Prayer: The Promise of Praying Together (Matthew 18:19-20) Robert E. Coleman September 1 Jesus manifests His presence in a special way when two or more of His disciples meet to pray. The promise is “that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19-20). In order for the promise to be realized, however, several conditions are laid down. I. There must be agreement between the praying partners.The word used here in the original is “sum-pho-na-o,” from which comes our term symphony. It literally means “to agree in sound’ or “to be in harmony,” as may be heard in a symphony orchestra. Harmonic sound of two instruments is more beautiful than the sound of one, though more difficult to obtain. And the harmony, as well as the difficulty in achieving it, becomes greater as more instruments are added.Is not this the value of united prayer? Knowing the noise that comes in discord, everyone must be at their best. We are made to sharpen our God-created personalities and gifts, in order to blend into symphonic sound. The harmonic whole becomes greater than its parts. Yet there is no diminishing of the unique contribution of each individual. In fact, by learning to blend with others, we come more to understand and appreciate our own uniqueness.This can be seen in the union of two persons in marriage. God made us male and female to complement each other, while also teaching us interdependence. In this relationship, love finds its highest human expression, and if we realize the spiritual significance, we are enabled to comprehend more deeply Christ’s love for His church.Certainly here is a place unity in prayer can have a meaningful application. As husband and wife share their lives in the flesh, even so they should agree in prayer. In a larger dimension of unity, members of the family can become a praying unit — the father praying with his son, the mother praying with her children, the family praying together in a circle of love. Our greatest privilege of spiritual unity is that most natural to us — living in a symphony of prayer at home. In this fellowship every home should be a temple of God.What can be experienced in these family relationships has its counterpart in fellowship of the church, when the body of Christ is “in one accord.” If this is not true of the whole congregation, can we not start with a few? Jesus reminds us that we do not need a crowd. Just two or three disciples harmonizing in spirit is more beautiful than the assembly of a thousand that has no bond of union.That is the point of the promise. Unity in prayer requires unity in spirit. Merely meeting together is not enough.The immediate context of this passage relates to the correction of erring members of the church. Jesus addresses the need to discipline a brother who had sinned (Matthew 18:15-18). He tells us to personally approach the wrong-doer, and confront him in love; if the man will not listen, then we are to take a committee with us. Only when this has been done are we free to bring the matter to the attention of the larger congregation.Inherent in the whole procedure is love for each member of the fellowship, including the fallen brother. It is the concern of a family. Where consuming love for truth and the church flow together, Jesus says that “whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).Out of this kind of agreement comes our authority in prayer. But another condition needs emphasis. II. We must pray together in the Name of Christ.What Jesus affirms here is repeated many times in His teachings: “Whatsoever you shall ask in My Name, that will I do … If you shall ask anything in My Name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14; John 15:16). “Hitherto you have asked nothing in My Name; ask and you shall receive” (John 16:24).Such praying is far more than respectfully acknowledging the Name above every name; it is to pray in consistency with the very nature of Christ — His character, His purpose, His vision. It is, in fact, to pray like Christ Himself is praying now as our Mediator in heaven. In this sense, prayer is divinely initiated; we are but the channel through which the Spirit of Christ offers up the request according to His will.This demands that we examine the intentions of our heart. It may be that the first step in such prayer will be to confess that we are not in His Name. The word “confess,” as used in the New Testament, means to “line up with the truth.” The truth is revealed by God in His Word, which has its perfect disclosure in Christ, the Word living in our midst.Where the Spirit shows us our failure to abide in Him, we must confess the sin, and receive the forgiveness and cleansing through the blood of Calvary. This requires a willingness to bring our lives into alignment with His Word, not just an admission of guilt. Are we determined, as far as we are able, to make things right where His Name has been dishonored? Do we want the refining Spirit to conform us to His holiness? Is the glory of God our consuming desire?If, for example, when we intercede for a lost loved one, is it because we feel constrained by the love of Christ, or because we would like a more comfortable situation at home? And are we willing to be used in the answer? Or when we pray for missions, to what extent do we offer ourselves and our means to the task?Real praying in character with Christ is costly. It cost Jesus His life. And when we take His Name to heart, and pray, “Not my will, but Thine be done,” it will cost us our lives, too. It will make us face the cross, and in so doing, die to everything that would stand in the way of fulfilling the divine will.In this identity with Him we know together the sweetness of His Presence. But one final condition should be understood. III. That for which we ask must be believed.Here is real faith, the confidence that prayer will be answered.Jesus repeats this assurance many times: “If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done” (John 15:7). “Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in My Name, He will give it to you” (John 16:23). “Whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive” (Matthew 21:22).The promise is that if we ask in concert with the will of God, we know that the request is granted (1 John 5:14-15). Such certainty is shattering to much of our devotional exercise that we call prayer. We may even think that it is presumption to affirm that God gives what we ask for. After all, we reason, fellowship with Christ should mean more to us than the gift for which we seek. And does not finally God know what is best for us?This notion possibly may reflect a sense of humility, but strangely, it is not emphasized in the teachings of Christ. In fact, the more we ponder the words of our Lord, the clearer it becomes that He desires prayer to be more than fellowship. Prayer is the means of His blessing.This is not to say that all prayer in His Name will be answered immediately, for He may want to teach us greater trust and patience in the delay. Nor are we to assume that the answers will come in the way we envision. The Father in heaven knows our situation, and He will respond to our cry from His understanding of our real need.How easy it is for us, for example, to ask deliverance from a painful experience, either caused by our own doing or endured vicariously for another. Yet the agony may remain, even increase, for God may want to help us learn obedience through the suffering. So He answers by conforming us to the likeness of His Son, permitting the anguish to continue, but giving us a measure of His inner peace that nothing can destroy.I expect that this deep submissiveness is most pronounced in intercessory prayer, where the will of others enters into the travail. How God moves in respect to His own created image in people directing the course of the universe without destroying human freedom, is a mystery within His Sovereignty. But of this we can be sure: when we leave the choice with God, He answers prayer for our good and His glory.What unspeakable joy! A confidence multiplied as persons believe together.During the weighty Welsh outpouring early in this century, a curious visitor asked in one of the meetings if someone would tell him the secret of the movement. Instantly Evan Roberts was on his feet, and lifting his hand to heaven, answered: “There is no secret. Ask, and you shall receive!”Indeed, that is the explanation. When people are living in the flow of the Spirit, believing prayer becomes the order of the day, and revival its natural expression.What do you believe God for today? Not what you ask, but what do you expect that He will answer? This may well disclose our faith — and our likeness to Christ. Yet it may also urge us to rise to a higher life in the fullness of His Spirit.Think of the potential, the unlimited vistas of prayer open to us! “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19-20).