A few years ago a Christian businessman confided in me that his business was in trouble. I said, “Why don’t we pray together about it?” So each weekday, when his workday was complete, we prayed together by phone. This went on for some time before we saw the Lord turn his business around.
The Word makes it clear that united prayer is important. Let’s look at three scenes from the Scriptures, and then what Jesus taught on the subject.
The first scene is in Exodus 17. Joshua and his army fought the Amalekites in the valley. Moses’ hands were extended heavenward on the hilltop. It soon became clear that the victory in the valley was directly dependent on the invisible battle on the hilltop.
Intercession is warfare. Moses became weary, so Aaron and Hur joined him by holding up his “intercessory” hands.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that we are engaged in spiritual warfare. Victory is assured because Christ crushed Satan through His death and resurrection. However we’re still in a spiritual battle and one of the prime weapons in winning is not “fighting” the Enemy, but “praying.”
Prayer is key to claiming Christ’s provided victory. Missionaries, in particular, don’t need to be reminded that God’s people are in a spiritual battle. For the average Christian, though, there is the danger that we’re either asleep to this fact, or we focus too much on the Enemy.
The second scene, in Romans 8, takes us into the heavenly realm. We catch a glimpse of the throne of grace. First, in verses 26 & 27, we see God the Father on the throne, and the Holy Spirit making intercession for us with “groanings that cannot be uttered.” The Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses.
Why do we need His help? Because we don’t know what to pray for! We’re not sure of God’s will, nor what will glorify Him the most. I remember my niece with cancer saying, “I don’t know how to pray. I don’t know if healing will glorify God more, or Him taking me Home.”
And how does God’s sovereignty relate to human choices? How good to know that the Spirit intercedes by bridging between our felt needs and God’s will for us. He identifies and groans with us in our weaknesses, interpreting and intensifying our prayers.
I recall my father (Prairie Bible Institute founder, L.E. Maxwell) praying early in the morning. He would be wrapped up in a blanket on cold mornings, and I would hear him groaning, “Oh, God!” I now realize it was the Spirit of God praying through the spirit of my father. This left an indelible impression on me as a child.
Then in verse 32 we see Christ at “the right hand of the Father” making intercession for us. He “ever lives to make intercession for us.” What a blessing that in heaven the Holy Spirit and Christ are engaged in ceaseless intercession for us! This also encourages me if I am alone, with no physical prayer partner. By faith I join my two heavenly intercessors, and we call down the blessing of God!
The third scene is an example of failure. But it provides us with an illustration of our weakness in prayer, and thereby emphasizes the value and importance of united prayer. Jesus in the garden asked Peter, James and John to stay alert with Him in prayer, but they fell asleep (Matt. 26; Mark 14; Luke 22). He reminds them (and us) that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
I don’t know about you, but when I pray on my own — if I don’t have prayer cards or some other reminder — my mind so easily wanders. The flesh is weak. Praying with others is a definite help.
Finally, in Matthew 18:19 & 20, Jesus teaches concerning united prayer. “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (NKJV).
The context deals with the sinning brother, but I believe the application is broader. Jesus teaches the value of two or more believers meeting together in His name and doing so in complete agreement. The word in the original language for “agreement” is “symphoneo,” from which we get our English word “symphony,” meaning to “sound together.”
When we pray unitedly it’s music in God’s ears! The key to answered prayer is to be so in harmony with heaven that the Spirit impresses our hearts what’s in keeping with the character and purposes of our loving heavenly Father. Such harmony glorifies Christ, pleases the Father, and gives us the assurance of His answer.
We’ve all heard about the powerful prayer life of George Mueller, a man of real faith. His biographer states, “During all these years, George’s faithful wife, Mary, stood side by side with him in the trials and triumphs of faith.” They prayed together side by side.
May I encourage you to get a prayer partner, if you don’t already have one. Watch God work. The New Testament is replete with illustrations of the power of united intercession. God is really saying, I’ll answer your prayers as you symphoneously pray together.
Remember, united intercession is going on in heaven, so let’s join the heavenly intercessors and watch God step out of silence as He responds to united intercession!
What is the one great impossibility in my life? Our God is the God of the impossible. My impossibilities are God’s opportunities. United prayer is key to seeing God’s power released.
This article was adapted from a message Paul Maxwell gave to NCEM Western & Central-Field missionaries at our staff conference in August 2006 at Lac La Biche, Alberta.
Paul & Barbara Maxwell were missionaries in Colombia, South America in the 1960s. In 1970 Paul began teaching at Prairie Bible Institute and in 1978 became its president. From1989 to 2003 Paul served as president of International Student Ministries Canada.
Adapted from our Northern Lights magazine (Issue #498).