When Jesus teaches us to pray in Matthew 6, he says pray like this: “Our Father”. This is of great significance. The foundational prayer that Jesus gives to guide us is communal and not individualistic. Is God “my Father?” Absolutely. But more than that, He is ‘our Father’ and we, together, are his family. Implicit here is an instruction to pray together.
Prayer is to be a communal practice in the presence of the three-in-one communal God: Father, Son, Spirit. Communal prayer represents a uniting of the family of faith that is not present with individual prayer. It demonstrates to God that the people gathered take being the body of Christ seriously. Communal prayer honours God.
From Claiborne’s book on Common Prayer: “Just because our prayer lives are personal does not mean they are private. Many of us have grown up in a culture where rampant individualism has affected our prayer lives. When we think about prayer, our imaginations may be limited to evening devotions or a daily ‘quiet time’ with God”. As wonderful as these times of solitude can be, the Biblical call to prayer is a call beyond ourselves and into community.
See it for yourself in passages such as Hebrews 10:24-25, Ephesians 5:18-20, and Colossians 3:16. Skim through the book of Acts and you see communal prayer everywhere.
The writer to the Hebrews is talking to a community that had endured great persecution (read the rest of chapter 10). Meeting together to pray was risky business. It was the same for some of the gatherings of the church in Acts (e.g. 4:23-35). Surely it would have been safer to stay at home and pray alone? Perhaps, but that is not what Scripture calls us to. Why? Of the many reasons, we can say that communal prayer and worship are not luxuries, but weapons. When a consecrated community wrestles in prayer and worship, battle takes place in the spiritual realm and powers of darkness tremble and flee. If this is true, then the Christian community must prioritize the ministry of prayer and worship. A busy, prayerless church is no threat to the powers of darkness. But imagine unending, consecrated night and day prayer in a city – if only we could see the impact!
More from Common Prayer: “When we pray together, sometimes all [we] have to do is show up. You may not feel like praying. Others will pray, and perhaps their prayers will welcome yours. It is not that others pray for us or that their voices replace our voices, but there is something that can spark in us when we are surrounded by others whose hearts are on fire. Hot coals build a better fire when they are together. There is a harmony that cannot exist when we go solo. To be sure, there is a place for solos, but there is also something about a mass choir or mass prayer that gets our spirits soaring.”
Learning to pray includes learning to pray together. If you ask me to teach you to pray, I’m going to say meet me in the Prayer Room, where we sing and talk to God together. Or join me on Sunday mornings to the same. Let’s do it together, joining the unending prayers and songs of heaven. Let’s do it together in obedience to Jesus. Let’s do it together and learn from one another as we dialogue with God through both joy and pain.