Maybe you’re like the Danish writer Søren Kierkegaard, who was suspicious of groups of people. “The crowd,” he claimed, “is untruth.” Now imagine how dangerous a crowd might be if it acted in the name of God.
But when the people of God pray together in the Bible, we mostly don’t see them acting at all. They step away from their busyness, they experience the glory of God, and they are changed in ways they don’t expect.
At the base of Mount Sinai, the tribes of Israel gathered to be set apart for YHWH (Exodus 19). When Moses brought the people to the mountain, they spent three days washing and preparing themselves. Then they saw thunder, lightning, and a dark cloud and heard a trumpet that made them tremble. God met them through fire, smoke, and an earthquake. Through Moses, God gave them laws that told them what to do but, more importantly, who they were: a nation of priests, set apart from the world to bring God’s glory to the whole earth, which is also God’s possession (19:5-6). They took time to set themselves apart, but the real change happened because God transformed them into a new kind of people.
Centuries later, the descendants of the same people acted like they had never seen an advertisement that ended with “Don’t try this at home, kids.” They tried it at home. Led by King Solomon, they built a temple for YHWH to dwell among them. After Solomon led a prayer on behalf of the assembled people, fire from heaven devoured the animal sacrifices they had prepared (2 Chronicles 7). God’s glory filled the temple and kept the priests from going inside, so they settled for slaughtering more sacrifices and playing some tunes outside the building. They had showed up with a plan, but they met a God who actively altered the course of events.
When hundreds of years had gone by, God entered history even more tangibly than before as the man Jesus of Nazareth. When Jesus was about to leave, he told his friends and followers to wait for the Spirit of God in Jerusalem. After weeks of waiting and praying together in one place, they saw and heard the Holy Spirit arrive (Acts 2). They saw fire rest on each of their heads. They heard a violent wind and the sounds of their own voices speaking in languages they did not know. The strangest thing was that, after thousands of people joined them as followers of Jesus, all of these people freely gave everything they had to anyone who needed anything. It seems that the Holy Spirit made them holy: set apart, different, and impossible to understand without knowing the God who had changed them.
There is something dangerous about gathering and waiting for the living God to change us. We might be shaken up and become a different kind of people than we had been. We could find ourselves unable to worship God in ways we had gotten used to doing. And we would be startled if we were joined by others who also begin imitating a God who gives to the undeserving out of limitless love. Praying together is a risky thing.
Join believers from NSCBC and six other gospel-centered churches around the North Shore for corporate prayer on Thursday, June 8, at 7pm. We’ll meet at First Church Congregational in Boxford (4 Georgetown Rd) to seek God for His movement in our region, in our churches, and in our hearts. Thanks to Steve Waldron for today’s post.