CORPORATE PRAYER, THE CHRISTIAN PHALANX
Corporate prayer is the phalanx in the spiritual warfare that we as Christians are engaged in. Few Christians realize that once they become a Christian, they also become a soldier in the army of the Lord, and, therefore, a vital part of the phalanx in coming against the attacks of Satan. I know that I myself did not realize the importance of prayer until just a few years ago.
The phalanx was usually eight men deep or more, standing close together, half of the shield of one man protecting his neighbor on his left side. The men moved together, usually by rhythmic music, and shouted a war-cry or paean. The members of the phalanx were neighbors who chose to stand together for the common good. To join the phalanx was an act of citizenship, an act that was considered a privilege and an obligation based on trust. Each member was expected to grit his teeth and stand his ground. Consequently, the shield was one of the most important weapons in phalanx warfare.
When Paul wrote about the armor of the Lord in Ephesians 6, he talks about the shield of faith. The word he uses is the Greek word thureon, which means door. This heavy, door-like shield was huge – 4 1/2 feet by 2 feet – and covered the man from shoulder to knee. With these shields, the Roman phalanx formed an impregnable wall, the frontline protection for their comrades-in-arms behind them. When the shields were raised together, they formed a testudo, or tortoiseshell, to protect them from oncoming missiles.
It is the intercessors, the prayer warriors, that form the phalanx of God’s army. Times without number, God has moved in history because He heard the corporate cries of His people. Right now, America is going through some difficult times morally and spiritually. But there have been other times in our history when that was also the case. During those times, Christians locked their shields of faith together, made a paean to God, and stood their ground. God always came through.
The Pilgrims had come to America for religious freedom in 1620. They experienced many trials in this new land, but they never quit seeking God on a regular basis. In 1623, William Bradford relates in Of Plymouth Plantation that a severe drought threatened the colony’s corn crop. “They set apart a solemn day of humiliation to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer…And He was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer, both to their own and the Indians’ admiration…For all the morning, the greatest part of the day, it was clear weather and very hot, and not a cloud or any sign of rain to be seen; yet toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to rain with such sweet and gentle showers as gave them cause of rejoicing and blessing God…It came without either wind or thunder or any violence, and by degrees in that abundance as that the earth was thoroughly soaked therewith. Which did so apparently revive and quicken the decayed corn and other fruits, as was wonderful to see, and made the Indians astonished to behold. And afterward, the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with the interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest. For, which mercy in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving.”
Another instance of Christians forming a phalanx of corporate prayer occurred in 1746. France and England were at war. England had taken over Nova Scotia. France sent Admiral d’Anville with about 70 ships and 10,000 troops to “expel the British from Nova Scotia, consign Boston to flames, ravage New England, and waste the British West Indies.” Massachusetts Governor William Shirley declared a day of prayer and fasting Oct. 16, 1746, to pray for deliverance. People streamed into the churches on a clear day. At the Old North Church, Reverend Thomas Prince prayed, “Send Thy tempest, Lord, upon the water…Scatter the ships of our tormentors.” During the prayer meeting, a hurricane-like storm rolled in. When the storm was over, Governor Shirley sent a sloop to find out what had happened to the French fleet. Nearly the entire fleet had been lost at sea. Both the admiral and the vice-admiral were dead. Only about 1000 soldiers were left, many of whom were sick. The remaining ships went back to France.
From 1774 till the end of the American Revolution, there were many calls for humiliation, prayer, and fasting. When these calls came, they always stressed confession of sin and the need to cry out for God’s mercy. Consequently, the term humiliation was used in these calls. When the King ordered Boston port closed in punishment for the Boston Tea Party, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed a resolution on June 1, 1774, declaring that day a “Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer” to “devoutly implore the Divine interposition for averting the heavy calamity which threatens destruction to our civil rights.” Every member attended services. George Washington recorded, “Went to church. Fasted all day.” The Continental Congress called for days of prayer and fasting every year of the Revolution to ask God for mercy and His help in the war. Washington ordered his army to participate in every one of those calls to prayer. Also, six men in New York met every day during the war to pray for God’s help and deliverance. The Continental Congress had prayer every day in its own chambers to ask God for guidance and help during the war. It is no wonder that Washington wrote in March, 1781, “We have abundant reasons to thank Providence for its many favorable interpositions in our behalf. It has at times been my only dependence, for all other resources seemed to have failed us…Our affairs are brought to a perilous crisis that the hand of Providence, I trust, may be more conspicuous in our deliverance. The remarkable interpositions of the Divine government in the hours of our deepest distress and darkness have been too luminous to suffer me to doubt the happy issue of the present crisis.” Washington did not doubt the success of the American cause, regardless of the dark days, because he had seen God deliver the Americans too many times. The “remarkable interpositions” Washington talks about were due to the many prayers offered to God for His mercy and deliverance during the time of the Revolution.
On a side note, I would like to mention that America is unique as a nation in its history of government officials calling for days of humiliation, fasting, and prayer. Up until the 20th century, these calls to prayer always included calls to confess sin and requests for God to forgive our transgressions and to have mercy on us as a nation. I think our officials need to get back to that.
Another important time when Christians in America came together as a phalanx was in the 1790s. America faced some of our country’s most significant challenges during this decade: drunkenness, a severe drop in church attendance, plagues, a land speculation bubble, bankruptcies of key merchant firms, attacks by pirates, attacks from French privateers, and the impressment of American sailors by British ships. Isaac Backus, a Baptist pastor, addressed an urgent plea for prayer for revival to pastors of every Christian denomination in America. All the churches adopted a plan to set up a network of prayer meetings that set aside the first Monday of each month to pray. By 1801, the Second Great Awakening took place, characterized by the great revivalist Charles Finney. Thousands of churches were founded. The modern missions movement was born out of the famous Haystack Prayer Meeting in 1806, with missionaries going out all over the world. Bible and tract societies started. The abolition movement was launched. Christians started many new hospitals, schools, and colleges. The culture was profoundly changed, to say the least.
By the early 1840s, religious fervor was again waning in America. The West was opening up by the end of that decade, with the acquisition of the lands of the Mexican Cession and the discovery of gold in California. An economic boom ensued. However, toward the mid-1850s, financial and economic problems resulted in the Panic of 1857. Furthermore, slavery was causing a great divide in the nation that eventually led to the Civil War. Jeremiah Lanphier, a businessman turned city missionary for the North Church of the Dutch Reformed denomination in New York City, decided in July of that year, before the Panic, to start a noontime prayer meeting for businessmen. The famous Fulton Street Prayer Meeting was born. What started as a weekly prayer meeting on September 23, 1857, became a daily prayer meeting. Within 6 months, 10,000 businessmen were attending. The Layman’s Prayer Revival swept all over America. You could travel from Washington, D.C., to Omaha, Nebraska, and find churches packed for prayer meeting wherever you stopped. Cities and towns from Maine to California were holding prayer meetings. Hundreds of thousands came to Christ. Businesses became more honest. Crime dropped.
The result of this was that the revival continued throughout the Civil War. In 1861 in the North, protestant clergy set aside denominational differences and formed the Christian Commission, an entire volunteer organization with chapters in every major northern city. The Commission’s goal was to spread the Gospel among the soldiers and improve the moral and spiritual lives of the army. “Many of those involved lived in or near the army camps, passing out religious tracts and Testaments, organizing worship services, acting as nurses in the hospitals,” distributing free food, clothing, medicine, stationery supplies and stamps, opening reading rooms with wholesome magazines, and setting up free coffee wagons to discourage the soldiers from frequenting the whiskey peddlers. They collected 6.25 million dollars in money and supplies during the war. Lincoln, in support of the Christian Commission, ordered every regiment to have a chaplain.
In the South, “Christian leaders made efforts to provide soldiers with Bibles, New Testaments, and religious tracts. Chaplains with the soldiers sent letters to their home churches and church leadership, begging them to send “[their] best men – holy men” to assist in evangelizing and ministering to the troops. Consequently, during the fall of 1863, through the spring and summer of 1864, the “Great Revival” took place among the troops of the North and South. Over 100,000 Confederate troops and between 100,000 and 200,00 Union troops accepted Christ – roughly 10% of the fighting men. All this came about because of concerted prayer.
Let me note here that though the Civil War years were a dark, dark time for America, God moved mightily to bring people into His kingdom because His people prayed and moved together against what the enemy Satan was trying to do.
The situation in America right now is not good, but it is not hopeless. We are in a situation where the wall is down, much like the wall around Jerusalem that Nehemiah had to rebuild. Nehemiah went up at night to inspect the wall of Jerusalem. He told the people, “Come. Let us rebuild the wall that we may no longer be a reproach.” (Neh. 2:15a, 17) To succeed in his endeavor, Nehemiah “stationed the people in families with their swords, spears, and bows.” When he saw their fear, he said to them, “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” Because everyone was in their place – priests, goldsmiths, perfumers, government officials, merchants, temple servants, Levites, laborers, farmers, fathers and daughters, the wall was finished in fifty-two days. It is time for each one of us to take our places rebuilding the wall, lifting up our shields of faith, but we need to lift them up together – husbands with wives, church members with other church members, churches with other churches – to form the phalanx against the attacks of the enemy Satan. If the battle is not won in prayer, the battle will not be won.
God rebuked the Israelites in Ezekiel 13:5 saying, “You have not gone up into the breaches nor did you build the wall around the house of Israel to stand in the battle on the day of the Lord.” A few chapters later, God mourns, saying “I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.” Lack of intercessors, lack of prayer, resulted in the loss.
Intercessors, especially prayer leaders, are crucial in the battles that we face. You are the repairers of the breach. You are the Nehemiahs put in place to challenge the rest of us to take our places in the phalanx of prayer. “Do not lose heart in doing good, for in due time [you] will reap if you do not grow weary.” (Gal. 6:9) You will have a good return for your labor. Continue to encourage husbands and wives to pray together in order to form the phalanx around their families. Continue to encourage church members to join together to pray for their pastors and Bible study leaders and their churches. Continue to try to bring churches together to pray for their city, school district, county, state, and nation. These efforts will not be in vain. Witness the modern-day moves of God where the praying church brought down the Berlin Wall; where the praying church brought down the Marcos regime; where the praying church brought down despotic regimes in Egypt; where, most recently, the praying church changed the election in Myanmar. If God can do it in these nations, He can do it in America. Shields up!
(Photo from Dreamstime.)
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