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  • Writer's picturesonnyholmes

The sumphoneo of prayer

First, a little history. Etymologists believe English musicians coined the word "symphony" in the fourteenth century. It originally denoted short musical compositions ---preludes, interludes, postludes. Not until the musical genius of Franz Joseph Haydn in the seventeenth century was the term used to identify full musical scores and orchestras. The word came to the English language via transliterations from the French, Latin, and Greek. Biblical references were central is developing the concept of symphonic sound. While there are many New Testament usages of the root word for "symphony" two will summarize them all here.

Jesus used the word "sumphonia" in what is known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. You know the story. The younger son took his inheritance, left the land of his father, and squandered it in riotous living. The older son faithfully and obediently stayed in his father's fields to work. One day he was returning to his father's house---

Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house,

he heard music and dancing.

Luke 15:25, ESV

The word the ESV translators rendered "music" in the parable is the Greek word "sumphonia". Jesus recognized a musical quality in the concept. In the parable it is thought to represent the harmony of stringed instruments, flutes, and perhaps the cadence of percussion.

When teaching his disciples the qualities of the life to which Jesus called them, he used a derivative of the word in another way. He said---

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.

Matthew 18: 19, ESV

Here, the root word "sumphoneo" is translated "agree".

Now, a word study. "Sumphoneo" and "sumphonia" are compounds of two Greek terms---"sun", indicating being together or with, and "phoneo" meaning sound. It is literally translated "sound with". In the Greek New Testament, "sumphoneo" is usually translated to mean a type of agreement. It describes an agreement beyond a handshake, a nod, wink, or embrace. In a modern setting, it may mean to be on the same page, to be singing the same tune, or to be in harmony. Christian prayer is to be a "saying with", hearts united in prayer. In a very contemporary sense I've thought it to mean to be in sync with others.

The 2014 Pew Research Study on the religious landscape in America discovered a good bit of data regarding the prayer experiences of Americans. While they concluded that the spiritual dimensions of American believers was in an overall decline, a majority of Americans pray regularly. Their article 5 Facts about Prayer, released on May 4, 2016, indicates that 55% of all Americans pray every day. Other findings include---

21% pray at least once per week

23% seldom or never pray

63% of believers say prayer is an essential part of their Christian identity

64% of women pray regularly

46% of men pray routinely

65% of Americans over age 60 pray daily

41% of Americans under age 30 pray daily

20% of religiously unaffiliated believers pray daily

You can review some of the data about prayer by clicking here. The conclusion? Americans do pray.

With that many Christians praying daily, or at least weekly, the question for me is, why is our influence on contemporary culture so anemic? Could it be that we've forgotten the joy of the sumphoneo of prayer, the deep agreement that should guide our corporate prayer experience? That's going to be my topic this week, how we can rediscover the meaning of agreement in prayer.

There's some reality here too. The Christian church has become a multi-layered grouping of denominations, doctrinal positions, and practice that usually prays with little resonance. The election of 2016 is one prime example. In my nearly 67 years I've never observed factions of faith is such stark, often alarming diversity. Being one before the throne of grace seems like a distant possibility, as if never the twain shall meet. And, the election is but one small snapshot of our diversity. There are many others---doctrinal disputes, worship styles, contemporary and traditional motifs, social and cultural engagement, reaching younger generations, and the color of carpet in the sanctuary, just to mention a few of the more obvious differences. How can our nation be influenced with the sumphoneo of prayer may be the question of the hour.

There was a prayer meeting recently that challenged me. The spiritual leader that evening announced no prescribed agenda, distributed no prayer list, and didn't take prayer requests. He read Matthew 18:19 and asked us to sit quietly so that we could each listen to God. This silence lasted about fifteen minutes. Eventually people started to rise and pray. One person prayed the Lord's Prayer and most of us recited it with him. Then, those gathered started to pray. It was an amazing time of what some people call a concert of prayer. In what could only be the supernatural direction of God this small gathering of believers from many churches were united in prayer. It was for me the sumphoneo of prayer, agreement at a deeper, more profound level than anything we could have scripted in our own sophisticated devices.

Jesus prayed for his church to be one (see his high priestly prayer from John 17). Throughout the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles this oneness was a standard that launched the early church and extended the Gospel to the known world. Luke wrote about those earliest days with these words---

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer...

Acts 1:14, ESV

They were in one accord. Luke didn't use the word "sumphoneo" here. But, this verse reveals the oneness of the early church, and their devotion to prayer. Should we not attempt to discover this sumphoneo of prayer as we seek to influence our nation?

More throughout this week. A prayer? How about that we learn to pray in sync, the great joy of the sumphoneo of prayer?

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