Teaching Your People to Pray Corporately

I am convinced that if there is one discipline Satan would prefer we as Christians forget to do it is prayer.  I have found myself many times pouring over a text of Scripture or diving into a book or commentary in preparation for a lesson or sermon when it suddenly hits me that I have not taken the time to pray.  Pray that my mind be opened to the truth of God's word.  Pray that people's hearts be transformed by the power of His word.  Ultimately pray that God would use me to bring glory to his name.

As much as prayer may be neglected in our private devotion, it is also neglected corporately.  Not just in our worship services but in our Sunday school or small group classes as well.  We often only devote a time for prayer either at the beginning of the lesson or at the end.  I would dare say that most classes that meet for at least an hour may devote approximately 3-5 minutes of that time to prayer.  Not prayer requests but actual prayer. (we all know that prayer request time can often get out of hand and take up a lot of time).

Public corporate prayer is important for Sunday school classes for many reasons.  It displays the priority that prayer should have in our life as individuals.  It acknowledges that our fellowship and time together are completely made possible by God and is devoted to God.  Prayer is also a time where you as a leader can help your people prioritize the spiritual over the physical.

If you, like me, sometime struggle with what to pray in a corporate setting, I would suggest a simple acronym.  It's a very popular tool, and one I learned at a young age and was taught to use it in private devotion.  I'm sure you learned it too, but I believe it can help guide your time of prayer together as a group.  It is ACTS; adoration (praise), confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. I will discuss each on and provide an example from Psalms of each.

Adoration

Our prayers often jump straight to supplication, making requests of God, and bypass praise. This is not merely thanking God for who He is and what He has done, but praising Him for who He is.  Praise God for Him mercy given to us.  Praise Him for His grace which he lavishly has poured out on us.  Praise His sovereignty and majesty.  Praise takes our attention off our physical needs and teaches us to focus our eyes on the beauty and glory of God.

Psalm 18:1-3 "I love you, Lord, my strength.  The Lord is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my God, my mountain where I seek refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.  I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I was saved from my enemies". (CSB)

Confession

This is one of the most underused parts of corporate prayer.  I have heard many public corporate prayers in my life.  And usually the only part that has anything to do with confession is maybe a tag on the end of a prayer that goes something like "and Lord, forgive us for all our sins, Amen".  Having a time in our public, corporate prayer devoted to confession makes most of us a bit apprehensive.  Some see no need for it because to them confession is a private thing.  But many places in Scripture include public confession (see reference below).  I don't mean to say this time of confession is for every person in your class to "come clean".  Corporate confession acknowledges our sinfulness before God.  It is where you might take a few moments and reflect on the depth of sin and your inadequacy before God.  This isn't a time to beat ourselves up, but it is a time to acknowledge we are nothing without His grace and salvation.  A time of confession should increase our joy in Him and remind us of the glory of salvation.

Psalm 51: 1-5: Be gracious to me, God, according to your faithful love; according to your abundant compassion, blot out my rebellion.2 Completely wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.3 For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me.4 Against you ​— ​you alone ​— ​I have sinned and done this evil in your sight. So you are right when you pass sentence; you are blameless when you judge.5 Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me. (CSB)

Thanksgiving

This is a time to not just thank God for what He has given us, but to thank Him for who He is.  Since all good things come from Him, it is right to spend time just thanking God for those good things.  But of course, the best thing, the main "good thing", He has given us is Himself.  Reflect on the past goodness and faithfulness of God, and thank Him that He holds the future in His hands.  Don't just thank Him for the blessings, but also the trials, which more often than not are blessings in disguise.  

Psalm 100: 4-5: 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name.5 For the Lord is good, and his faithful love endures forever; his faithfulness, through all generations. (CSB)

Supplication (Requests)

Finally we get to supplication.  God says we should ask Him to meet our needs.  I do think it is important that this time be spent more on spiritual needs rather than physical.  We often get caught up in who is sick or has tests coming up or "traveling mercies".  Not that these things are trivial (but I believe God even wants to hear about things that are "trivial". He is our Father after all), it is just that spiritual matters are more weighty and eternal.  Pray for the lost.  Name them by name. Pray for the unity of your church.  Pray for your pastor(s).  Pray for the spiritual direction (or decline) of your church.  Pray for revival and for people to have a zeal for the lost around them.  Pray peoples eyes would be opened as they read and hear the word of God.  So prioritize the spiritual, but do not neglect the physical.  God wants to hear it all, no matter how small we may deem the matter.

Psalm 25:4-5 "Make your ways know to me, Lord; teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; I wait for You all day long". (CSB)

So while we emphasize the private devotion of prayer (which is vital to the spiritual health of all believers), let us not neglect the powerful impact of corporate prayer.  Expand (or redeem) the time spent in prayer in your Sunday school groups.  Devote more time to spiritual issues.  Emphasize praise, confession, and thanksgiving.  When you do that, your supplication will be more rich and spiritual.  Guide your groups in corporate prayer and watch the impact it can have.  You might just spark spiritual revival among your people.


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