Praying Together in a Year of Prayer
While we may pray alone, there are many passages in the Bible that teach the need to pray with others.
In Matthew 18:18-20, it says:
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, 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 among them.
Jesus said that there is power in prayer agreement (v19). It takes at least two to agree. This sharing of purpose is an expression of a community. The ability to “agree” is the ability to respond with “Amen” (“so shall it be” - a statement of agreement) when another prays.
Where two or three are gathered in prayer (v20), there is the promise of the Lord’s comforting and authoritative presence. Biblically, the “presence of the Lord” conveys the promise that God is authoritatively at work. When tasked to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, Moses prayed, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). God’s presence is a mark of His favour, blessing and authority. Every church or small group should seek after His presence. Jesus promised us that if we gather to pray, His presence will be with us.
When leading or serving in Church, we meet, discuss, plan and strategise together. If we fail to pray together and fail to acknowledge our need for His authoritative presence, we can end up doing church work in a godless way. We will do well to heed the warnings given to the seven churches in Revelations 2 and 3. Prayer agreement and His presence are inseparable. Without a communal prayer life, we can end up doing atheistic work while imagining we are serving Him. We end up doing the work in our name, not His. This is one reason why we go by the dictum that “those who serve together must pray together.”
This is especially true for those in leadership. Co-leadership over both the temporal and spiritual issues in the life of the Church can be complex. Spiritual authority can be intoxicating. Praying together helps us keep the right perspective towards God and each other.
However, we need to think deeper about what it means to pray together. It is more than just two persons mouthing some words that ends with “Amen.” Prayer is more than just an opening or ending for a committee meeting to bookmark the writing of minutes. Praying together is about sharing spiritually (koinonia) and having relationships and a communal life that are centered on the lordship of Christ. It is about two Christians who relate to each other with the Lord at the heart of it, and where even the discussions and thoughts mutually expressed naturally become prayers. A community that can “amen” together reflects mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21), a shared life and a Christ-filled purpose.
I have had occasions when, after sharing with a brother, I sensed we have prayed even though we had not formally done so. These were conversations where the Lord was an active participant. This attitude of humble dependence on the Lord with another person is a prayerful attitude. Praying together is not an activity. It is a heart attitude. If parish committees or teams have these deep spiritual marks of dependence on the Lord and one another, the fruits of it will show.
Praying together also saves us from pride and spiritual deception. On our own, we can easily imagine that the Lord endorses this or that. There is greater discernment when we are in prayer agreement and mutually accountable to another. Alone, we often think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think (Romans 12:3). Alone, we think we are right in our own eyes (Proverbs 21:2). When we pray together, we open our hearts to the Lord and another person.
Jesus Himself underlined the Old Testament teaching that the temple of the Lord is a “house of prayer”. The gathered Christian community, described as the new temple, is also where prayer is to take place. Of course the church gathers for many reasons and different activities. But prayer is one central mark of her identity as a gathered community. In the early Church, the Christians continued their Jewish customs of meeting regularly in prayer (as recorded in the Book of Acts). The Church in her checkered history, even when under persecution, gave priority to worship and prayer whenever they came together.
Praying together defines the very purpose of why the Church gathers together. It is for every Christian, not just for those who are more spiritually committed. We do this at every weekend service. In fact, we pray a lot during our services: Many of our hymns and songs are actually prayers. During intercession, we pray for more specific needs. The Communion liturgy involves praying together to the Lord. If there is ministry time, we pray for one another. We also pray when we gather in our cell groups, and in other small gatherings. Many parishes host regular prayer meetings.
This year, the Body of Christ will be gathering in prayer in various ways as we seek to bless our nation (see below). Next year’s Singapore Bicentennial will commemorate our nation’s founding 200 years ago. One way to bless our fellow citizens is to share the love of Christ during the Celebration of Hope events (17-19 May). To prepare for this, the bishops and pastors of the city are calling Christians to pray together. Watch out for these unique opportunities.
I do not think I can say enough about this call to pray together. We intuitively know that we need to. It is basic to the Christian life, whether in leading or serving. It is how the Church breathes.