Every believer desires spiritual intimacy with other believers. We may call it fellowship, community, or doing life together. God didn’t make us to be lone rangers. He saved us into the church. He called us out of the kingdom of darkness and into local expressions of the body of Christ.
And yet, spiritual community is still hard to come by. It doesn’t happen by accident. It comes as a gift from God, and he usually gives it as we intentionally cultivate Christian affection and mutual understanding. So, how might we begin cultivating this kind of life together?
One proven way to this kind of life together is that we pray together. What better way to be more united with fellow believers than to gather and bare our hearts before the throne of God together? What an opportunity and privilege! We get to go to him in prayer.
Shared Prayer Transforms Churches
Shared experiences — a concert, a vacation, an adventure — create a bond. Those memories often create deeper, more enduring affection. They can be a relational glue that holds people together. Dates and vacations with my wife have reinforced our marriage for times when life gets hard. These shared memories create tenderness, understanding, and love. In the church, similar kinds of shared life can lead to mutual appreciation, unity, and trust. I love my fellow elders more when we have endured trials together, fighting side by side in spiritual battle.
Gathered prayer can be that shared experience in a church. I’m not advocating for any particular program or event, but for prayer (formal and informal) to fill your church and bind you together. You might think of these prayer times as the furnace room of the church. Heat and warmth radiate out when God’s people gather together to pray. I’ve seen firsthand how this shared dependence on God transforms the ethos and culture of churches.
Each Sunday morning in our church, a small group gathers in the prayer room. Service will not start for another 45 minutes, but communion with the Lord has begun. We gather to call upon God to work for his glory and purposes. We sing together of his grace revealed in Christ. We lay hands on the preacher and ask for God’s word to run. We lift up our suffering saints, pleading that they would find comfort. We pray for our visitors and for our people, for our neighborhoods and for the nations. We cry out for mercy, and we confess our sins. It’s a holy moment. No fanfare, no fireworks, but again and again, we see God come, meet us, and answer our prayers.
These times of prayer together create Christlike affection for one another. What might happen if more churches devoted themselves to this kind of prayer?
Shared Prayer Unites Our Hearts
Praying together serves as connective tissue within the body. The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, envisions the church as a physical body. Every believer functions as a vital part or organ in this body. Each is unique, but all are united under Christ. To be healthy, then, requires diversity within that unity. Each different part must work together. Otherwise, the body becomes dysfunctional and ceases to work.
Paul writes, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21). The body cannot function as it ought without each part: hands, head, feet, ears, or eyes. Each part is indispensable. Yet how do we get diverse parts working together? How do we cultivate this unusual unity, like-mindedness, and cooperation? We pray together.
When we pray together, God unites our hearts with one another. In prayer, the motives and desires of my fellow brothers and sisters are on display. I gain insight into the deep wells of their faith. I see their heart of compassion. I hear their love for the lost. I discern their affection for Christ. I perceive their steadfast faith. We gain understanding of one another, and that understanding is critical for genuine, durable love.
Prayer also sets this unity in motion. The praises of my brother spur me on to love and good works. My sister’s petitions challenge and encourage me. Others’ prayers convict me of my own shortcomings. The confessions of some cause thanksgiving to well up in my heart. In short, I receive grace while listening to the prayers of others. The diverse prayers of the body reveal the glory of God and his works as a wondrous kaleidoscope. We see and hear so much more than we could have otherwise, and this inspires us to live more fully for Christ.
Shared Prayer Multiplies Joy
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, comments on why a believer needs other believers. He says, “The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure” (12). Have you had moments like that, when you need the stronger, fuller, more joyful heart of a friend? God very often brings the encouragement we need through someone else. We know the truth intellectually, but when we hear others believing it and rejoicing in it out loud, the truth can land with even greater power. Their joy often brings us joy.
This dynamic plays out, again and again, when we pray together. God calls a wandering heart back through the prayers of a fellow believer. When we lack the words to pray, we can still amen the prayers of someone else. When our compassion grows cold, we can join in on the heartfelt cries of a sister. Often, I find my heart warming next to the prayers of those around me. They spoke it, but my heart and spirit rise to agree. Drawing on an image from C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller writes,
By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived. . . . Knowing the Lord is communal and cumulative, we must pray and praise together. That way “the more we share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.” (Prayer, 119)
We hear and see more of Christ through fellow believers, especially through their prayers. Praying with others is a gift God gives us for the benefit of our faith. It enlivens our minds, strengthens our hearts, and empowers our hands.
No Christian runs well alone. No believer stands alone. No child of God fights alone and lives. So, devote yourselves to prayer. Get on your knees together, and pursue a supernatural unity and like-mindedness. Let Jesus knit your heart together with others through adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Praying together fans the flames of joy. So, what might God do in your church if you committed to praying more together?