A few months back, I read a really wonderful article on John Piper's website about the profits of praying with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of his points were ones I've found to be incredibly true in my own life – since starting the dinner club, a few of us have become accountability partners and we meet weekly to pray for one another and be invested in each others' lives. The prayer I've seen move in that group is so different than the prayer I've experienced on my own. The bond we're forming in that is continuing to keep our friendships centered on Christ and not ourselves. And when I'm going through seasons where I'm finding it hard to pray on my own (like now), it's often their prayers on my behalf that bring the communication with God that I need when I can't do it on my own.
To be honest, prayer is one of the hardest aspects of our walk as a Christian. It's safe to say the majority of us will always feel that our prayer life is "lacking." But isn't it true that the greatest things in life are never easy? When I think of praying on my own versus praying with a group, I'm personally more inclined to pick praying alone. There's too many extra anxieties associated to praying with others, plus, if I commit to praying on my own I don't have to worry about "getting it right" – or even doing it at all. I have no one really keeping me accountable (unless I'm forcing myself to write out my prayers as documentation). But all of the reasons I'm hesitant to pray in a group are so obviously fears that are keeping me from the Lord. So, let's be brave.
I thought Piper's article was a little theology heavy, so I took his points and made them a little more accessible and added my own experiences to them as well...
1. There's power in numbers.
Matthew 18:19-20 states, "Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." Though there's much mystery in this text (We'll get what we ask for? Does that mean what it literally means?), the overall message is that when we gather and agree, it is pleasing to God. When we gather in His name, seeking Him and doing our best to cast aside our selfish motives, He promises that He is there with us in that. His power is affirmed when we gather together in His name.
2. Multiplied joy.
What if I prayed on my own toward some end – maybe for finding a place to live in Austin. I could research on my own, pray about it, go out and actively look, be discouraged, pray about it, have something work out, then pray praise about it. This is good. But how quickly do I forget? What if instead, I presented my need to my friends and we prayed together that I would find a place. I would instantly feel supported. I would research, update them, and know they're praying for me when we're not together. I would go look – tell them I'm discouraged. We could hop on a call and pray together. I find a place – I let them know we're successful! They would be so excited, and we could pray praise together over this.
Then, when I'm fretting about the next "big worry" of my life three months later, how sweet would it be for me to be able to turn to these friends and have them remind me of all the ways God has provided before? And especially in truly difficult situations where we're not sure what will happen... and we all see how the Lord provides. It strengthens not just my own faith, but theirs as well. It's not just that I have joy in Christ, but they do as well.
3. Greater glory.
God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. When we give thanks to God, we honor Him – and this creates deep gratitude. 2 Corinthians 1:11 says, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” Praying together not only adds power to the request, but also gets others involved – bringing more glory to the Giver when he answers.
4. Fruitful ministry and mission.
In his letters, Paul called upon so many churches to pray for him – he could've easily done this himself, and I'm sure he did. But he knew asking others to pray for him would increase the fruit created in his ministry. And don't think of ministry as just "ministry!" What that simply means is how we live our lives to create disciples – and that can happen in anything we do. Prayer increases the opportunity not just for this to happen, but for us to clearly see it happen in our lives.
5. Unity among believers.
Praying together is one of the most powerful things we can do to cultivate unity with and among our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a unity given to us as Christians when we come together centered on Him and not on ourselves (see point 1) and that unity is strengthened as we "do life" together. Acts 1:14 says it was "with one accord" that the first Christians "were devoting themselves to prayer." They did it together and supported each other in being devoted to their prayer lives. We are given "the unity of the Spirit" as a body of believers, and yet we are "eager to maintain" it (Ephesians 4:3). So, praying together effects both the unity we share in Christ among ourselves, and effects that unity to become deeper and richer. It is both a sign that unity already exists among us as brothers and sisters (God has given us that gift, thank goodness!), and is also a catalyst for more of it.
6. Answers we might not get otherwise.
James 5:14–16 (and many other passages of Scripture) implies that there are some answers to prayer we just wouldn't get without involving others in our prayer:
"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."
God means for some answers to prayer to wait for others to join with us in the plea. Whoa. Like I noted in the intro to this post, we often pray alone for our personal needs – and God is pleased to answer. But sometimes, His means include others, such as the leaders of the church, our community or small group brothers and sisters, or just the humble prayer of a fellow sinner made righteous in Christ.
7. To learn and grow in our prayers.
The best way to learn to pray is to pray with others... especially those who have had their prayers shaped by Scripture. Listen for people in your life who's prayers draw you personally into more communion with Christ. Listen to how they approach God, the types of things they thank him for and/or ask him for, and how they keep others petitions and praises in mind when you're praying together. And even beyond the things we can study and be conscious of in someone else's prayers, know that we’re being shaped in profound ways for good when we join our hearts with others in prayer.
8. To know each other.
One of the best ways to get to know a fellow believer is to pray together. It's in prayer – in the conscious presence of God – that we’re most likely to let our walls down. We hear others’ hearts in prayer in a way we can't anywhere else.
When we pray together, not only do we reveal what most captures our hearts and what we truly value, but as we pray together, says Jack Miller in Tim Keller's book on prayer, “You can tell if a person is really on speaking terms with God”.
9. To know Jesus more.
This is by far the greatest benefit. When we pray together, in Jesus's name, we grow to know Jesus better. With our personal limited vision, perspective, and experience, there are aspects of Christ we’ll see with more clarity when we're with others. Our own experiences and personalities emphasize some features of His glory and make us blind to others. And so Tim Keller observes, “By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived”.
The point of prayer is not getting things from God – but getting God. This benefit alone outweighs the rest and will be a motivator that consistently provides.