Today’s blog post is short but an important one! I had planned to write it for Instagram but I think it needs a spot of its own on the blog.
If you’ve been around prayer for any length of time, my guess is you’ve heard the verse from Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
It’s used in church services to bring encouragement that it doesn’t matter if the size of the crowd isn’t huge, God is still there. It’s used to comfort us.
But it honestly always made me uncomfortable when I’d hear it, not for what it said, but for what it didn’t say.
If the statement is that God is with 2 or 3 when they gather, the implication I used to think about is, well, what about when it’s just little old me praying?
My heart is to help us become more consistent and more confident pray-ers. (See Pray Confidently and Consistently in case you need more evidence 😜) And part of developing more confidence is facing these passages that are pretty confusing and can actually hinder our prayer lives depending on how we see them.
If you believe this verse is talking about praying with other believers, it might quiet your voice when you’re alone in your room trying to figure out God’s presence. I mean, we want to believe He’s with us and even read other verses that tell us He is, but maybe we convince ourselves that His presence just isn’t as thick. Or maybe we won’t feel Him as much as if we were praying with other believers.
The truth is, this verse isn’t exactly about prayer. This is the tail end verse of a section about handling sin and conflict in the church. Here’s the full section.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
When we look at the context, we see this verse is reminding believers how to resolve conflict. It’s echoing what they would already be familiar with from Deuteronomy 19:15 which says “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.”
Jesus is going to be going away soon and he’s telling the disciples that when they attempt to resolve conflict together, He will be with them.
As I read older commentaries though, I realized many still hold the traditional belief, that this passage is about God’s presence among even the smallest of congregations.
I’m honestly not ready to tie this passage up with a bow and say I’ve figured it out perfectly, but I think there’s a specific takeaway for those of us who have let this verse be a silent stumbling block to personal prayer.
We don’t have to wonder if this passage implies that God’s presence is with us personally as we pray. Whether you believe the verse is strictly about handling conflict and saying God is with believers as they resolve together or about church congregations and saying God is with a small gathering of believers just as much as a big gathering–-neither meaning contradicts our belief that God hears and responds to our prayers as individuals.
This might feel very nuanced but I truly believe we have little hang-ups about prayer that impact whether we actually pray and this might be a subconscious one. We might not even know it affects our prayers until we really think about how timidly we pray when we are alone.
My prayer today is that you will move forward with confidence in the fact that God is present. He is in your midst as you cry out to Him whether you are holding hands in a circle with prayer warriors or alone in your car buzzing through traffic.
Matthew 6:6 reminds us specifically that we are called to pray at times alone. “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Mark 1:35 reminds us that Jesus went away to pray alone. “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
Philippians 4:6 reminds us that we are to pray always, which includes times with others and alone. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Y’all know I am a big believer that we should pray consistently with others. I have seen the incredible power of it so I of course see the importance of it. But if this verse makes you feel like your own prayers to the Lord are less than and even hinders you praying, that’s our enemy who wants to twist the truth of Scripture for his own purposes.
Maybe you’ve read this blog post and don’t feel like you struggle with this! Amen! Pray and ask the Lord to make you aware of any similar stumbling blocks that may hinder your prayers.