Do numbers count with God?
Seven reasons why praying together is more effective than purely praying alone. by Chris Band
Picture | Ben White | Freely
Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us, in our individualistic culture, if we have come to favour praying alone over praying with others. Maybe we have been so drilled in the discipline of a solitary ‘Quiet Time’ that we subconsciously regard ‘true’ prayer to be very private in nature anyway. Yes we know that ‘where two or three are gathered’ Jesus is present, but we’re also pretty sure he is with us when we pray on our own as well. So is there really any added value in praying with others? Would it not be a bit surprising, after all, to find that numbers ‘counted’ with God?
Well, I would like to make the case now that praying together really is more effective than purely praying alone. Let me provide a brief overview of seven reasons why I believe this to be true
1. We pray together because it is the example of scripture
The biblical basis for praying together is evident from the entire sweep of Scripture, from the prayer life of the people of Israel through to the practices of the Early Church. The Psalms, Israel’s ‘hymnbook’, are replete with prayers that would have been sung corporately. After all, if prayer is fundamentally the act of addressing God, then heartfelt singing is also prayer, albeit with greater rhythm and cadence
We also find in the Old Testament that corporate prayer can take the shape of national confession or petitioning God for blessing (Nehemiah 9 and Esther 4).
It appears at first glance that Jesus’ own teaching and practice of prayer are of a more solitary nature (Matthew 6:6, Luke 5:16). But his regular discipline of private prayer is only half the story. He prayed in a great variety of indoor and outdoor locations with large groups or even with his inner circle of disciples (Luke 9:28, Matt 26:36-38). And when the disciples asked him to teach them to pray, they were presented with a model prayer that is unapologetically cast in plural terms: our Father, our daily bread, forgive us, deliver us (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4). Clearly Jesus expects us to be praying together.
The Early Church followed his example, joining together ‘constantly’ in prayer (Acts 1:14); being ‘devoted’ to it (Acts 2:42). The evident necessity to pray corporately is not then presented in the Bible as a single proof-text but rather as a recurring pattern; if Scripture does not somewhere command it, it is because it everywhere assumes it
2. We pray together because it increases our faith
Elijah’s prayer contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel offers a cautionary tale. His epic ‘all-conquering-even-though-solitary’ faith, epically collapses moments later in the face of Jezebel’s threat (1 Kings 18 and19). God’s solution, in giving him Elisha, was to ensure he would never have to stand alone again in prayer
In similar fashion, as Aaron and Hur held Moses’ tired arms aloft as he interceded for the Israelites (Exodus 17:12) and as Jesus needed strengthening by the angels during his prayers at Gethsemane (Luke 22:43), so we too need to be strengthened in faith and endurance by praying with one-another
3. We pray together because God delights in unity
Scripture cautions us that disunity, whether it be societal, ecclesiastical or marital, will hinder our prayers (Proverbs 21:13, Isa 1:15-17, 1 Pet 3:7). Unity on the other hand positively aids them. As we read in the Psalms: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity … for there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore” (Psalm 133:1, 3b)
Surely God delights to answer corporate prayer because he longs to build up the entire church. In his economy he is able to increase the faith and expectation of the whole group when he answers those prayers that are brought with united vision
4. We pray together because we are enriched by our different understandings and practices of prayer
We live in something of a ‘post-denominational’ context in which people freely migrate from one theological tradition to the next. This results in a diverse range of perspectives and expectations about prayer even within a single church. But rather than these different or ‘rival’ theologies debilitating the church’s corporate prayer life, they can positively enhance it. The point is that we learn prayer from one another. We each come with our blind spots and limitations but our individual perspectives are enriched by others and expand our understanding of how God might be at work
5. We pray together because it helps us to better discern God’s will
1 John 5:14 encourages us that if we ask for anything according to God’s will, he hears us. But how is that ‘will’ to be known? Surely our own Baptist ecclesiology understands that God’s will is best discerned when we are gathered as a body of believers. And such public prayer also affords the possibility of the use of the revelatory gifts. So when we pray together perhaps we are more able to align our prayers with the very things that God is longing to do?
6. We pray together because it draws more people into becoming the answer to our prayers
If we agree that God wants to use his church, the body of Christ on earth, to be the channel through which many answers to prayer will come, then we can immediately see how praying together can be significant. Corporate prayer can and should lead to corporate action as Christ, the head of the church, directs us to be the means through which prayer is answered. It is as people pray together that God begins to call those self-same people, when and where possible, to become the very channels through which he will act
7. We pray together because through it we encourage one-another to pray
I regularly pray for an hour at a time with other Christians and the minutes seem to fly by. But to pray for 60 minutes on my own is all but beyond me. If you lack the concentration or discipline to pray at length, then like me you need the encouragement that comes from joining with others. Praying together means that we will actually pray. And if you are one of those rare individuals for whom discipline in this area is effortless, then perhaps you need to be sharing some of that strength with others!
Chris Band is the author of On my Knees: Rebuilding our confidence in Prayer [Monarch Books]. The book is accompanied by a website which contains, amongst other things, a free small group study guide
Chris is a minister at Headington Baptist Church, Oxford
Baptist Times, 08/08/2017 and reproduced with permission