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Recently, my husband and I visited the library archives at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. On our arrival, a cheerful librarian asked us if we were there to see the Jane Austen first edition or the Shakespeare folios. Neither, actually. Passing those famous volumes, we scanned the glass case for a different book: the John Eliot Bible. Printed in 1663, it was the first Bible published in the American Colonies, and it was written in the Massachusett language of the Algonquian language family. Whether archive visitors appreciate it or not, this modest-looking volume is the most important item in the college’s collection, a tangible reminder of God’s transforming work.
In 1646 John Eliot, a minister in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, began preaching in a local Native American community. At the meetings, he also prayed aloud in the Massachusett language “in proof that if they thus prayed, God could understand them.” And as Eliot faithfully ministered God’s Word, hundreds trusted Christ. Those Christians came to be known in the colony as “Praying Indians” and their settlements as “Praying Towns.” The distinguishing mark of Christ’s newborn children was obvious to all: they became praying people.
Throughout redemptive history, corporate prayer has been a primary feature of the redeemed. From the godly descendants of Seth who “began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26) to the Israelites who worshiped God in His “house of prayer” (Isa. 56:7) to the first members of the early church who “devot[ed] themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14), God’s people have always been praying people.
And so we should ask: Is this a distinguishing mark of our churches today? Do our worship services devote time and attention to substantial prayer? Do our church calendars feature regular prayer meetings? Do our families and community groups prioritize calling on the name of the Lord together?
Brothers and sisters, like all the saints before us, we must be praying people.
We must be praying people, first, because we know that our only help is in the name of the Lord. It is the Lord who builds the house and watches over the city—who gives success to the church’s mission and spiritual life to its worship. In prayer together, we admit that we are helpless. In prayer together, we ask God to do the awakening, regenerating, maturing, and gifting that only He can do. In prayer together, we reach heavenward with what seventeenth-century theologian Thomas Manton called “the empty hand of the soul … [which] looketh for all from God.”
Daniel and his three friends were young Israelites taken to Babylon to serve in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. Separated from their families, given new names, trained in pagan culture, and counted among the magicians of the royal household, these four were daily surrounded by unyielding godlessness. And yet, Scripture tells us that they were not captive to its futility. When Nebuchadnezzar threatens him with death, Daniel’s response is markedly different from that of the franticly fawning sorcerers:
Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. (Dan. 2:17–18)
In the face of impending chaos, Daniel and his friends cast themselves on the Lord. In contrast to the pagan Babylonians, they were praying people.
Like Daniel and his companions, we, too, are strangers in a strange land. We are surrounded by a prevailing godlessness that believes our great hope rests in technology or medicine or money or human resourcefulness. But when we pray together, we testify—and remind one another—that our hope comes from somewhere else entirely. We are not wringing our hands, desperate for human solutions. We are praying people.
We also must be praying people because, in prayer together, we grow in love for another. When we walk into a prayer meeting and hear others praying words of deep affection for our covenant-keeping God, we find ourselves among friends. Each person who is united to Christ, everyone who loves Him and is loved by Him, is also bound together with us in love (Eph. 3:14–19). Any friend of Jesus is a friend of ours.
Praying together, then, is an expression of our love. We “bear one another’s burdens” to the throne of grace (Gal. 6:2). We “rejoice with those who rejoice [and] weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). We “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them” (Heb. 13:3). We beat back our common enemy by “making supplication for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18). Young and old, male and female, healthy and sick, wealthy and poor, mature believers and new converts bring one another’s concerns before the Lord. As praying people, we love one another.
And when we take up the task of praying people, we receive a precious gift. Christ Himself promises to be among us. No matter how small our group or how feeble our requests, the One who lives to make intercession prays alongside us (Heb. 7:25). Whenever His praying people gather in His name, Christ will attend every time.
Brothers and sisters, let us pray.