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Monday, October 17, 2016

The Person of Effective Prayer - Prays in Agreement

Introduction

In the last Bible study on the person of effective prayer, we learned that this person must love Jesus. From study of the Bible, we recognized that showing we love Jesus shows our faith. A person showing love to Jesus comes by believing He is the Son of God and through obedience to His commands and teachings. The latter is not a new idea. Even in the Old Testament, God through the writers, Moses, and the prophets commanded the Israelites to obey His commandments, laws, and precepts. Many times these people equated loving God to obedience to what He commanded.

This week’s lesson is the last lesson on the person of effective prayer. In this lesson we will discover the Bible writers taught first century believers prayers should be done in agreement – with one mind/accord. Jesus taught on this, too. What is significant about “praying in agreement?” What does it mean? Why would Jesus teach us to go to our prayer closets in solitude and to pray “where two or three are gathered in His name,” too? Are these not two conflicting ideas? What is the purpose of praying with other believers? We will consider these and other questions as we go through this study. First to consider is what does the Bible say about praying with other believers?

Praying with Other Believers


Praying on Ascension Day

There are two main verses that come to most Christians’ minds when they consider prayer and praying with other believers. The first is Acts 1:14 and the second is Matthew 18:19-20. Acts 1:14 says, “These [the disciples of Jesus, with the women, Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers, and about 100 other people (vs. 15)] all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to pray, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” [NASB] In this verse, four things need consideration. First, we must consider the people who gathered to pray together. Notice the people in the upper room were not just Jesus’ disciples. Note, too, they were not just men. This group of people contained men, women, apostles, and devout followers of Christ not just the chosen twelve. The main identifier of this group is they were all believers in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and accepted the salvation He offered to all people.

The second thing we must recognize concerns the words “all with one mind.” “With one mind” comes from the Greek word homothumadon. Homothumadon means with one mind, one accord, or one passion. It carries with it the thought of multiple notes pealing in harmony to make a rich sound in pitch and tone. Basically, their minds each reached out to God with the same thoughts and cries. These believers prayed to God wanting to know what next they should do. They each believed in God and in His Son and they knew from Whom they could seek answers and direction. Other verses in the Bible that relate to prayer with other Christians seeking to be of “one mind” or being of “one accord,” both of which come from homothumadon, are Acts 2:46 & 4:24, and Romans 15:6. In the two Acts passages, the followers of Jesus met regularly as one mind to worship, fellowship, and pray. In Romans 15:6, believers in Jesus Christ met to raise their voices in one accord with praise to God. The purpose for these people when they met was joining in praying/communing with God through prayers, praise, worship, and fellowship. Their “one mind” was to focus on the Lord.

Let us return to Acts 1:14. The followers in the Upper Room had given their lives to Jesus the Christ and wanted to continue to serve Him. Since Jesus modeled for them and taught them to seek the Father through prayer, they knew what they had to do to get answers and direction after Jesus’ ascension; they had to speak to the Father. As we note from later verses of this chapter, one specific question weighed on their minds. They wondered who they should appoint to replace the betrayer, Judas Iscariot. This concern they carried to God each of them in one accord, with one mind, seeking God’s will and, based on their seeking God’s will, they chose a twelfth apostle to join them.

The next part of this verse we should note is these followers of Jesus “were continually devoting themselves to prayer.” They did not just ask God’s blessing at sunrise, bedtime, and meal times. They stayed in continual prayer. In Greek, these words “continually devoting” come from the word proskartereo. It means to devotion or constancy to a person, to be an adherent, to be steadfastly attentive to, to persevere and not faint to show one’s self as courageous, to be in constant readiness for another, and to wait on constantly. This definition has two meanings. When a person is proskartereo, that person constantly devotes him or herself to another person. A proskartereo person is attentive and alert, too, and willing to persevere during trials with courage and without fainting, growing weary, or giving up. Two sides exist to this word. The followers of Jesus showed themselves to be proskartereo (persevering) as they had just come through a time of trial and still had a constant devotion to Jesus. They still called upon the Father. The followers of Jesus remained faithful to Him. The calling to God by these followers showed their constant, steadfast devotion to Jesus. Nothing deterred them in their devotion to God and His Son, not His arrest, their association with Him, His suffering, or His departure from earth. We each can learn a lesson in this verse not to be faint-hearted in our faith.

The fourth thing we should note in this passage is these followers understood what they needed to do when uncertainty or potential harm was possible. They prayed. Remember, these believers in Jesus were Jewish background Christians. They knew about going to temple, offering sacrifices, and having the priests intercede for them to God. Here in this passage, the believers stepped out in faith on what Jesus taught them and sought the Father on their own. They did not seek an intermediary, but took to heart what Jesus said in John 16:26-27,

“In that day [after Jesus ascended to heaven] you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf, for the Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth form the Father.” [NASB]

These believers prayed directly to God believing He would hear and answer them. After being with Jesus, listening to His teachings, and watching Him model life with the Father, these apostles and 100+ other followers of Jesus trusted Him enough to do the only thing they believed would help them in their current situation; they prayed with one mind continually devoting themselves to each other and to God.

From this verse, we learn another attribute of an effective person of prayer is praying with other believers with “one mind.” How does this coincide with what Jesus said in Matthew 18:19-20? How does it differ?

Praying as Part of Church Discipline

Many Christians know Matthew 18:19-20 and either quote or refer to it as teaching from Jesus that people should pray together. Often people use this verse to suggest we can get more from God when more than one person prays to Him about a matter. In our study here, we will see the context in which Jesus taught about two or three believers praying together, the power available to believers who pray, the love of the Father in heaven, and the promise of Jesus.

Matthew 18:19-20 says,

“Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth about anything they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered in My name, I am there in their midst.”[NASB]

First, we need to recognize with the beginning of verse nineteen, Jesus referred to something He said earlier to the disciples. He said, “Again,” which means go back to what He said earlier. Jesus taught something earlier and was here trying to make it more understandable and emphatic to His hearers. He referred to verses fifteen through eighteen, and more specifically to verse eighteen.

In verses fifteen to eighteen, Jesus taught about church discipline and how to do it. With each verse, He taught them if the sinning brother refused to accept discipline what to do next about the matter. By the time we read verse eighteen, the sinning Christian had not submitted to discipline by one believer, then two or more other members of the church. With verse eighteen, the passage Jesus referred to in verse nineteen when He said, “Again,” He taught His disciples whatever you bind on earth God will bind in heaven and whatever you loose on earth God will set loose in heaven. This verse is a metaphor. Jesus told them whoever they threw into chains – judged and found guilty and unrepentant of not following the Law of God though given opportunity – that person God would find guilty in heaven and he or she would receive judgment from Him. Then again, Jesus told them whoever they released on earth from judgment and guilt due to repentance will God will find repentant and free in heaven. God would do away with their judgment on that matter in heaven.

What does this mean regarding more than one person praying in verses nineteen and twenty? Church discipline sometimes must progress to a higher level involving more people. The highest level of church discipline requires reaching out to God for His guidance and understanding of the issue and how to resolve it. If the group of believers confronting the sinning believer has reached an impasse with the confronted unrepentant believer, by the time they get to verse nineteen, they are “in accord” – “with one mind” - that they need further help from God. These church members understand the issue and acknowledge they are powerless to persuade the unrepentant believer to repent and turn back to the ways of God. Their next recourse is to take the matter to the Father. From this we learn more people praying for a particular thing does not mean the prayers have more power to make God act for us. More people praying means more people are in agreement over the matter, more people have sought God’s will based on His revealed Word, and more people agree they need God’s guidance to discern what should occur next regarding the unrepentant believer. More people does not mean more power. More people means more wisdom and understanding of God’s will. It means more agreement and understanding in a difficult situation.

More people praying = More oneness of mind =
More reception of God’s wisdom and understanding in this situation
When the confronting church members reach the point of impasse with the unrepentant believer and seek God’s wisdom and will in the matter, Jesus taught the disciples, if two believers agreed about anything, they should ask for guidance and the Father would give it to them. Notice the church members trying to bring an unrepentant believer back to God and His way of living are in agreement about the problem and the heart of the person being disciplined. They spoke about it and agreed. The next level of recourse is to take the issue to God. This passage teaches more people agree with Christ on the matter of discipline when they pray together. Along with these, the Father agrees with the united prayer of the believers in the matter, too. By praying together in one mind, they show they are obedient children of God who are effective persons of prayer who seek God’s will. Jesus said God will hear and answer them. Because these believers love Jesus as noted by their abiding in Him and belief in Him, the Father loves them (John 16:27). Since the Father loves them, He will listen to and answer their prayers.

Why did Jesus say God would hear and answer them? He told them in verse twenty. Jesus said, because the believers “have gathered together in His name”, He was with them. “Gathering in His name” is abiding in Him together. Abiding in Jesus means believing Jesus is the Father’s Son and showing love of Him by obeying His commands and teachings. The discipliners of this lesson abide in Jesus. Because of this, Jesus is with them. Jesus said in John 15, He is the vine and His followers are the branches. In John 15:7, He taught the disciples if they abided in Him and His words (His commands and teachings) abided in them, whatever they ask for the Father will provide an answer. Jesus was in the midst of the church discipliners because they love Him. Because they love Jesus and ask in Jesus’ name since they are His disciples, the Father will do what they ask. He will give them His guidance and wisdom for this unrepentant believer in the church.

In Matthew 18:19-20, we understand Jesus taught about the prayers of two or more people who come to the Father for guidance and wisdom about an unrepentant believer. Through this passage in Matthew, we find the power available for believers who pray comes in Jesus name. Jesus taught the disciples in John 14:12-14,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believe in Me, the works that I do, he will do also, and greater works than these he will do because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name that I will do so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”

Jesus taught the disciples the Father in heaven loves them because they love the Son (John 16:27).  Finally, we learned the promise of Jesus for His followers; when we ask according to God’s will, which has a greater chance of occurring when two or three people agree and seek Him, then what the people ask of the Father He will do for them.

Other Lessons on Praying with Other Believers

Besides Acts 1:14 and Matthew 18:19-20, other passages speak about being “of one mind” with other believers - Acts 2:42 & 4:24, and Romans 15:6. In addition to these instances of believers praying with each other in agreement, other Bible passages note Christians did not always pray in their prayer closet.

We note when believers studied the Word together, they prayed together (Acts 6:4). When followers of Jesus celebrated the Lord’s Supper, they prayed together (Acts 2:42). As Paul left a city, he often taught the local believers to pray together. When Paul went to new cities on his missionary journeys, he often sought people of prayer by the riverside (Acts 16:13). When believers sought to minister, they devoted themselves to prayer (Romans 12:12). Paul taught what the body of Christ should do (Ephesians 6:18). As Paul sailed back to Jerusalem before his trial, he sought the prayers of believers (Acts 20:36 & 21:5). When Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the garden of Gethsemane, He modeled and commanded the three disciples pray to not fall into temptation (Luke 22:40-46). They were to pray for their own self and the other disciples.

Each of these Bible passages speaks about believers praying together. We can think of other passages where Christians came together to worship the Lord. Others came together to beseech the Lord. Still other passages tell of Christians studying the Word. Each of these, if done to grow closer to God, occurs through prayer seeking to be one mind with each other and God, and seeking His will and guidance. The place of joint prayer does not matter. Paul was in prison and he sought people of prayer by the river. Jesus prayed on the lake, on the mountain side, in the garden and on the cross. The disciples prayed in the upper room and in the countryside. A specific place is not important. What is important is the purpose for praying.

When you pray to seek the mind and will of God, that is genuine prayer. Praying with one mind or in agreement when praying with others is important for discerning God’s wisdom and guidance and gaining His answer. When we pray by ourselves, we seek to know the mind of the Father, which is seeking His mind/will, having one mind with God. Whether we pray in solitude or with other believers, the goal is to seek the mind of God. We do not pray in Jesus’ name to make God do something for us. Praying with other people beseeching God does not to make God more inclined to do something. It does not give us more power to make God do something. The purpose of prayer, as we understand from our main Bible passages today, is to have a mind like Christ, a mind that seeks God’s will and obeys Him. Whether we do pray in a group or in solitude, we seek God’s will. A few advantages come from praying with a group of believers.
  • First, by praying with others, we encourage the believer in his or her faith. We acknowledge as legitimate the person’s felt need and reason for prayer – one that does not go against God’s commands, laws, and precepts – then encouragement occurs for his or her prayer life and walk with the Lord.
  • From this, we then see another purpose of praying with other believers. Other people praying with a person add their “Amen” to the prayer. Amen means “so be it.” When you say “amen” at the end of your prayer, you are agreeing with God and others about that for which you prayed. You are joining God and the person to say “amen” to what God will do in answer to the prayer. This means praying is both request and thanksgiving to God because of our hope He will hear and answer our prayers.
  • Another aspect to praying with people comes from the “iron sharpens iron” thought. When a person brings his or her concerns to another person for joint prayer, those second or third prayers from their walk with God and wisdom of the years can help the one praying to grow in his or her faith and knowledge of the Lord and His ways. It can help the ones who are praying with the person in need to grow in the same way, too. From our own personal walk with the Lord, we might be a help to another believer struggling and/or that person’s faith and struggles may help the joining pray-ers grow, too.


Relevance and Conclusion

From Acts 1:14, our major passage for today’s study, we learned the importance of praying with other believers. Praying in solitude is a good and humble practice for Christians. It keeps us from distraction and keeps our heart’s eyes focused on God. Praying solitude keeps us from trying to better than another prayer to get applause from other people. Yet praying with believers is important, too. It allows us to join with others who know and love the Lord so we grow in oneness with each other and with God. It allows us to encourage others as they experience hard times and are seeking God’s guidance, protections, provision, and will. Praying with others allows iron to sharpen iron. It brings a one-ness of mind and will – God’s mind and will - about a situation or unrepentant believer. Through each of these, praying jointly with other believers provides a way for believers to be one in mind and Spirit through the LORD God so the body of believers grow together in and through the Lord. This latter best states the purpose for praying with other believers. Just as we pray ceaselessly so we can grow in our relationship with the Lord and grow more like Christ each day, we pray with others so we can grow together as the body of Christ and become one with the Father.

Praying with other believers
grows us together as the body of Christ and
makes us one with the Father.

The questions remain. They affect your prayer life now. They affect your life into eternity.

  • Are you a believer in Jesus Christ?
  • Have you asked Him to forgive you for your sins and be your Lord and Savior?
  • Are you growing into more Christlikeness?
  • Are you growing with other believers into the body of Christ?
  • Are you growing in your relationship with God?