Throughout the Book of Acts, it seems that most of the major advances in the early church resulted from prayer. As people prayed, they experienced the Holy Spirit filling them, empowering them, and giving revelation to direct them in God's mission.
As John Lanferman has said, "Prayer was the key to the release of the Holy Spirit empowered Church, to make effective the gospel of Christ".
That is why, in Newfrontiers, we place such a high value on corporate prayer. Some of the most exciting and significant meetings I have ever attended have been prayer gatherings with my local church or with other pastors.
However, I am sure we have also all experienced the exact opposite - corporate prayer that has been predictable, lifeless and depressing! What can we do to prevent that happening and make sure our prayer meetings are the one gathering that no one wants to miss? Here are four keys that that will help achieve this:
1. Start with God
We can see from Acts 4 that when the believers gathered to pray in response to persecution they did not focus on their problems, but on the sovereignty and greatness of God. We must start with God. If we start with the challenges we are facing then, as Terry Virgo points out: "Instead of really praying with faith, we start 'worrying out loud’…Prayer grows out of our appreciation of God. When we start worshiping and being thrilled with God, it becomes natural to ask God to be true to his character and power and take action in His world".
God-focused praise and thanksgiving is not just the warm up to the real business of intercessory prayer! It is vital if we are to pray with faith and in the Spirit.
2. Exercise Leadership
Motivating people to pray requires good leadership. People need to be envisioned about the importance of prayer. Leaders should not just rely on the church calendar to announce upcoming meetings, but they should call the church to prayer with specific purpose and goals.
During corporate prayer, leaders should bring clear direction and focus. At the same time, they should also be sensitive to the leading of the Spirit, willing to lay aside their own plans, if necessary, to respond to what God is saying through prophetic words.
3. Provide Variety
If we just stick to one format in prayer then it can become boring and people will disengage. For example, sitting in a circle and praying in turn usually leads to the same few participating each time, but variety engages people. So, in any one meeting we may all raise our voices together as they did in Acts 4, and then have a few individuals pray out so we can all say “Amen”. At other times we might break up into groups of two or three to pray for a particular issue. We also often gather around the individuals who are responsible for particular areas of service in the church or community. We will lay hands on them to receive a fresh anointing of power, with people bringing scriptures and words of prophecy to impart faith and encouragement. In most of our meetings we will also have a time to pray for one another for a fresh infilling of the Spirit, acknowledging that God has purposes to use us in response to many of our prayers.
Not only do we need variety in how we pray, but also in when we pray. Regular prayer meetings at the same time and same place for months on end can breed complacency. To avoid this, we have had seasons of weekly prayer and then switched to monthly gatherings. We have designated certain weeks in the year as a “week of prayer” with prayer gatherings every day. We have also had all night prayer meetings and 48 hours of non-stop prayer with people signing up for selected hours to gather day and night. This kind of variety really helps to keep people motivated and excited about prayer.
4. Come prepared
When we gather to pray, let us come prayerfully, stirring up the gift of God that is within us and expecting God to use us. Prepared people create powerful meetings.