We currently have a dear friend in the hospital due to Covid. She has been there weeks and weeks. Every day, we receive a report from her husband. I say “we” meaning a large group of people in a texting group. “Keep praying, everyone keep praying,” is the family’s constant message and we will and we do. But, it raises a question, “Does the number of people praying make God more likely to answer?”
For desperate people who believe in God and believe He can help, that is a very poignant and important question. Churches may often have a permanent prayer “chain” – people who fly into action and start praying whenever there is a need. There may be a prayer team.
Large groups exist online with names like “Intercessors for ________” and their cause is stated in their title. I could continue. There are lots of prayer groups who may have from a handful of people to thousands. Is the prayer more effective for something when more are gathered together doing it?
The love of the Father towards us
God must be our starting place for thinking about this. Who is He and how does He feel about us? If we figure this out, it will help with making some solid statements about prayer.
For example, there is a verse in Jeremiah in which God speaks through Jeremiah. This is what He says:
“But let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.
God says He delights in kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth. This tells us a great deal about His heart and inclinations.
God’s kindness is loving kindness – hesed
From the resource called Got Questions online, here is a brief portion of the definition of the Hebrew word “hesed” which is translated as kindness:
“Hesed surpasses ordinary kindness and friendship. It is the inclination of the heart to show ‘amazing grace’ to the one who is loved. [It] runs deeper than social expectations, responsibilities, fluctuating emotions, or what is deserved or earned by the recipient. [This form of loving kindness] finds its home in committed, familial love, and it comes to life in actions.”
Therefore, God loves us with an everlasting, committed love. “He so loved the world that He sent His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) In truth, we could share so many scriptures about the height, depth, width and breadth of God’s love for us, but one hymn says it so well. Here is a verse of it:
The Love of God
Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made,
Were every tree on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.
Even these beautiful, powerful words do not begin to touch on the vastness and extraordinary greatness of God’s love.
The witness of Jesus’ ministry
Additionally, when Jesus walked this earth, what did He do? He taught, ministered healing, delivered people from demons, and brought people to faith. A scripture, 1 John 3:8, tells us that Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil.”
This means that everything designed to hurt and diminish human beings, Jesus opposed. Many times, in the New Testament, where a crowd was gathered around Jesus, the text says that He healed ALL.
My point in talking about the “hesed” of the Father, and His love of righteousness and justice, and my speaking of the healing ministry of Christ, is that God is FOR people. God wants to help His people be whole in mind, body, and spirit. And those who don’t know Him or believe in Him, He wants to win them over.
So, God does not need His arm twisted in order to help helpless people. Those who believe that more people praying will “tip the scale” and pressure God to answer, misunderstand Him. Likewise, those who think they are exerting more power by gathering greater numbers of people to pray, forget that the power belongs to God. I think there IS value in having many people pray which I’ll talk about in a moment, but first what are some more important prayer essentials?
How we pray seems to be important
The Bible contains a lot of statements about how we pray. For example, there is this passage in the book of James:
“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again, he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5:16-18 NIV)
The teaching of scripture is that one righteous (in right relationship with God) person can pray powerful and effective prayers. The example is then given of Elijah. He prayed and the rain stopped until he prayed again, according to God’s directions. So being in close and right relationship with God affects the usefulness of our prayers.
Praying with belief makes prayer more effective
Secondly, the Bible tells us that what’s in our hearts about God’s abilities affects whether our prayers will change things. Jesus had some instruction on this recorded in Mark 11:24 (NIV). He said, “Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
A prayer offered up with the conviction that God is good and can do the impossible seems to be far more effective typically. Though again, God, with a heart full of “hesed,” can take pity and show mercy to the most desperate and uncertain of people.
It’s worth noting that Jesus said immediately after this, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” As in the James’ scripture above, the cleansing of our hearts has a role in the effectiveness of our prayers.
Testimony of one man’s believing prayer
Like Elijah, George Mueller was a man in close and right relationship with God. He was a 19th century man who deeply believed in God as he cared for orphans, often “praying the food onto their empty plates,” as he sought miracle after miracle in his ministry for thousands of children.
One story about him that I love comes from a website, mullers.org. They shared the following testimony:
George Mueller’s ocean trip
“Later on in life, George decided to travel around the world, telling people about his incredible God and what God could do when we trust and ask him. When he was crossing the Atlantic in 1877, his ship ran into thick fog. George explained to the captain that he needed to be in Quebec by the following afternoon, but the captain said he was slowing the ship down for safety.
George asked the captain if he could use the chartroom to pray for the fog to lift. The captain followed him to the room, claiming that prayer would be a waste of time. Müller prayed, and then the captain decided to pray. Müller stopped him and said, the prayer had already been answered. They went upstairs to find that the fog had lifted. The captain became a Christian not long after.”
The whole ship praying, even just an additional prayer from the captain was not needed. One man, George Mueller, in right relationship with God, deeply believing in God’s abilities, was more than enough.
The value of having many prayers
So, what is the value of many people praying for something if one man or woman like Elijah or George Mueller can be the path through which God’s love and healing enters the earth? I want to suggest 5 reasons large groups of people praying together is helpful.
1. People praying together experience unity
Jesus prayed just before His arrest and crucifixion. What did He pray for? “That they might be one.” In John 17:22 NIV Jesus is recorded as praying, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one…so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me…” Our unity with each other will convince the world that God sent His Son to us.
2. People praying together experience power
Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV says this: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…” We all can get tired and weary facing the hard things we face. There is something about being with each other, praying together, that gets us stirred up again and able to overcome our difficulties.
3. People praying together glorify God
In 2 Corinthians 1:11 CEV, Paul wrote “Please help us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks for the blessings we receive in answer to all these prayers.” Praying together for the same cause and seeing those prayers answered fills people with celebration. They thank God and glorify Him for His goodness. It brings joy to all who are praying to see what was accomplished through prayer.
4. People praying together are changed
The apostle Paul also wrote this bit of advice about prayer, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV) Can you imagine a whole community praying together full of peace, non-anxious? Prayer changes us and the larger the group, the more that are changed.
5. People praying together touch non-believers
As people pray together and live in peace and unity, others are drawn to this. “How are you so radiant and full of joy?” “Why does your community seem so loving?” Our praying in unity with others draws people to faith in Christ. We become a magnet of God’s love, truth, power, freedom, and holiness.
A praying church is a beautiful place
There’s a prayer meeting that I have loved to go to over the years. It is held at the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City, every Tuesday night. Years ago, Pastor Jim Cymbala, the senior and founding pastor of this church promised God that he would center everything around prayer – the whole church praying together.
When I have visited the church, I have gone to get a seat early at this prayer meeting – 5 o’clock for a 7 o’clock service. It’s that popular. The church is packed and it is filled with joy. That’s not always the case in every church that holds a prayer meeting. Sometimes, only a handful will show up. But, this church “means business” when they talk about prayer and when they do it together. And they see amazing answers. Visit their website to learn more about them or to leave a prayer request.
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