I surprised myself last fall while writing a chapter in my last book, Two To Get Ready. I was writing the story of how Jo and I had to make a significant, life-changing decision, and wanted to be sure that we were following God’s will. We remembered the Bible story of Gideon, who asked God for a sign to give him the courage to make a major decision. He put out a fleece overnight and asked that God keep it dry while all around the grass would be wet with dew. God kept the fleece dry, and Gideon made his decision.
I wrote how we committed ourselves to pray earnestly every day for a week that God would give us a clear sign to help us make our decision. On Saturday evening at the end of that week, Jo and I were getting ready for bed when I asked her, “So, did you get any sign from God?” That’s when I stopped writing in surprise.
I suddenly realized we had been praying all week long as individuals, not praying together as a couple. How different from what we are currently doing. Why did it take us years to learn the value and power of praying together as a couple?
Thinking it through, I began to understand that praying individually was trained into us during our early years as believers. We were often taught in church and Sunday school to make sure we got away alone every day to have a time of private devotion: reading a passage from the Bible and praying.
I can’t remember hearing a sermon or a Sunday school lesson on Matthew 18:19-20 where Jesus teaches his disciples, “Truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Throughout our years in Bible School, it was the same, “Get into your private ‘prayer closet’ to read and pray. Our pre-marital counselling never mentioned praying together as a couple. Even during our Wycliffe training and preparation, which covered a wide variety of essential subjects, there was no emphasis on the power of praying together with someone else. And this was in the face of married couples or teams of single people living for months at a stretch in villages where they would be the only believers.
This historical focus on individual private prayer is likely due to a misapplication of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 6:5-6 “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Jesus condemned the practice of praying in public to be honoured by people and contrasted this with being honoured by God.
Now, Jo and I pray together about our plans for the day, people in our lives and all sorts of issues. We find this draws us together as a couple, and it encourages us to be faithful in prayer and meets our need for inner peace and strengths. We see many answers to prayer. God even strengthens our patience when he delays the response.
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he did NOT say, “My Father who is in heaven . . . give me this day my daily bread, and forgive me my debt as I forgive my debtors, and lead me not into temptation . . .” No, he used the plural pronouns, Our Father, give us this day, forgive us our debts . . . . Jesus taught us to pray with others.