God expects us to pray together. Have you ever thought in those terms? Let’s consider it together.
We’ll start with the teachings of Jesus. When Jesus gives us a pattern for prayer, he gives a pattern to pray together. What is typically called the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 uses the plural pronouns our and us throughout. We pray together, “Our Father in heaven….” Certainly we can apply it personally, but it is given as a pattern to pray together. And if Jesus gives us a pattern for praying together, we must assume he expects us to use it. He expects us to pray together.
Or consider Matthew 18:19-20:
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.”
When we gather in Christ’s name, Christ is with us. As we agree about anything we ask together (again per context in his name; that is, according to his will), the Father will do it. Clearly Jesus expects us to come together for prayer.
Then, let’s consider the instructions of Paul. Paul gives numerous instructions about prayer. In our culture of rugged individualism we immediately tend to assume he is speaking of personal prayer. But we must remember that Paul is writing primarily to churches, not individuals. And the context often points to a more corporate expectation.
Take for instance Romans 12:12, where we are told to “be constant in prayer.” We might immediately privatize this exhortation, but the context of verses 3-16 reads like a manual for how the church should function together. It seems much more likely from the context, that Paul is instructing the gathered church to be constant in prayer.
Or take Romans 15:30-33:
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
Paul is again writing to the church, to the brothers – plural. He wants them to strive together in prayer. He plans to come to them (the church, not each individual). He wants God’s peace to be with them all. While we might immediately take from this passage that I should pray for missionaries, I think Paul’s request is that we would pray together for missionaries.
Or again consider I Thessalonians 5:17 – “pray without ceasing.” We struggle with how to apply it personally. But the context, again like in Romans 12, is clearly about how the church should function together. So Paul’s main point is that we as a church should pray together without ceasing.
Finally, Paul writes to Timothy. Here he writes to an individual. But Paul is not instructing Timothy about how to live his personal Christian life. No, he is instructing Timothy about how the church to function. And so he instructs Timothy in 2:1-2 –
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
Notice – first of all. This praying together as a church is to be a priority. And not for my personal good, but for the good of the church together – that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life. And if there is any question that Paul is speaking of praying together, verse 8 removes it:
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.
Those last four words make clear that we are talking about praying together. We are to pray together without anger or quarreling with one another. We are to pray together with united hearts. Indeed it would be very difficult to pray together with divided hearts, so praying together regularly forces us to address any divisions among us.
From all these passages, it becomes clear that Paul expects us to pray together, just like Jesus does.
Finally, let’s consider the New Testament’s description of the church as a family. God is our Father. We are his children, and brothers and sisters together. Now what would you think if I told you that my kids play together, and come individually to me, but they never come to me together. Would that not be strange? So would it not be strange for us to fellowship with other believers, and individually come to God in prayer, but not come together in prayer? Indeed John makes this clear in I John 1:3 –
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
We have fellowship with each other, and we have fellowship together (our fellowship) with God. And certainly this must include God’s children talking together with their Father. The picture of the church as a family points to the expectation that we will pray together.
So whether we look at the teachings of Jesus, the instructions of Paul, or the church as a family, the clear expectation is that we will pray together. Now if God expects us to do something, and we don’t do it, what is that called? It is sin, right? We don’t want to say that. It makes us uncomfortable. It means that our neglect in this area is more than a preference, it is a moral issue. If we neglect praying together, we sin against God who expects us pray together. This is serious. For those neglecting prayer together, it requires repentance – both as individuals and as local churches. We need to turn from our neglect, and recommit ourselves to gather regularly with God’s people for prayer. It means churches must get serious about that neglected prayer meeting. It means we need to start living out God’s expectation that we pray together.
Father, thank you for Jesus who died to pay for all of our sins, including our neglect to pray together. Forgive us for this sin, and change our hearts to desire what you desire. Grant us a desire to pray with your people. And may we from this day forward change to be the people you want us to be – a people that pray together to you. Amen.