For every believer, prayer is an essential element of a life wholly devoted to God. There was a time when I thought of prayer as occurring at two levels: the public prayers of the gathered faithful and the private prayers of the individual believer. More recently, however, I have begun to think more in terms of the big picture.
Prayer is an act of worship, and worship is, or at least ought to be, the perpetual posture of every believer. Worship is the act through which the church comes to understand itself as a covenant community in a living relationship with the living God. Whether gathered together on the Lord’s Day or dispersed into the world during the other six days of the week, members of a faithful congregation will never lose their vital connection with God and with one another if they cultivate a constant posture of worship and a consistent life of prayer.
The church is, first, a community, one body in Christ. That body consists of many individual members, to each of whom “is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Individuals do not receive gifts of the Spirit to serve their own purposes but, rather, to serve God’s purposes in building up the whole Body in love and maintaining its unity through the bond of peace.
As one body, chosen by the Father before the foundation of the world; brought into being by the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ; and empowered by the blessed, life-giving Holy Spirit, the church experiences communion with God, with one another, and with the whole company of the redeemed who rest in heavenly peace. The communion of the saints has become, in most Protestant circles, a doctrine so egregiously neglected as to hinder a deeper understanding of the nature of worship, of prayer, and even of God himself as the blessed Holy Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
One might think a private prayer to God is just that, a private conversation between the person praying and God. However, a prayer offered by the worshiping community on earth is not only heard, but also echoed, by the saints in heaven as it rises up to the throne of God. Just as, in the Eucharist, the saints on earth join with the angels, archangels, saints, martyrs, and the whole company of heaven in singing, “Holy, holy, holy,” so the prayers of the faithful on earth are joined by the faithful who have gone before them into glory.
To enter into prayer is to enter into the realm of eternity, because to pray is to commune with the eternal Triune God. Hence, no prayer is ultimately a “private” matter because every prayer is offered within the context of the divine community. It ought to bring comfort to all believers to know that we are never alone in our prayers. We are surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses, prompted by the Holy Spirit, and beckoned by Jesus himself as we approach the Father’s throne.