Matthew 6:5-6 tells us to pray in secret with the door shut.
Mark 1:35 speaks of Jesus praying alone.
These texts may indicate the primacy of private prayer – you and God alone. But the matter of private praying does not exhaust the issue of prayer. The Matthew passage is given to warn us from ostentation in prayer. We are, however, to pray with others.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
This is illustrated by the early church in its practice.
- Acts 1:14 – Before Pentecost the church is gathered together in prayer.
- Acts 4:23-31 – The church gathers in prayer after the release of Peter and John after their arrest.
- Acts 12:12 – The church is gathered to pray when Peter is freed from prison.
- Acts 21:5 – Disciples of Tyre gather to pray as Paul leaves them.
The early church spent much of its time praying together. In fact, praying together is so important, that God may say ‘no’ to our payers, when he wants to say ‘yes’, because we have only prayed alone.
So why Should We Pray Together?
1. God has sanctioned it.
In Acts 1, 2, and 4:24-31, after the church had prayed together God sanctioned it by his own presence and power. and Jesus recommended it in the passage we just read in Matt. 18:19-20.
Just out of obedience we ought not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. If none of the following reasons make sense to you, it should be done because of his recommendation. “Your wish is my command”
2. He is Uniquely Present
Whatever else the promise of Matt. 18:19-20 implies it suggests that when people pray together God is uniquely present. He is omnipresent in our world at all times. He is present with every believer even when we are alone. But he is more effectively, more demonstratively, present when God’s people pray together. He is “enthroned” in the midst of his people.
3. Concerns shared are treated more objectively.
There are times as solitary believers when we carry anxieties over a concern. The more we dwell on it the bigger it appears. Private prayer is often just another name for “Sanctified Worrying”. We have a capacity for making mountains out of molehills.
Mark Twain said, “I’ve had many troubles in my life, and most of them never happened.” But when we are called upon to share this concern, doing so puts the situation before us in its true dimensions. We are unable to put all our vague feelings into the description, and in the face of another we tend to be more objective. Sharing with another helps us to put the concern into its proper perspective.
4 Many prayers are answered in and by the group itself.
God has ordained for his church to be a supportive institution. As we share concerns with one another it may be that there is a person there who can fulfill that need. We are workers together with God. We are his servants to serve his purposes in the church and in the world.
For ten years I participated in a weekly men’s prayer breakfast. The various members of that group would share from time to time their need of a job, need for encouragement for a wife, worrying about a daughter or son. and so on. What was interesting was how many of these concerns were answered by the men who were gathered there.
The church is the Body of Christ. He is quite prepared to share his glory with his Church. God uses people to answer many of our prayers. The spokes of a wheel are not only to be connected to the hub (Christ), but connected to each other at the rim.
5. When affected by a problem it is hard to pray.
If I am depressed it is almost impossible for me to pray in faith. If I am caught up in anxiety, my trust is paralyzed. But the Gospels tell the story of one paralytic who was brought to Christ by others. And the record says, ‘When he saw THEIR faith, he said to the paralytic “My son, your sins are forgiven …. Rise take up your bed and walk.” Others can believe for us when we cannot ourselves. Without the group having faith some prayers would not be answered. James writes, “Is any sick among you, let him call for the elders of the church…”
6. Redeems us from Selfish Praying
In our private praying we often pray myopically or shortsightedly. Our world is encompassed by private concerns. “Bless me, my wife and our two sons, us 4 and no more” type of praying often persists. We concentrate on the issues that arise only in our minds. But as we pray with a group of friends we find others who are in need, we move the focus from ourselves to a wider world. We find our praying moving across the world with new concerns to help people we have never met.
My own prayers can become very narrow and provincial. I get limited to prayers that come to my mind. Other people’s prayers remind me of matters that I tend to forget.
I remember the day I was reading Wesley’s book of Prayers, when I came upon the following words. “Give a strong and quiet spirit to those condemned to death, liberty to prisoners and captives….” and he reminded me of my lack of praying for prisoners in our correctional institutions or for their families. The next day I read in that same volume, “Pity the mentally deficient and the insane, and give life and salvation to all to whom thou hast given no understanding.” I was reminded that I never prayed for those who were residents and those who were caregivers and those who were family members of the severely handicapped in a nearby institution.
7. I am part of a Great Choir.
There is another reason I need to pray with other people. I want to join in prayer with the rest of the Universal Christian Church. I am part of a great choir. I am not only a soloist. Listen to the words of our Lord, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven, for where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them.”
The church as a whole is wiser than any one of us. They may know better than I, what needs to be prayed for. There are some written prayers such as the ancient collect from the communion service that could fruitfully be prayed by all Christians everyday. Let me review it once more:
“Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are opened, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy Holy Name.”
Periodically I need to pray the prayers that are bigger than my personal sets of needs. I need to pray the prayers that other Christians think or have thought important.
8. I want to eavesdrop
There is an additional reason I want to pray with other people. There are people who have lived their lives close to God. I want to hear them pray. I want to eavesdrop on their fellowship with God. I want to know what issues live at the center of the attention of great saints. I began my Christian journey praying and eavesdropping on a group of senior citizens at a Wednesday night prayer meeting. Then at college while a freshman I listened to the prayers of Abraham K Abraham from India whose prayers drew me into a greater intimacy with God.
The disciples listened in on Jesus’ prayers and though they had prayed on and off all their lives, they realized in the light of his prayers that they were but children. They came to him after one eavesdropping session and said “Lord teach us to pray.”
If any of us find prayer is meaningless, try eavesdropping and you may find yourself a praying participant once more.
9. Primes the Pump
When I was living in Ontario in the mid 1970’s I used to go for my autumn spiritual-life retreat to a cottage by a lake. I remember the first time I went there. There was an old fashioned well in the center of a clearing. It was late fall. The place looked deserted. I opened the cabin, and then taking the pail I went to the pump at the top of the hillock. I started working the handle up and down, up and down. Nothing! I worked harder. Nothing! I was about to give up, presuming either the pump was broken or the well was dry, when an older man appeared out of the bush. We said hello to each other, then I asked where I could find water. He told me that the well was the only source. I told him my dilemma. I think he looked at me somewhat puzzled.
“Try priming the pump”, he said. I looked at him I presume with a blank look, so he defined what he meant. “Just pour some water down the neck of the pump and that will get it working.” I continued to look dumb. I was thinking, I came here to get water because I don’t have any and he tells me to pour water down the well to get some. It sounded like the song “There’s a hole in the bucket dear Lisa.” Then he said “You can get some of the water from the lake that will get it started.” Well in the next few minutes my dilemma was solved. I primed the pump with lake water and a few pumps later fresh drinkable water came flooding from the pump.
Praying with others has often primed the pump of my own praying. You may have experienced it. You are tired. It has been a long day. It’s prayer meeting night. You have no desire to go. They can function without you for tonight. But conscience bothers you and you say “Oh well guess I’ll go.” You go with a dry but dutiful heart. Others begin to pray and something begins to happen. Reservoirs of prayer are opened in your life. You share in prayer. You arise refreshed. The pump has been primed. And you go home and your private prayers are enriched and flow freely.
10. Praying Together Unites Us Spiritually
So much of what we do in the church unites us socially. And that is important. The fellowship of the saints is meant to unite us as a family is united.
But praying together unites us at the deepest level. The hymn writer sings:
“We share our common woes,
our mutual burdens bear
and for each other flows
a sympathizing tear.’
And we need to be united spiritually. Some of us work together in the kitchen, in teaching our children, working together to equip a camp or church, but to pray together knits us together at a deeper level.
And there are some prayers that God may refuse to answer affirmatively until we pray those prayers with others. You ask why? God is intent upon building a community of Christians. The church is not a crowd or a mob, or an aggregate of believers. God is out to make for Himself a church with each member functioning as part of the body. So he answers some prayers only as two or more are met. For he will build his church as well as answer prayers, even if its kills us.
Why does God not answer some of our prayers? We have not shared them with his family. Until we share in an honest caring fellowship his answer may be “NO”, but he would say “YES” to the prayers of the group.
It is not that God is persuaded by volume or quantity of prayers. He is moved when his people are work together and pray together.