Sunday, 15 January 2012
Sermon: Pray Together
Acts 2:42-47; Luke 18:1-8
City breaks are all the rage at the moment but this is not a new idea. In the 186o's a group of 5 young students went for the weekend to London. When Sunday came around they could think of nothing better then to go and see the famed Charles Spurgeon preach. So keen were they that they arrive early, so early in fact that the church doors weren't even open yet. On seeing them waiting for the doors to open, a man approached and greeted them, “Gentlemen, let me show you around.” Asking, “Would you like to see the heating plant of the church?” It's not the most exciting offer that you could receive and even less so as it was a rather hot day in July anyway. However, being the polite gentlemen they were they didn't want to offend their host so they consented. The man took the gentlemen down a flight of stairs and quietly opened a door, whispering “This is our heating plant.” The gentlemen looked at each other with surprise for inside was not a boiler, a furnace or anything of the like but rather around 700 people with their heads bowed in prayer asking for God's blessing on the service which was shortly to begin. The man gentle closed the door and said to the gentlemen. “I must apologise, I haven't introduced myself yet. My name is Charles Spurgeon.”
In our Acts reading today we've heard about the first church to form. Of course there was no church building and in fact the term Christian hadn't even been invented yet. They were simply Jews that followed the Messiah, Jesus. He had ascended back to the father and here was left his little band of followers. This then was a simple church. They met together daily, they ate together and celebrated the Lord's supper, and they prayed. All they had they shared, no matter what it was. Here then was more then a group of individuals who loved Jesus, rather it was a family. Church as it ought to be. Now of course you can have biological family who feel more like a house of strangers then a family so there is obviously more going on here then having the same heavenly father. A family is bonded by mutual interest, by supporting each other, by love, by shared experience. Love and bonding are not passive things: they are active, taking effort to achieve and sustain.
The church has the privilege of sharing Jesus. We believe because others told us, who believed because others told them and so on, a chain that reaches all the way back to Abraham or slightly more immediately to the apostles and the early church we have just heard about. It would have been easy to keep quiet. A group whose leader was rejected by the religious leaders and much of society, and then killed. In fact we hear that is exactly what they did, hid in that locked room until the risen Jesus appeared among them. The likelihood is that they would be treated with suspicion at best and killed at worst, well I say likelihood but we know that is exactly what happened. Fortunately for us they spoke up and the spirit worked powerfully in those first days for we hear that as they shared Jesus there was more then just a few converts. People were being saved everyday, sometimes just 1 or 2 but on one occasion we are told more then 3000 people began to follow Jesus because the holy spirit moved and Peter spoke up. There was something different going on here as this wasn't the first group to claim that the messiah had come, yet suddenly people were coming in droves to follow Jesus. There was something about this new community that was attractive to those around. This new community was genuine. They cared for each other and lived out what they spoke. They cared for those around them and sought not to condemn people but to redeem them trough Jesus. It was a community of sincere love rather then hypocritical piety. It was also a community whose words were accompanied by actions, some were noticeably supernatural like healings and some were seemingly natural like prayer. Either way the people saw that there was more to this community then just a band of people because God was at work there.
There is loads that can be drawn from the passage, but today we are going to focus on just one aspect of that early life. It's something which is vital to a church if it is to be healthy and grow both in quantity and quality: It's prayer. Prayer is the theme for this week and next weeks service. Next week we'll be looking at what prayer is and how to pray but this week I'd like to focus on a specific aspect of prayer, namely corporate prayer.
Your first thought may be something like “Why do we need corporate prayer when I can pray on my own?” Which is of course a valid question. In a sense prayer is an individual matter. We require no-one else around to pray any more then we need people around to eat. Although this is true, it is merely eating when we are on our own but it can become a meal when we eat with others. The event which is in itself solitary is improved on when it is done with others. It becomes more then just the mere act and becomes something more then just individuals eating in a room together. In the same way prayer, although it can be done alone, is a different experience when it is done collectively and becomes more then just individuals praying in the same room. This then is the first reason that corporate prayer is so important: it is a relational event. We can share with one another our joys and sorrows and bring them collectively to God. In the same way a family grows by sharing together, so does the church. We have all known times when we want to pray but find ourselves unable, then we can pray for one another, or times when you just want to burst with praise and seek others to join in, then we can pray together.
We all pray. Even if for most people it is a muttered plea in a moment of panic. It is innate in us. The hope is of course that those of us who call ourselves Christians pray regularly, may I dare say daily. It is a relationship thing, not that God may be our slot machine but that we might know him better. Anyone that only spoke to another person to get something would be far from regarded as a friend, rather we speak to develop our friendship, to share, to encourage to build one another up. In the same way prayer is a relational device. It is the mere act of conversing with God. I use the word 'mere' not to belittle the act of pray but rather to emphasise how simple it actually is. It's funny then how such a simple thing as talking, which the majority of us manage quite respectfully every day, perhaps a little too much in some cases, can suddenly be so hard when it comes to talking to God.
This then is the second reason that corporate prayer is so vital: we encourage one another to pray. Many of us take part in group exercise at the gym or moves, or whatever you do. It's not that it cannot be done on your own for the most part but because its easier to do when others are joining in. The same is true of prayer. Where our mind wanders and gets distracted on our own, when we are praying with others our minds can become focused on their prayers, which in turn focuses our mind back on God.
There is a picture that's going around the internet (See above), “Prayer: How to do nothing and still think you're helping”. The truth is that for most people they may agree in public but as we have seen and I'm sure you've hear elsewhere, most people pray. We may be disheartened at the lack of hope that this expresses but the truth is I wonder how much this is our fault. We saw in the reading earlier that the community was attractive to those outside to the point thousands were converting. I'd suggested that at least one aspect of this was sincerity. When this community said it believed something it lived a way that showed it did. So when they said that God loves his people, when they said that God is present and changes lives, when they said that God hears us when we pray, when they said that God wants us to play our part in his story, they meant it and showed it. If it was just words and nothing more then they would be guilty of the same thing that Jesus condemned the religious leaders for at the time. Just empty words. Rather they met daily, the shared life together, they shared Jesus with others and the constantly prayed together.
So as for us, if we say that we believe in the power of God in prayer to change us and to change the world and we don't pray then what are we? And if people do not see that we are a church that prayers then what will that say to them when we say that God hears our prays and wants a relationship with us? It will be just empty words. Just another religion built of self and emptiness. Thirdly then, Corporate prayer then is a witness to new believers and to those outside that God hears and answers our prayers. That God calls us into relationship with him. That when we speak of who God is we truly believe it because our lives reflect when our mouths preach. It is also a witness to one-another and to ourselves that we truly do want God to change the world because we say together “God, change the world and start with us”.
So then friends, I say this boldly: Do not give up meeting together and praying together. Yes on a Sunday but more so: At small groups, with a coffee mid-week, with your family, at Wednesday morning pray and of course the church prayer meetings on the first Tuesday on the month. Build one another up, support one another's prayer life and be a witness to the church and to the world.
Till Next Time!