The Power of Corporate Prayer
Mary, Queen of Scots' Prayer Book, 1542 - 1587.
In many Christian traditions there is a strong emphasis in personal prayer and in the power of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In my own personal life, it has been a great consolation and at the same time a great joy and spiritual satisfaction having the opportunity to pray to God. A God who is kind enough to listen to my long list of gripes and problems salted with an occasional “Thank you for this food.”
Personal prayer becomes even more meaningful whenever we come to the realization that, as improbable it may have appeared at first glance, a prayer was answered. It is such experience that nurtures our personal devotion.
An unanticipated side effect of the emphasis in personal prayer is finding ourselves at a loss for words whenever we are challenged to pray for those that, if we could, we would rather ignore – or worse.
One of the most underrated treasures in our Episcopal tradition is the Prayer Book. Or, better, the practice of Corporate Prayer, as embodied in the Prayer Book. In fact, the Prayer Book holds a good collection of prayers offering us words when we lack them – or when we would rather not pray as we might have been called to do.
Corporate prayer is the term used to describe praying together with other people - in small groups or larger gatherings. Corporate prayer is praying together with our contemporaries and, in spirit, joining our brothers and sisters of past generations.
Even more important, corporate prayer moves us out of our narrow understanding and our own needs and interests and connects us to a common purpose – to seek God’s heart and to seek God for God’s sake, not for our own personal needs.
Further, corporate prayer highlights an often-ignored facet of our faith – We who are many still we are members of one another in the Body of Christ.
In other words, corporate prayer moves me away from the realm of “Gustavo” and what I want to the realm of “us” and of “God” and what God wishes.
But corporate prayer is more than what we may find in the Prayer Book. Corporate prayer offers us the opportunity to make our Lord’s promise real – “I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven.”
Every time we say the Prayers of the People this is what we do. We do not offer our own prayers, but the prayers we have agreed on in the expectancy that God, in his love and grace, may answer them as may be best either for us, or for those for which we are praying for.
Thus understood, in the early church corporate prayer was considered so powerful an experience that only the full members of the church were allowed to partake in the Lord’s Supper and in the Prayers of the People.
Corporate prayer is remarkably appropriate when we are called to voice St Paul’s advice, “that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— in particular for rulers, leaders, and all those who are in a position of authority.”
Petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— in particular for rulers, leaders, and all those who are in a position of authority. Really?
Pray for presidents, governors, senators and representatives, civic leaders, and all those who are in a position of authority. Now, that is challenging, isn’t it? In particular, if the “One in Authority” is from the wrong party!
What am I going to pray for them – if I cannot even listen being mentioned? How can I intercede for them if their policies run against the grain of what I believe they should be doing? And how can I offer thanksgiving for them if I only want them to be gone – the sooner, the better?
That’s challenging, to say the least. And yet, this is what Paul insists we should be doing! In fact, St Paul is following up on our Lord’s command in the Sermon of the Mount, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you.”
I don’t know about you, but I can hear myself saying, “I’m sorry, but I can’t do that!”
Enter corporate prayer. Corporate prayer calls us to agree – not about who we are going to vote for or over whom we are going to asks God’s blessings and long life. No. Nor it is to ask to bless a particular ideology or political belief and call fire and brimstone over those who oppose it.
For, let us be honest about it. We all may focused in achieving one end, say, “Liberty and justice for all.” However, we may all have our own take about how to achieve such lofty ideal. So, corporate prayer calls us to set aside our own personal agendas and to seek the mind of God in prayer.
Corporate prayer invites us to open ourselves to God, seeking to understand what is best for God’s people as a whole – according to His will, and then to pray that those who are in authority may become aware of God’s will and act accordingly.
A good example is our own prayer for those in authority.
“For peace in the world, and the leaders of the nations; For the victims of war, displaced persons, especially children, the elderly and the disabled. For our nation’s leaders, for wisdom and fairness so they may foster a spirit of unity, concord, and comity.”
For sure, such prayer could be improved or worded in better ways. But I do believe that we all can say “Amen” to it with a true and sincere heart. If such is our prayer, then it is right to expect God to answer it as may be best for us – no matter our party or political inclination.
Finally, corporate prayer is what we do when we gather together. But there is another dimension, as powerful as it is far reaching.
Every time we pick up the prayer book and say the Daily Office or some of the prayers that are in the book, even The Lord’s Prayer, we will never be praying alone. Someone, somewhere will be praying with us the same words, once again agreeing with each other in saying “Amen.”
In such understanding, corporate prayer is so far-reaching that even reaches the eternity beyond eternity. In the vision of the heavenly realms, (Revelation 8) John watches as the prayers of the people rise up high into the very throne of glory. That is to say, in corporate prayer, we become one body united in the worship of God. Such is the power of corporate prayer.
Let me invite you to take a second look at your Prayer Book. I am not saying “Set the Bible aside,” or “Stop your personal prayer life.” Rather I am inviting you to find in the Prayer Book prayers that resonate with you and where you are in your spiritual journey and pray them.
And here is the good news. Even if no one is around you, in praying the words of either ancient or contemporary prayers, you’ll never feel alone, battling by yourself. But you will realize afresh that you are surrounded by the “great cloud of witnesses” cheering you on your way and saying “Amen” together with you. And in doing so, you will find yourself “Lost in wonder, love, and praise.”