Prayer is one of the deepest joys of the Christian life. It is almost too good to be true that in Jesus we have the very ear of God. What an indescribable gift, that the God whose greatness is beyond comprehension actually stoops to listen to us, and is even more ready to hear us than we are to speak.
And the joys and benefits of prayer aren’t limited to our personal prayer lives. A shared joy is a doubled joy, and God means for us not only to pray in our closets, and “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) as we move through life in a spirit of dependence, but to pray with company.
Inestimable good happens when the regenerate rally with their fellows to come to their Father. It is past finding out all that God is doing when we pray together. Yet it helps to trace out some of the goodness, and whet our appetites with a few of the graces for which our prayer together is a means.
1. Added Power
Matthew 18:15–20 may be one of the more misunderstood texts in the New Testament. That often quoted promise “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20) comes at the end of a section on church discipline and when a “brother sins against you” (Matthew 18:15). The context is not exactly small-group prayer.
However, Jesus does appeal to a deeper principle here, which is a benefit of praying together. He says “anything” — “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask . . .” (Matthew 18:19). There is added power when we unite with brothers and sisters in Christ to join our hearts and make our collective requests to our Father.
2. Multiplied Joy
Here we make explicit what we already said above: When we share the joy of prayer, we increase our joy in prayer. When we make a regular practice of praying together with fellow believers, we avail ourselves of a channel of joy we otherwise would be neglecting. And by praying with others, not only do we add to our joy in God, but also to theirs. And when we work with others for their joy (2 Corinthians 1:24), we again increase our own.
“When we share the joy of prayer, we increase our joy in prayer.”
3. Greater Glory to God
Our multiplied joy in God then makes for multiplied glory to God — because, as John Piper says, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. When we understand gratitude to him in terms of his glory (in light of Romans 1:21, where giving thanks to him is connected to honoring him), then 2 Corinthians 1:11 makes this truth explicit as it relates to prayer: “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 and so brings more glory for the Giver when he answers.
4. More Fruitful Ministry and Mission
God means for us to pray for each other in our various ministries and manifestations of our great shared Commission. Paul modeled this when he asked the churches to pray for his gospel work (Romans 15:30–32; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:18–20; Colossians 4:3–4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). He was more than able to pray these things himself, and doubtless he did, but he anticipated there would be greater fruitfulness in the work when others joined him in prayer for it.
5. Unity Among Believers
Praying together is one of the single most significant things we can do to cultivate unity in the church. There is a unity that is a given to those who are partners in Christ and share spiritual life in him. Acts 1:14 says it was “with one accord” that the first Christians “were devoting themselves to prayer.” Already we have “the unity of the Spirit,” and yet we are to be “eager to maintain” it (Ephesians 4:3). So praying together is both an effect of the unity we share in Christ, and it is a cause for deeper and richer unity. It is not only a sign that unity already exists among the brothers, but also a catalyst for more.
6. Answers We Otherwise Wouldn’t Get
James 5:14–16, and many other texts, implies that there are some answers to prayer we simply would not get without involving others in our praying.
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. Often we pray alone for our personal needs, and God is pleased to answer. But at times, his means include the leaders of the church, or a special “prayer of faith,” or just the humble prayer of a fellow sinner made righteous in Christ.
7. To Learn and Grow in Our Prayers
Plain and simple, the best way to learn to pray is to pray with others, especially those who have had their prayers shaped by the Scriptures. Listen for those around you who are acquainted enough with God in prayer as to regularly draw others into communion with him through their praises and petitions. Give careful attention to their approach to God, the kinds of things they thank him for and ask him for, and how they keep others in mind in the corporate setting.
And even beyond what we’re conscious of, we’re being shaped in profound ways for good as 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 is in prayer, in the conscious presence of God, that we’re most likely to let our façades fall. We hear others’ hearts in prayer like nowhere else.
When we pray together, not only do we reveal what most captures our hearts and truly is our treasure, but as we pray together, says Jack Miller, “You can tell if a man or woman is really on speaking terms with God” (see Tim Keller, Prayer, 23).
9. To Know Jesus More
Saving the best for last, the greatest benefit is that we know Jesus better when we pray together, in his name, with fellow lovers of him. With our limited vision and perspective, there are aspects of Christ we’re prone to see with more clarity than 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” (Prayer, 119).
And since the great point of prayer is not getting things from God, but getting God, perhaps this benefit alone is enough to inspire you for that next opportunity to pray with company.
Tim Keller: “By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived.”
A revised and expanded version of this article now appears in Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines (Crossway, 2016).