Q: #472. If Christians pray together, is God more likely to answer their prayer?
By: Steve Shirley
A: This is an interesting question. Many people use (Mt 18:19-20) as an example that this is true, however, I just finished writing a study on these verses showing that when taken in context, they are not speaking about power when groups pray, but instead are speaking about "church discipline." However, as I was writing that study, I began to wonder, "Does the Bible really say that there is more power when people pray together, and is God more likely to answer if more people are praying?" That is what has lead to this study.
What is the first thing that many Christians do when they are facing a health crisis, need comfort, need help with finances, or have some other great need? They seek out as many people as they can to pray to God on their behalf. It is believed that there is "power in numbers." The Christian community also supports this belief. Many churches have a "prayer chain," which is a group of people who pray over prayer requests. Churches also gather together and pray corporately each week. Some ministries have "prayer teams" who regularly gather to pray for needs. We have the "National Day of Prayer" each year where we come together as a nation to pray for the needs of our country. But again, is this necessary? The Bible shows us over and over the importance of prayer, but is group prayer more powerful than individual prayer?
I have searched the Bible (and the internet), and unfortunately I have found no verse or verses which tell us that there is more power in group prayer, or that group prayer makes God more likely to answer. (If you find one, let me know.) This being the case, I do not think that we can say with "certainty" that this is true. One important thing to keep in mind is the "primary purpose" of prayer. Prayer is a way to know God's will for our lives (1 Jn 5:14-15)(Jer 33:1)(Prov 19:21)(Isa 50:5). Our goal in prayer should ALWAYS be to conform our will to God's will, and not His will to ours (Mt 6:10)(Jn 4:34)(Jn 6:38)(Jn 8:29)(Acts 21:14)(James 4:15)(Ps 40:8). Jesus Himself demonstrated this for us in submitting to the Father's will (Mt 26:39-42)(Mk 14:36)(Lk 22:42).
In other words, God has a plan and a purpose, and it is going to be done. If an "individual" prays in agreement with this plan and purpose, that request will be granted. If a "group" prays in agreement with this plan and purpose, that request will be granted. Looking at it from this viewpoint, it appears that there is no more power in group prayer than individual prayer. In relation to this, I believe the following is also important to consider.
Let's say there are two people who are dying of cancer. They both get groups of Christians to pray for them to be healed. One miraculously gets healed, the other ends up dying. If there is power in group prayer, why did one get healed, and the other die? Was the prayer of the group where healing occurred more powerful? No... I do not believe this to be the case. Instead, God had a plan and a purpose to heal one, but not the other. The prayer of the group where the individual was healed was in God's plan and purpose. The prayer of the group where the individual was not healed was not in God's plan and purpose.
Keeping the above in mind, I still believe there is power (and maybe even more power) in group prayer. While there may not be any single verse, or verses showing this, there are examples which I believe can make this case. Let's look at some examples from the Old Testament.
The best example I can find is in the book of Jonah, Chapter 3. God told Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and preach that He would be overthrow the city in 40 days (Jon 3:4). In response to this, "the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them" (Jon 3:5). The king did this as well, and made it a proclamation throughout the land (even for their animals) (Jon 3:6-9). As a result of this, (Jon 3:10) says, "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not."
Another great example is found in 2 Chronicles, Chapter 20. In this chapter, the Moabites, Ammonites, and others were coming to make war against the people of Judah, and overthrow King Jehoshaphat. When King Jehoshaphat found out, he "proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah" (2 Chr 20:3). (2 Chr 20:4) continues, "So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord." King Jehoshaphat "stood in the assembly" and began to pray. In (2 Chr 20:9) he says, "If, when evil cometh upon us, as the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house, and in thy presence, (for thy name is in this house,) and cry unto thee in our affliction, then thou wilt hear and help." As we see in the rest of the chapter, God responded to this corporate prayer and saved the people of Judah from destruction. (They didn't even have to fight!)
One more good example is found in the book of Esther, Chapter 4. Esther was going to seek an audience with the king on his throne, which could result in her death since he had not summoned her. (She was doing this to implement a plan to save the Jews from destruction.) Before she did this, she told her cousin Mordecai in (Est 4:16), "Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish." After this prayer and fasting, she went to the king. He granted her an audience, and gave her exactly what she asked for, which ultimately resulted in the Jews being saved from destruction.
In addition, Moses speaks about the Israelites crying out to God, and God delivering them from the Egyptians (Deut 26:6-8)(Num 20:15-16)(Ex 2:23-25).
The book of Judges speaks about the Israelites crying out to God, and God sending a judge to deliver them (Judg 3:7-11)(Judg 3:12-15)(Judg 10:10-16).
In one of the most famous verses in the Bible (2 Chr 7:14), God says to the Israelites, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."
I have to believe that in at least some of these examples, there were individuals that were crying out to God well before large groups began to cry out. However, God waited to act until most of the people cried out together.
However, whether or not one believes that there is more power in corporate prayer, or that it makes God more likely to respond, there is no doubt that the Bible shows God values it, and it is important. Think about the most important prayer in the Bible: "The Lord's Prayer." Notice how it begins: "Our Father." Notice how it continues, "give us this day our daily bread." Why not My Father, give me this day my daily bread? It seems clear that this points to group prayer.
In addition, in the New Testament we have a number of examples that point to the value and importance of group prayer. It seems clear to me that Paul greatly valued having groups of fellow Christians pray both for him, and for those with him. For example:
Paul asks the church at Rome to "strive together with me in prayers to God for me" (Rom 15:30-33), and he asks the church at Ephesus to pray for him as well (Eph 6:18-20). He asks the churches at Colosse (Col 4:3), and Thessalonica (twice) (1 Th 5:25)(2 Th 3:1) to "pray for us." (The author of Hebrews, whether Paul or not, also asks this: Heb 13:18.) He tells the church at Thessalonica "we also pray always for you" (2 Th 1:11), and says nearly the same thing to the church at Colosse (Col 1:9). He also believes that through the prayers of the church at Philippi that he will be released from prison (Phil 1:19).
In the book of Acts, we find the disciples / apostles praying in groups in a number of places. Here are a few examples:
(Acts 1:12-14) - praying in the Upper Room
(Acts 1:15-26) - praying along with 120 men for who should replace Judas
(Acts Ch. 2) - praying together on the day of Pentecost
(Acts 13:1-3) - fasting and praying before sending out Paul and Barnabas
In (Acts 12:5-19), we see "the church" (Acts 12:5) praying for Peter's release from prison, and God answering those prayers, with an angel being sent to set Peter free.
I also like how the New Living Translation of the Bible puts (2 Cor 1:11), "And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety." In other words, Paul is saying that if many people are praying, and God responds, many people will see this and God will get the glory.
Finally, when people pray together in groups, they can fulfill several important Biblical principles such as: being in unity (Acts 1:14 - "with one accord")(Jn 17:20-23)(Eph 4:3)(Amos 3:3)(Ps 133:1), to "comfort and edify one another" (1 Th 5:11), to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal 6:2), and "exhorting one another" (Heb 10:25).
In conclusion, there is NO doubt that the Bible shows the importance of group prayer. I do believe that God has a plan and purpose for everyone and everything. No matter how many people are praying, His plan and purpose will be done. God, in His omniscience will not change His mind based on their prayer. (My study titled: If God already knows what we are going to pray for, why do we even need to pray? might be helpful here.) However, knowing and believing this, will I stop asking for groups of people to pray for me when I need prayer: nope!
***Note: Here are a few other verses you can look at related to this subject: (James 5:14-16)(Acts 2:42)(Acts 4:23-31)(Rev 6:9-11)(Rev 22:17 - Come!)(Ezra 8:21-23)(Joel 2:15-19)(2 Chr 6:3-7:3)(Judg 20:26-28)(Neh Ch. 9)(Dan 2:17-19)(Acts 21:5-6)
The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. But Scripture and experience combine to teach that the united prayers of many righteous accomplish still more. - Oswald Chambers
The thermometer of a church is its prayer meeting. - Vance Havner
When God is about to bestow some great blessing on His church, it is often His manner, in the first place, so to order things in His providence as to show His church their great need of it, and to bring them into distress for want of it, and so put them upon crying earnestly to Him for it. - Jonathan Edwards
There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer. - Arthur Pierson