On December 27, 2010, one of my favorite people in the world went to be with the Lord. Mrs. Nell Bruce had anticipated this homecoming almost all of her 90 years. Her relationship with her Lord was close and vibrant because she had conversations with him on an ongoing basis.
Nell Bruce was an incredible woman of prayer.
I am honored and humbled that she chose to intercede in prayer on my behalf for the last sixteen years of her life. I know that my life and ministry were incredibly blessed and protected because she spoke to the Father on my behalf.
“It’s Really That Simple”
Mrs. Nell followed my writings and interest in the health of American churches. One day she pulled me aside and spoke in her usual blunt but loving way. “Brother Thom, I know you have a keen interest how churches can be healthy. Let me tell you straightforward what the answer is. God’s people have to pray more. If we pray, God hears and answers. If we pray, he opens the door for people to hear about Jesus. If we pray, we don’t have the time or the desire to fight and feud.”
She paused for a moment and then spoke again with that twinkle in her eye: “You know it’s really that simple.”
The Early Church and Prayer
The first description of the early church takes place in the latter part of the second chapter of Acts. After the writer Luke tells us that about 3,000 were people were saved, baptized, and added to the church, he gives this glimpse of their church and spiritual life: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers” (Acts 2:42, HCSB).
It seems like, in many of our churches, we neglect that last important descriptor of the early church. They were devoting themselves to be people of prayer. As the followers of Christ had waited in an upper room devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14), so the church at Pentecost focused on the priority of prayer.
Prayer and the Corporate Church
A straightforward reading of the prayer life of the early church reveals at least two principles. First, the prayer mentioned was corporate prayer. Simply stated, the congregation came together to pray. While personal and private prayer is vital, the early church also made certain that prayer defined what they did when they came together.
Second, there is no clear description or prescription on exactly what corporate prayer looked like in the church. The biblical texts simply say that the church devoted themselves to prayers. There are no explicit instructions on how they prayed — just that they prayed.
Somewhere to Begin
When I served as a pastor of four different churches, I don’t think I ever led the churches well to be a body of powerful corporate prayer. Most of the churches I served had a prayer meeting that was more perfunctory than powerful. And the worship services placed little emphasis on times of corporate prayer.
I was negligent at best and disobedient at worst. The Bible may not have explicit instructions on how the church is to come together to pray, but it does clearly describe that prayer was an integral part of the church’s worship and ministry.
I have labored for over a quarter of a century to understand why some churches are healthy and others are not. Perhaps I have overlooked one of the basic teachings of the early church: the people came together to pray.
Mrs. Nell was right. “If we pray, God hears and answers. If we pray, he opens the door for people to hear about Jesus. If we pray, we don’t have the time or the desire to fight and feud.”
Healthy churches are praying churches.
It’s really that simple.