During a recent worship service, I remarked to a somewhat smaller crowd than we usually have, “Remember that Jesus told us, ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ I think we have that covered today!” Obviously, I was emphasizing that even though we had a small crowd of 40, the Lord was with us anyway. It was a good point for a pastor to make in those circumstances.
However, when the service ended, an old friend asked me, “But if the Lord is present when two or three of us gather, what happens when I am by myself? Am I on my own?” I was momentarily caught off-guard and clumsily tried to explain myself; it didn’t work and he shook his head and grinned at me.
Since that day, I have been thinking about his question. I have struggled to come up with “the answer” to his question.
The first thing I did was to find the exact quote from Scripture and examine its context. The words I used are from Matthew 18:20. In this verse, Jesus has just given the parable of the lost sheep; here, the Lord is explaining how each and every one of us is important, so if even one of us is lost, the Shepherd leaves his flock and goes in search of that lost sheep and brings that lone sheep back into the flock. Jesus goes on to give other evidence and other examples of holding people together in community and praying and working together. That was the context in which that quote arrived in Scripture.
So perhaps I took it out of its proper context and used it for another setting. Completely possible!
But that doesn’t get around the basic question: what about when we pray alone?
So I checked the various commentaries that I have in my office. Surprisingly, each and every one of them emphasized corporate prayer, community prayer, regular gathering of believers who should pray together, etc. The overwhelming message is that prayer is IMPORTANT and POWERFUL in the hands of a group of believers.
But again…what about when we pray alone? I found almost nothing…except what was scraping around in my little brain.
I remembered that even Jesus himself went off and prayed alone. He asked his Apostles to stay awake and to pray with him in the Garden of Gesthemane, but he ended up alone in prayer. Often, he also went off alone to pray.
Are we not to follow the Lord’s example?
Perhaps the answer lies in the intent. When we pray together as a group of believers, we lift our prayers to the Lord together. Are we more powerful? Does the Lord hear us “extra well”? Or do we just make each other feel better as we each pray individually? Not sure. But I do know that if we only pray alone and never pray with other believers, we are depriving ourselves of corporate prayer and corporate worship and a loving community of the Lord – the same community that Jesus calls us into over and over again.
So in the end, I say to pray alone. Have conversations with the Lord and have them daily. Pray and ask him for blessings and strength to face the times of trial. Remember to pray for others too.
But each chance you get to pray with others, especially two or three or more, do it. It’s good for you.
And in both cases, the Lord is there.