corporate prayer

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TruthTalks: The Power of Prayer

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At the start of last week’s post, Dr Christopher Peppler says: “However, as you read further, you will realise that I do not believe that prayer has any innate power at all”.

Intrigued? Read the original post HERE, or listen to the TruthTalks topic on it below.

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The Power of Prayer

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I have chosen to call this article ‘The Power of Prayer’ because this is such a popular expression among evangelical Christians.

However, as you read further, you will realise that I do not believe that prayer has any innate power at all.

I have written on this subject before and you can find a fairly recent article HERE where I deal briefly with two major causes of prayerlessness in the church. In this article, I want to set out more comprehensively why I believe that there is no inherent power in prayer and the implications for using the expression ‘the power of prayer’.

Mass Prayer Meetings and Prayer Email/WhatsApp Campaigns

Seldom a quarter goes by without someone organising some or other form of mass prayer campaign. Yesterday a group of passionate Christians in the USA were calling on all believers everywhere to pray in unity that President Trump would prevail in the face of a declared Democratic election victory. Here in South Africa, we have had several mass prayer meetings or campaigns to pray for rain, the political condition of our nation, or farm murders. I am in favour of prayer gatherings of any size, but perhaps for reasons not shared by the organisers of these events.

The question is this: ‘Why are these events or campaigns organised and why do we participate in them?’

Sometimes the appeal is to fill a sports stadium and at other times it is for us all to pray simultaneously and in unity where we are. Whatever the causes and methodology, the principles and motivation are similar. However, do we believe that more people praying will equate to more effective results? If we do believe this then what are the implications? Here are some alternatives to consider:

  • God will be obliged or even compelled to act if enough people pray;
  • God will be more inclined to answer our prayers if a lot of people agree together;
  • The act of praying releases spiritual energy (power) which in itself changes reality.

Most people I know would reject the first option, ponder on the second, and secretly believe the third. Not you? So why then do you send out emails, WhatsApp messages and the like to ask people to pray when a loved one is desperately sick, injured, or perhaps jobless? Perhaps you have never done this or even forwarded a prayer campaign chain letter, but I know of a lot of folks who have.

The Questionable Power of Prayer

We have heard the expression ‘the power of prayer’ so often, and from so many sources, that it is hard not to accept it as being true. However, does the bible teach that prayer releases or initiates spiritual power? Did Jesus teach this or model this? If the answers are ‘no’ and ‘no’ then on what basis do so many Christians believe it?

The bible as a whole, the witness of the early church, and the teaching and example of the Lord Jesus all present prayer as communion with God – no more and no less. God has infinite power and he does sometimes use his power to change reality in response to the prayers of his people. God has power but prayer in itself does not. When we pray, we express our dependence on God, ask him to act on our behalf, or petition and intercede for others. God is powerful and through prayer, we communicate with the all-powerful God.

The Heart of the Misconception

At the heart of the misconception that prayer has power, is the human heart. By ‘heart’ I mean self, ego, emotion.

We choose to believe that prayer has power because then we feel powerful when we pray.

We do the business. We achieve the goal. We are the important factors in the equation and God is just an approving spectator to our triumph. Sometimes we believe in the power of prayer because we are desperate and feel helpless. What can I do? Perhaps I can pray with others and then I won’t feel so helplessly out of control.

Whatever the motivation, the idea is just wrong! We speak to God and he may respond in several ways. He might answer, he might do what we have asked of him, or he may empower us by his Spirit to make the difference we are expecting him to make.

The Biblical Basis for Prayer

Throughout the scriptures, prayer is presented as communion with God. I use the word ‘communion’ because prayer is not always verbal and sometimes also includes worship of some kind. Consider just the following texts:

  • 2 Chronicles 7:14-15 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land”.
  • Jeremiah 29:12 “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you”.
  • Matthew 6:6 “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father…”
  • John 17:1 ‘After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you”.
  • Acts 4:23-24 ‘On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said…’

In all of these examples, those who pray are believers and the one prayed to is Almighty God. There is one instance, however, that some people use to teach that prayer, in itself, has power. James 5:16, in the NIV, includes the words: ‘The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.

The Exception that is No Exception at All

To rightly understand James 5:16 we only need to place it into its proper context, which is ‘forgiveness of sin’. The Amplified Bible translates verses 15 and 16 as: ‘Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart]. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working]’. The source of the available power is God, not the act of praying.

Some teachers also use the previous verse in James 5 to validate the intrinsic power of prayer: “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up…” The translation ‘make the sick person well’ used by the NIV is a little misleading because the Greek word more accurately translates as ‘save’ and not ‘heal’ or ‘make well’. This is why the HCSB translates this verse as ‘The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up”.

However, irrespective of the various translations, the key phrase is ‘the Lord will raise him up’ – not the prayer, not the one praying, but the Lord God. 

Corporate Prayer

If God is the recipient of our prayers and it is he who can, and often does, respond with power, then why do we gather together to pray? I have written about this HERE, but the following are a few reasons why corporate (group) prayer  is important:

  • We join together with one heart, mind, and purpose. We express our concerns and present our requests to God as a people and not just as individuals.
  • We sometimes find fuller expression as a group than we could individually because we can agree with and add onto other peoples prayers.
  • We are encouraged by being together and knowing that others share our concerns.
  • Together we constitute a spiritual temple and often the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst is powerful and almost tangible. In this environment of God’s glory, we can often receive from him words and anointing that we may not if alone in prayer.

Now For Some Final Questions

Yes, I know I am as full of questions as a four-year-old, but indulge me one last time. If you believe what I have written here (and hopefully you have prayerfully tested it against the scriptures) then are you in future going to (1) desist from loosely using the term ‘the power of prayer’? (2) cease attempting to ‘use’ prayer as some form of spiritual warfare weapon? (3) direct your prayers to God alone and depend on him for a suitable response? And (4) participate in group prayers, prayer campaigns, prayer chains and the like for all the right and none of the wrong reasons?

Why this Matter is so Important

When we place ourselves, individually or corporately, as the source of power and prayer as the means of achieving powerful results, then we sin.

Self-centredness and self-reliance have from Genesis 3 onwards been the prime sin. To be even blunter, it is the sin of idolatry, self-idolatry. When we believe that our prayers generate or release power then we relegate God to an indirect sponsor at best or a redundant bystander at worst. Furthermore, when we speak, teach, and model the ‘power of prayer’ we communicate error and encourage self-idolatry.

Please test what I have written against the scriptures and specifically against what Jesus taught and modelled. Set aside the books, videos, and audios by pastor so-and-so or dr what-what and go straight to the source of truth – Jesus and the written Word of God.

Oh, and I would be happy to interact with you via email if you would like to do this.

The Power of Prayer Read More »

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TruthTalks on Prayer: The church Jesus would attend series

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Hi there!

What do you think of the new look of the www.truthistheword.com site? Let me know if you like it 😀

In the meantime, here is the TruthTalk on corporate prayer as part of the series about the type of church Jesus would attend. I do hope you enjoy and if you would like to read the original post click HERE, otherwise click on the button below or download to your favourite podcatcher.

Until next time…

Christopher

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What church would Jesus attend? Prayer

Prayer: The church Jesus would attend series

 What church would Jesus attend? Prayer

Many people have written much about prayer but few have focused on corporate prayer. Therefore, this article is exclusively about why, what, and how we pray when we come together, specifically on a Sunday morning.

In this series of articles, I am addressing the question, ‘what kind of church would Jesus attend?’ Although I have identified nine indicators of the presence of The Lord in a church service, I acknowledge that these nine are also ways in which we respond to His sensed presence.

Prayer is the second of the nine indicators, but to be more accurate I need to amplify it with the word ‘passionate’. Prayer is communicating with God and passionate, in this context, is expressing strong feeling. If we sense the immediate presence of the Lord Jesus in a Sunday service then we will surely want to communicate with Him heart-to-heart. Equally, it is hard to imagine that The Lord would be pleased to be in the midst of people who feel little for Him and who don’t really want to communicate with Him.

What makes corporate prayer different to individual prayer and why is it an important element of gathered church life?

I think that the best way to answer these questions is to look through the window of the book of Acts into the corporate prayer life of the early church.

The embryo church consisted of no more than about 17 men and women (Acts 1:13-14) who continued to meet together frequently after Jesus had ascended back into Heaven. Significantly, the primary purpose of these gatherings was to ‘join together with one mind in prayer’. They were constantly together both physically and in unity of heart and mind. Jesus had risen from the dead and then had spent 40 days with them teaching about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). They had then seen Him ascending bodily into Heaven and so it was natural for them to want to continue to talk with Him as a group of disciples. This then is the very essence of corporate prayer – a group of disciples talking passionately to Jesus.

Ten days later, those same disciples, plus about another one hundred, were meeting again in the upper room when the Holy Spirit came with power to birth the church and to anoint its members with the fire and wind of heaven (Acts 2:1-4). The result of this was the start of a wonderful cooperation between God and the church. The Spirit-filled disciples poured out into the street from the room where they were gathering, praising God in a spiritual language (tongues). This attracted a huge crowd of Jews who, to their amazement, found that they could understand what the disciples were praying. Because there has been so much confusion over this, I think it best to give you the full account as per the NIV Bible:

Acts 2:1-12  ‘When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.  Utterly amazed, they asked; “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs — we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”’

As a very minimum, we can take from this passage that when the believers met together in prayer they were filled by The Holy Spirit with spiritual power that enabled them to speak out in prayers of praise ‘declaring the wonders of God’. What is more, the Holy Spirit then enabled those in the crowd to understand what the disciples were praying. [Paul later identified these as two of the ‘gifts’ of The Holy Spirit to the church Tongues and Interpretation of tongues)]. Peter then answered the question “what does this mean?” by presenting the Gospel of Salvation, and as a result, about 3,000 people believed and were baptised!

Was this a once-off spiritual ‘birthing’ of the first church or an ongoing ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ that we can continue to expect and pray for in our church today?

Well, something similar happened again just a short while later. Peter and John were hauled before the Jewish religious hierarchy and told to stop speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). Their initial response was to publically reject this instruction, and secondly to report to the gathered church. Acts 4:24 records what the church did when they heard of what had happened to their leaders; “they raised their voices together in prayer to God” and asked Him to enable them to “speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30). Then the Acts account goes on in verse 31 to record that ‘After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly’.

This alone should encourage us to meet together regularly to pray! However, corporate prayer also featured in other aspects of early church life. For instance, after Judas had killed himself, the disciples felt it necessary to appoint a replacement. So what did they do? They prayed together and asked God to help them decide on which of the two candidates was more suitable (Acts 1:24). Sometime later, the apostles appointed seven deacons to distribute food to the needy in the church, but before they ‘ordained’ these men what did they do? ‘They prayed and laid their hands on them’ (Acts 6:6).

Later, Samaria experienced a Revival and so the Church in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to check it out. Acts 8:15 records that ‘when they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.’ Later still, the Kingdom of God spread to the city of Antioch where Barnabas and Paul co-pastored a growing church. Acts 13:2-3 gives the account that while they (the gathered church) were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off’.

Of course, the theme of corporate prayer runs on through the rest of the book of Acts but its importance is established right at the beginning of the church in Jerusalem where ‘they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42). In other words, when the church came together they focused on an intertwined combination of four things – the apostle’s teachings about Jesus, the sharing of testimony and life, the shared meal of Holy Communion, and… corporate prayer.

Paul later developed the subject of corporate prayer in his letters to the young churches, particularly in 1 Corinthians 14.

Now, here is a picture I will be putting before you, in one form or another, throughout this series:

Imagine for a moment that at some point in your Sunday service, at your local church, everyone there suddenly becomes aware of the tangible presence of the Lord Jesus. There He is standing right there! He looks around and His eyes linger briefly on every person there. Then He says; “Here I am my dearest people. What would you like to talk to me about? Come, speak to me.” What would you, and the others there, do and say?
Would you start to mouth out well-used prayer clichés like “Most holy Lord, we your people humbly beseech you…”? I doubt it. Would you start a chorus or read out a scripture? Surely not when He asked you to talk with Him. Would you turn to your pastor and mutter “Something’s wrong here because we should only pray to The Father you know” Perish the thought? No, rather one of you would start to tell Him how you feel about Him and others would exclaim “Yes Lord that is how I feel too!” Someone else would ask Him for forgiveness for apathy and faithlessness and you may well agree with a heartfelt “Amen” as you associate yourself with this prayer request. Others would speak out expressing personal passion but also seeking to express the heart and mind of the whole group. Oh, and hopefully you would then be silent as you waited with almost breathless expectation for Jesus to respond to your prayers.

Just as reverent and adoring worship is an indicator of and a response to the presence of God in our midst, so is passionate prayer.

HERE is an article on prayer that I wrote earlier this year and HERE is one I wrote as part of a serialisation of my book ‘Prayer, Power, and Proclamation

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.