TOPICAL STUDIE - GROUP PRAYER
Group prayer, where two or more people gather together for purposes of intercession, carries special significance in Scripture. Jesus himself addressed this issue in Matthew 18:19-20 when he told his disciples; “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.”
This is a rather startling promise for several reasons: It appears, at first glance, that Jesus is giving "carte blanche" authorization to ask God for anything as long as at least one other person agrees to it. Were that the case, any pair of believers who agreed on any particular request could enjoy an unprecedented shopping spree on God's tab. Common sense alone tells us that is NOT what Jesus was saying here.
By the way, let me digress here for a moment, and share a bit of advice when it comes to interpreting Scripture. Hermeneutics is the branch of knowledge that seeks and sets guidelines for the correct interpretation of God's Word. These rules are many and, unfortunately, varied, depending on the individual's particular brand of theology. There is, however, one simple rule that most agree on, which I pass on to you here: "When the plain sense of the Scripture makes common sense to you, seek no other sense".
Thus, in the case above, common sense tells us that Jesus is not talking about indiscriminate, unconditional prayer. If you ever happened to watch the movie, Bruce Almighty, you'll recall how utterly impossible it would be for God to answer all prayer, whether it be two or two million people agreeing together on it. What then, is Jesus offering to the believer through prayer? As always, we turn to the context for answers. Verse 20 gives us the clue: "where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."
Read that verse again and see if you can pick out the two elements which condition this powerful prayer promise. 1) the gathering must be in Jesus Christ's name. That condition alone takes care of most selfish requests for personal benefit. If we're gathered in His name, then we are constrained to ask only things for His glory, purpose and desires. In other words, ask according to His will.
But what if we're not sure if a particular request is in accord with His will. That brings us to part two: "I am there with you". Personally, I like the King James rendering: "I am in the midst". I find it fascinating that here, long before the disciples were aware of Christ's impending crucifixion, he promises to somehow be "in the midst" of them when they gather in His name. Don't you think they wondered what he meant by that? How could Jesus, a man in human form, somehow be in two places at the same time? If, for example, James and Peter got together in prayer at the same time John and Thomas did the same elsewhere, how could Jesus be at both meetings?
This incident may well be the first occasion in which Jesus hints of his death and resurrection for that is, indeed, what he has in mind here. After he arose from the dead he was able to appear in their midst and did so as recorded in Luke 24:36-39 "While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. So He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” This gives us an exciting clue as to the nature of our future bodies after OUR resurrection.
Now, fast forward 2,000 years. Today, each time two or more gather in His name, He is actually in their midst but in the person of the Holy Spirit. Look carefully at these verses: John 4:24 "For it is the Holy Spirit who instructs the believer on what to pray for in accord with God's will:" and Romans 8:26 "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans." and, finally, Romans 8:34 "... Christ Jesus who died -- more than that, who was raised to life -- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."
Thus, in the form of the Holy Spirit, Jesus permeates the meeting of two or more believers, imbuing them with his presence and guiding them into an understanding of the Father's will while, at the same time, interceding on behalf of those same two believers before the Heavenly Father. Consider this, just the act of acknowledging Jesus' presence and welcoming Him as the third person present, will exert a powerful influence on the conduct, attitude and thoughts of those gathered in His name. Next time you pray with a partner, act like Jesus is sitting next to you, acknowledge His presence, welcome His participation and ask Him what and how you might best pray in His name.