presbyterians like me! (I discuss this practice in this article here).
Christina: If there is one thing people take away from the book, what do you hope that would be?
Megan: I hope they pray together more! And I hope people read my book and realize that when we pray with other people we are doing important kingdom work. Sometimes I think people don't realize that when one person is praying aloud, the whole group is actually praying just as earnestly in their hearts. So when the pastor prays from the pulpit, we get distracted because we don't commit ourselves to praying alongside him. In reality, we are all praying--young children and elderly widows, men and women, church leaders and church members, new believers and mature Christians. Praying together is work for all of us.
Christina: Do you have one personal story of praying in community that you didn't share in the book that you'd like to share now?
Megan: About a year ago, I went with my children to visit a woman in our church who was dying of cancer. She was very weak and could barely speak, and when I asked her if we could pray with her, she could only nod her head and close her eyes. My children (who were 6,7, and 8 years-old) and I took turns praying aloud as we held her hands. After we said, "Amen," she looked up and smiled at us. In that moment, I realized what a gift it is to someone who is beyond the ability to speak to have other Christians come and give words to her prayers. When I am dying, I hope others do the same with me. I never saw that sister again--she died very soon after--but I know we will spend eternity praising God together for His answer to that hospital-bed prayer meeting.