By Adam Burton | October 1, 2023
Well, have you ever stood at the edge of a challenge, just feeling its vastness? Maybe you wondered, do I even have the strength to face it alone? Have you ever been confronted with a situation that was just so overwhelming that the very thought of it, tackling it, just seemed daunting?
Consider a community that’s known for its tranquility and routine. Picture something that Norman Rockwell would paint, but then suddenly a natural disaster disrupts everything. Homes are damaged, roads are blocked, and uncertainty fills the air. But in the midst of that chaos, the community doesn’t fragment, but instead they come together, pooling their resources, sharing knowledge, and supporting one another. Their combined efforts not only help them to navigate the knowledge, the immediate crisis, but also to rebuild with a renewed resilience.
Let’s think about it in the context of our broader Christian community. When challenges arise, churches often step up, offering some practical help and support. We know this very well with our affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention that has shown us the tangible impact of collective efforts, especially through disaster relief. They consistently step into challenging situations, offering assistance and showing Christ’s love in very practical ways.
But this idea of coming together, of uniting for a common purpose, isn’t limited to addressing physical needs. As we delve into this series, “Rise Above, Winning Spiritual Battles,” we’ll focus on another form of collective effort, prayer. Today’s message is, “United We Pray.” And we will highlight the significance and the impact of praying together.
For those of you that are keen on tracking with our journey, there is an outline on the back of your bulletin to guide you through this morning’s message. Our first point this morning is the forgotten power of collective prayer. The forgotten power of collective prayer.
I. The Forgotten Power of Collective Prayer
Have you ever felt the difference when praying alone versus praying with others? Why do you think that is? The book of Acts, which was penned by Luke, provides a vivid account of the early Christian church’s journey post-Jesus’ ascension.
But by the time you get to Acts chapter 12, the church had already grappled with a myriad of challenges, both from within and outside of its walls. King Herod Agrippa I was keen to gain favor with the Jewish religious elite, and he initiated a campaign against the Christian church’s leaders. This wasn’t merely a political maneuver. No, it was a calculated move to quell the rapidly expanding Christian movement. The execution of James, John’s brother, had already taken place. And it was met with the approval from the Jewish leaders. And so bolstered by this, Herod arrested Peter, aiming to publicly try and execute him. Now the timing of Peter’s arrest during the Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is linked to the significant Jewish holiday of Passover, was no accident. Herod’s intent was very clear, to send a resounding message about his authority and the repercussions of challenging the religious establishment.
So given that Peter was heavily guarded, as detailed in Acts chapter 12 verse 4, it’s evident that the authorities viewed him and the Christian message as a formidable threat. This wasn’t just a standard imprisonment, but it was a high security endeavor to ensure Peter’s confinement and to deter any potential efforts by the Christian community.
Let’s read together Acts chapter 12 verses 5 through 7. But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him. The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood to guard at the prison gate. Suddenly there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick, get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists.
The church’s united prayers reached the heavens, and an angel was dispatched to free Peter. This wasn’t just a casual prayer meeting, oh no, this was a lifeline, a united front against the powers of darkness. Now the context here is crucial. The early church faced immense persecution. Their very existence was under threat, yet they understood something fundamental, that their collective prayers weren’t just words. They were a force, a spiritual weapon.
Oh, in our individualistic society, it’s easy to forget the profound impact of collective action. Like just as a community comes together in times of crisis, there’s a unique strength found in collective prayer. You know, during the COVID pandemic, our church, like many others, faced an unprecedented challenge. I mean, look, how are we supposed to care for one another when we can’t even physically be together? It was, without a doubt, one of the most challenging times that we have ever experienced. The pain was real, but in the midst of it, our church rallied. We handed out food to those in need, and I tell you, I still have people come to me and express their gratitude for that simple act of kindness.
But as I reflect on that time, I realize that while the pandemic took thousands of lives, the physical destruction wasn’t the most significant battle we faced. No, it was the spiritual battle that raged on. I firmly believe that Satan had a hand in the pandemic because the world told us to stay home, right, except for those essential services, and it took churches standing up, even suing the government in order to be recognized as essential. But sadly, by then, the damage was done. The enemy whispered lies, suggesting, oh, it’s okay to stay home. We don’t need the church, and the church doesn’t need us. But collective prayer is more than just multiple voices speaking to God. It’s a symphony of faith, a chorus of hope, and a united front against challenges, both those that are seen and those that are unseen.
Which leads us to the second point, the potency of united prayer, the potency of united prayer.
II. The Potency of United Prayer
You know, in our world today, where do we see the battle lines being drawn? You know, it’s not just in the overtly hostile environments, but sometimes it’s in places that we least expect. Consider the recent event that happened down at Auburn University, where coaches, including the head football coach Hugh Freese, participated in a campus revival event titled Unite Auburn. Over 100 people were baptized at that revival just last week.
The event was aimed to unite the Christian community there at the university in Auburn under one roof to worship God, yet this act of faith and unity was met with criticism. One advocacy group argued that such actions by university employees violated the U.S. Constitution. In fact, they labeled it, and I quote, an abuse of power by a coach celebrating a life changed by Jesus Christ and baptizing him. But here’s something crucial that we must understand, that when we unite together in collective prayer, the enemy takes notice. For the greater the unity the more significant than spiritual opposition. Why is that? Because there is power in our united front, a force that threatens the enemy’s plans. And the criticism and the challenges faced by Auburn’s Christian community are not just societal or legal issues, no, they’re spiritual battles. For the enemy is always trying to disrupt, to discourage, and to divide when God’s people come together in prayer.
Within the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus in his profound wisdom presents teachings that emphasize the relationships between the community of believers. Chapter 18 is particularly illuminating in this regard. Here Jesus speaks of the nature of the kingdom of heaven, guiding his disciples in how they should navigate their lives as its citizens. Matthew 18 verses 19 and 20, Jesus says this, he says, I also tell you this, if two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three are gathered together as my followers, there I am. I am there among them. This promise isn’t just for our secluded prayer rooms, but for every place where believers come together in unity. It’s a testament to the potency of united prayer.
This assurance of God’s presence and the impact that it has on the world around us is undeniable. See the essence of these verses lies in unity, in agreement. The Greek word for agree here is where we also get the word symphony. To agree indicates not just a unity of thought, but a purpose and a spirit. Jesus is emphasizing this unparalleled power that stems from a collective harmonious faith and moreover his assurance of his presence where two or three are gathered in his name. It’s a testament to this communal nature of early Christian worship.
In the time when the grand cathedrals or large church buildings were non-existent, believers often congregated in homes, in secluded places. And Jesus’ words provided hope. They assured the Christians that the sanctity and power of their gatherings weren’t determined by their size, but by their unity and faith. And just as Jesus promised his unwavering presence to his early followers, we too can find strength and peace in the fact that when we unite in prayer, that he is in the midst of us. Let that sink in. That when we unite in prayer, oh, he is like Jesus is right there holding hands in the midst of our prayer. This isn’t just a comforting thought, something to make us feel better, it’s a divine promise. Emphasizing the true essence of the church lies not in the physical grandeur, but in its unity, in its faith, and in the collective spirit of its members.
At the event at Auburn University, the challenges faced and the unity displayed all point to the profound truth of Jesus’ words. That when we come together in prayer, oh, not only is there power, but there is also opposition. Yet with the promise of Christ’s presence, we can stand firm, knowing that our collective prayer makes a difference.
Which brings us to our third point, becoming a prayer powerhouse. Becoming a prayer powerhouse.
III. Becoming a Prayer Powerhouse
In the early days of the church, before it expanded across the continents, before it faced the persecutions and challenges, there was a defining characteristic that set the tone for its growth and its resilience. Acts 1 verse 14 tells us, they all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary, the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.
The book of Acts serves kind of as a bridge between the gospels and the epistles, chronicling the early days of the Christian church after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. And Acts chapter 1 sets the stage for the birth of the church and the spread of the gospel. But by the time that we reach verse 14 in Acts 1, Jesus has already ascended to heaven. But before his ascension, he instructed his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the promised Holy Spirit. This, oh, this was a pivotal moment for the early believers. They had witnessed the crucifixion of their leader. They’ve experienced the joy of his resurrection, and then they watched him ascend into heaven. And they were in a state of anticipation, waiting for this next chapter that Jesus had promised.
And in Acts 1 verse 14, it captures a profound moment of unity and devotion among the early believers. Some translations will say this, that they were with one accord. This indicates a deep sense of unity and shared purpose. It wasn’t just a casual gathering. It was a community of believers, including the apostles, the women who followed Jesus, Mary, his own mother, and even his brothers coming together in fervent prayer. Now this unity and prayer wasn’t just a one-time event either. It was the lifeblood of the early church, and it should be our lifeblood too.
Let’s bring it a little closer to home. Think about our Sunday school classes. We have incredible teachers who guide us in studying God’s Word every Sunday. But beyond the lessons, the discussions, one of the most profound aspects of these gatherings is collective prayer. And outside of the Bible, the next most important document in your Sunday school class should not be your quarterly, it should be your prayer list. From the youngest members to our most senior, every group gathers, not just to study, but to pray. Why? Because of love and a firm belief in the power of collective prayer. This is where it gets real, for in these classes, you find genuine connections. Oh, you’ll find tears shed over a recent cancer diagnosis and a joyous celebration over a grandchild’s college achievements. But it’s in these moments that the power of collective prayer is often most felt. For those of you not yet involved in a Sunday school class, I plead with you, please join. It’s more than just a class. It’s a community. A community that prays together, that supports one another, that becomes a powerhouse of prayer.
Speaking of the power of prayer, just this past Thursday, I walked outside my office and noticed a group of our older ladies that were gathered together to pray for our missionaries, as they do every single month. It’s heartwarming to know that even during the week, in the middle of the day, members of our church are lifting up prayers for those who are serving on the mission field. Oh, I urge you, please, pray for our missionaries. Oh, yes, they do need our financial support. It’s crucial, but it is not the primary means that sustains them. Oh, no, it’s our prayers. So as we reflect on becoming a prayer powerhouse, let’s remember the early church, our Sunday school classes, and the countless moments where collective prayer has made a difference. Let’s commit to praying individually and collectively, believing in the transformative power of united prayer.
So how do we do this? Here’s a few points of just practical application for embracing the power of communal prayer. The first one is to share and pray. Share and pray. One of the most profound acts of love in community is the sharing of prayer requests and interceding for others. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t receive a phone call or a text message from someone asking for prayer. Most of the time, these requests are confidential. And I respect that trust. But I immediately lift them up in prayer. Often I text back, I’m praying right now. I encourage you to make a list of prayer requests. Don’t just rely on the list of others. Make your own prayer list. I use a section in my notes app. Because sadly, if it’s out of sight, it’s often out of mind. So I can be a prayer partner. Cultivate relationships where you can both share your burdens. Sometimes that’s hard for us. Oh, we like to tighten that up, we like to build that. Back in the old political, we put it in a lockbox. But cultivate relationships where you can share your burdens with someone else. But also where you can be a pillar for others to share with you. Have someone that you can reach out to for prayer. And be that person for others. But remember, with trust comes responsibility. Guard against gossip. When somebody shares with you a prayer request, that’s not an invitation to pick up the phone or to start texting. It’s like, you won’t believe who just called me asking for prayer. No, that is a grievous sin.
Next, if you still have your prayer guide, the 21 Days of Transformative Prayer, I think there’s a few copies still in the back. Go back and pray again through our church. It’s a tool to help deepen your prayer life. So let’s reignite our passion for praying for our church and its mission. As I said earlier, mark your calendars for October 15th. Yes, we’re going to eat some good food and have a great time of fellowship. But there’s something more. I’m going to share something that’s just really burdened my heart for our church. For we need intentional leaders. I’m not going to go into deep right now, but I ask that you would be present on October 15th. Be here physically, but also be ready to receive. But more importantly, starting now, two weeks ahead, praying for that day.
Next, to share your stories. You know, I cherish hearing how God is moving in your lives. You know, if prayer has impacted you, reach out, share your story with me. Tell it in your Sunday school classes. Think sometimes we don’t, we’re afraid to celebrate the good things because we don’t want to see it as bragging or being proud, but friends, it’s not. If we speak of the great things that God has done in answer to prayer, oh no, often this reporting time is a sense of great encouragement and strength and knowing that our prayers really do matter. That God hears them and that He is acting. It’s in these testimonies that encourage and uplift our community.
So in the coming week, I challenge you, real simple, everybody can do this. I want you to reach out to one person, at least one person, with a prayer request. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s a friend. Maybe it’s somebody in your Sunday school class, but reach out to somebody with a prayer request.
If you don’t have anything that you need prayer for, then you really need to do a good self-evaluation of your life. And secondly, also pray for someone else who shares their burden with you.
See, it’s in these small steps that we take that lead us into long-term habits, transforming us into a community that truly understands and harnesses the power of collective prayer.
I ask if our musicians would come forward at this time.
Have you ever stopped, really, to consider why we pray? At the very core of our prayers, at the heart of our deepest cries and our highest praises, stands the gospel of Jesus Christ. What’s the gospel? It is the story of a loving God who, seeing our brokenness and rebellion, chose not to abandon us, oh, but to pursue us. It’s the story of Jesus, God’s own Son, who came to this earth and lived a sinless life and willingly went to the cross, bearing the weight of our sins. But it’s the story of His resurrection, a testament to His victory over death and our hope for eternal life.
Have you ever felt the weight of your sin, the weight of your mistakes? Feels like no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get it right. Have you ever wondered, is there hope beyond the pain? Is there a purpose beyond the chaos? See, the gospel answers this question with a resounding yes. Because of Jesus, we are not lost. Because of His sacrifice, we can be reconciled with God. And it’s because of His resurrection that we have the promise of eternal life.
So as we reflect on the power of collective prayer, let us not forget the foundation of our prayers. It’s the gospel that drives us to our knees, that fills our prayers with hope and with purpose. If you’ve never accepted Christ, if you’ve never experienced the transformative power of the gospel, I invite you today to step out into His love. Maybe you feel like you’ve drifted away. Come back to Him. He’ll welcome you with open arms. Maybe you’re carrying burdens this morning. Maybe you have doubts, questions. Please seek out. Come share those burdens with me, with somebody else. Because look, we are here to walk with you, to pray with you, and to point you to the hope of the gospel.
So as we close, let’s remember the words, Romans 5.8, but God demonstrates His own love for us in this, that while we are still sinners, Christ died for us. Oh, it’s this love, this sacrifice that fuels our prayers and unites us as a community. So let us go forth, not just as individuals, but as a collective body, grounded in the gospel and united in prayer.
Would you pray with me? Heavenly Father, God, oh, we thank You for who You are, for all that You have done. Lord, we thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to live the life we couldn’t live, to die the death we deserve, but to defeat sin and death, for our hope is in Him. And Lord, just as Christ gave Himself for us, to unite us, to make us right with You, Lord, I pray that through the power of collective prayer that we would unite in prayer. And God, that we would seek Your strength against the enemy, not in waging wars of the flesh, but God, in the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, we sing Amen.