EMQ » January–March 2023 » Volume 59 Issue 1
By Marcia Strauss
George Müller, Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, these great men and women of prayer were my models. Their stories inspired me to be persistent in faith-filled prayer. TheChristian film, War Room, added impetus to be a strategic prayer warrior. And of course, I often looked to the biblical models of earnest, powerful, consistent prayer, like Hannah, Elijah, and Daniel. But all of these models suited my cultural and personal bent toward individualism. This way was not wrong; it was just incomplete.
In his book, And the Place was Shaken, John Franklin says,
When we pray individually, one plus one equals two; but when we pray together, one plus one equals three … I say this, not to minimize the importance of a commitment to personal, private prayer. In fact, I believe that they are like two wings of an airplane. Which one would you rather do without? The absence of either would be fatal. But that’s just the point. If we don’t pray together, we will go down a spiritually slippery slope.[i]
When our family moved to Ethiopia, God showed me how a plane with two wings flies. He used my experience with the Ethiopian Church and our mission family to shift my thinking and practice of prayer.
We See God’s Glory
When our family entered Ethiopia in 1982, a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship was firmly in control. We embraced our SIM motto – by prayer – at a new level in our daily life. Prayer with our mission community quickly became part of our life rhythm. As our language and cultural understanding increased, we intersected more with the Ethiopian Church. We saw believers in all denominations frequently and consistently praying and fasting. Many Christian leaders went to prison for their faith, and the government confiscated many church buildings. Young people, known to be believers, were harassed and often denied university entrance. They were a suffering Church, and they took refuge in God.
By 1991, Ethiopia had experienced 30 years of civil war and the death of thousands of young soldiers. Christians had endured 17 years under the harsh communist regime. In their desperation and powerlessness to bring change politically, they persistently cried out to Jesus. In the seven days before Ethiopian Easter (April 7, 1991), the Church fasted and prayed, continuing to plead with God to end the war and the government oppression. In God’s perfect timing, he answered. On May 28,the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front overcame the last vestiges of government forces and took control of the capitol city, Addis Ababa.[ii] Within two weeks, the new government declared religious freedom throughout the country and returned confiscated land and buildings to the churches.
I knew God overturned governments in the Old Testament when his people sought him for deliverance, but I never dreamed I would experience it firsthand. God moved thousands of his people to pray in one voice over many years. God answered the cries of his people by ousting a president and overthrowing repressive rule. When God’s people pray together, they see his glory. With wonder, they experience his greatness, beauty, and worth.
Seeing God’s glory is not limited to times of dire need. It may accompany great celebration. In 2 Chronicles 5–7, we read of a mass gathering of priests, Levites, elders, tribal heads, family chiefs, and all Israelites for the dedication of the first temple. King Solomon leads the grand assembly in prayer. Concluding his prayer, he asks, “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. ‘Now arise, Lord God, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might’” (2 Chronicles 6:40–41).
The account of the occasion continues in 2 Chronicles 7:1–3, “When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, ‘He is good; his love endures forever.’”
The Israelites saw God’s glory in response to prayer, and it sent them to their knees in devoted worship. Together, they experienced God and the wonder of his powerful presence.
We Care for One Another
Praying together lends opportunity to experience God together. It also provides opportunity to minister to each other. In his book, Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church, John Onwuchekwa says,
God is not just my Father, but “Our Father” These two words remind us that we’re both children of God and siblings to each other. Prayer was never meant to be a merely personal exercise with personal benefits, but a discipline that reminds us how we’re personally responsible for others. This means that every time we pray, we should actively reject an individualistic mindset. We’re not just individuals in relationship with God, but we are part of a community of people who have the same access to God. Prayer is a collective exercise.[iii]
When my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, emails and cards came from around the world assuring us of their prayers. We were buoyed by their love. But hearing the impassioned prayers moved us deeply. When seminary students laid multi-hued hands on my husband and church elders gathered around us, when our adult Bible class encircled us, we felt their compassionate care as they prayed with us.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks Peter, James, and John to pray with him. They had opportunity to bring added encouragement, strength, and perspective to Jesus as he agonized in prayer. They failed to care for Jesus, but they also failed in caring for each other in prayer, jeopardizing their own victory in temptation and adversity.
Praying together strengthens us when we face the heartbreaking choices of a prodigal child, or the hopeless feeling that we’ll never be fluent in this new language, or the financial strain of lost support. Prayer together builds our faith and resolve to trust God. A believer in South America lost his sister to COVID-19. He wrote to a friend and mentor, “COVID-19 has knocked at the door of our house. I asked the Lord, ‘Why, why?’ But then I prayed with some of the men from church, and God gave me a profound peace.”[iv]
We Grow in Faith and Boldness
Additionally, praying together grows the community’s capacity for fearless proclamation. In Acts 4, when Peter and John were released after their arrest and interrogation before the Sanhedrin, they headed straight for “their own people” and reported all the accusations and threats hurled at them by the chief priests and elders. Then “they raised their voices together in prayer to God.”
Imagine being a new believer, sitting in the corner of that room. You may have thought, “Thank God, Peter and John are free, but what about next time? Maybe we need to keep a low profile for a little while until things settle down.”
But then you listen to the fervent voices around you praying, “Sovereign Lord, … you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit …” (Acts 4:24–25). “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29–30).
As the prayers quiet down. You suddenly realize you’ve been leaning tensely on the wall, but the wall is moving. The whole place begins to shake. You and everyone in the room are filled with the Holy Spirit. The fear is gone. You’re fired up and ready to make Jesus known in Jerusalem!
Nik Ripkin, in his book The Insanity of God, tells the story of a Dmitri, imprisoned for his faith for 17 years. The prison officials tortured him relentlessly to get him to recant his faith, and fellow prisoners treated him with utter contempt. In a last grand effort to break him, the prison guards dragged a shrieking woman past his cell dressed in his wife’s clothes and a wig of her hair color.
All night long, he listened as they assaulted and tortured her. The screams eventually fell silent, and this time, the guards dragged a lifeless body past his cell. His heart was shattered. Dmitri told the guards, “I will sign any confession that you want me to sign.” The guards responded, “We will prepare your confession tonight, and then you will sign it tomorrow. Then you will be free to go.”
That night, a thousand kilometers away, God impressed on his family the need to pray together for Dmitri. Miraculously, God let Dmitri hear his wife, children, and brother praying for him. In that virtual prayer meeting, God revealed the deception. His wife was alive and praying for him. When the prison officials triumphantly presented the confession papers the next day, he boldly and resolutely refused to sign them.[v]
When God’s people pray together, faith in who God is and what he can do is restored and enlarges. And where faith grows, boldness increases.
Our Perspective Shifts
When God’s people pray together they also grow in alignment with God’s agenda and perspective. God works in and among us when we pray together. We come with our mental list of needs: Sue’s mom in hospice, the desperate need for nurses at the hospital, the major decision Rob is making, critical funding for a ministry, etc.
But as we sit in God’s presence together, reflecting on him as we worship or pray through Scripture, we realize that our greatest need is not for God to check off our list. Our greatest need is him.James 4:8 gives us this promise, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (ESV). The you in this verse is plural. God will draw near to us. When the eternal God of infinite power, love, wisdom, purity, majesty, and glory meets with us, we don’t leave the same. Our perspective shifts.
We turn toward a your-kingdom-come perspective. We pray for the visa to be speedily granted, not to spare us the inconvenience of leaving the country to renew it, but because it will provide continuity as we make disciples. We pray for our impoverished neighbor to find a job, not only so their family can eat, but so they can experience first-hand God’s gracious care.
Hearing brothers and sisters approach God can change our outlook. A few months ago, I asked for prayer in a group gathering. A dear sister energetically, boldly, and fervently prayed for my request, claiming God’s written promises. I did not think I was half-hearted in hope but hearing her pray raised my expectations several notches!
I may come into a prayer meeting wanting to pray for my uncle’s upcoming surgery. Then I hear the catch in my brother’s voice as he prays for the many lost neighbors on his street. It does not negate the importance of prayer for my uncle, but my brother’s plea reminds me of the longing in God’s heart to see all come to repentance.
Our Joy Expands
Another benefit of praying together is that it boosts community joy. Experiencing God together and watching him answer our prayers connects us in joyful praise and thanksgiving. Paul tells the Corinthians, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11, ESV).
Luke must have chuckled as he penned Peter’s story of arrest and deliverance in Acts 12. As Peter, seemingly just a pawn of Herod, sat chained in prison, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5). Hours before Peter was to stand before Herod an angel jabbed him awake and led a stupefied Peter out to the city streets.
Once reality dawned, Peter headed to a familiar home filled with brothers and sisters intensely interceding for him. Peter knocks, no doubt hoping to get out of sight quickly. But overjoyed-Rhoda leaves Peter stranded outside and runs to the praying huddle. Splitting the somber mood, she shrieks, “Peter’s at the door!”
Eventually convinced to open the door, these devoted disciples were astonished. The all-night prayer meeting turned into a party of praise. Community joy abounded as they shared God’s stunning response to their prayers.
The last Friday in October 1986, our SIM Ethiopia team in Addis Ababa met for our monthly day of prayer. High on our prayer agenda was our need for signatures. Nearly two-thirds of our country team’s work permits were due or overdue for renewal and the Marxist-leaning Minister of Foreign Affairs was showing no sign of granting them. We needed God to act. So we prayed, pleading for him to display his glory once again.
Around daybreak each morning, while still in bed, my husband routinely listened to the BBC or VOA on his short-wave radio. The Tuesday morning after our day of prayer, Steve bolted out of bed with an earphone dangling, shouting, “Marcia, He did it! GOD DID IT!”
With that sudden jolt of adrenaline, I was wide awake to hear Steve recount the amazing news. The Minister of Foreign Affairs had defected to New York, and on Monday he had announced his resignation.6 A new Minister of Foreign Affairs was appointed; within weeks, our work permits started trickling in. What a burst of team joy as we experienced God at work!
I am so grateful God expanded my understanding and experience of prayer. As I respond to his invitation to meet alone with him, he nurtures my awe of him and affection for him. He shows me ways to be more like him and increases a humble dependency on him. As I meet with God in community, he reveals his glory, nurturing our awe of him and affection for him. He shows us ways to be more like him, fervently caring for one another. He increases our humble dependence on him as he grows us in faith, boldness, kingdom outlook, and joy.
As we participate with God in making disciples of all nations, and teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded, let’s teach, model, and practice the essentials of both private prayer and praying together. Let’s model the value of flying a plane with both wings in full working order.
Marcia Stauss (firstname.lastname@example.org) has served with SIM for nearly 35 years, and now serves as the spiritual vitality and prayer lead on the SIM International people development and care team. She delights to see global workers growing in their relationship with God and with each other. Currently, she resides in Dallas, Texas.
[i] John Franklin, “5 Reasons Christians Must Pray Together,” Strategic Renewal, https://www.strategicrenewal.com/5-reasons-christians-must-pray-together/.
[ii] History.com Editors, “Ethiopian Capital Falls to Rebels, Ending 17 Years of Marxist Rule,” History, last updated May 26, 2020, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ethiopian-capital-falls-to-rebels.
[iii] John Onwuchekwa, Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 41.
[iv] Greg and Faith Hurst, personal newsletter, July 23, 2020.
[v] Nik Ripken, The Insanity of God (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 156–157.
EMQ, Volume 59, Issue 1. Copyright © 2023 by Missio Nexus. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from Missio Nexus. Email: EMQ@MissioNexus.org.