More than a thumbs up.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Even more, he gave them many promises regarding the effect of their prayers. Reading through them one wonders why prayer has been such a difficult spiritual discipline to understand and practice. You would think that two thousand years of scholarly and devotional study would have resulted in a greater understanding of the rubrics of personal and corporate prayer. Yet, today, though most Christians profess some measure of prayer practice, we remain a culture of what one author has described as a nation of prayer slackers.
Jesus conditioned a meaningful prayer experience on several unifying themes. One of them was that believers be in agreement when they pray. Jesus 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
Sounds simple enough, to agree when we pray. The trouble is we've sanctioned cultural understandings of agreement as our guide. Today, even among many convictional believers, agreement is reached through a nod of the head, thumbs up, raised hands, a majority vote, consensus, lack of opposition, and even silence as the measure of being united in our prayer efforts. While each is a visible affirmation of being together when we pray, they are all superficial pretenders of spiritual oneness. Being in agreement, at least according to Jesus' teaching, happens at a deeper level. It is finding true harmony among believers when we pray.
Jesus used a very graphic term to define agreement. While there are several terms in the New Testament meaning "to agree", Jesus chose the compound "sumphoneo" as the descriptive of biblical agreement in prayer. In short, it is the Greek term "sun", meaning "together", compounded with the term "phone", meaning "sound or voice". In several New Testament usages another related word, "sumphonia", is a musical root. It describes "harmony". In my simple mind it means "making beautiful music". In the parable of the Prodigal Son the other son, after working in the fields, heard "sumphonia", music, when he returned to his Father's house (see Luke 15:25). "Sumphoneo" in prayer, in my very limited grasp of the language, is the harmony of disciples praying in agreement. In the thirteenth century translators used this term and it's Latin and French derivatives as the basis for "symphony". The screen in my head visualizes the symphony orchestra as a depiction of this kind of harmony. Many instruments, keyed to different musical scales, are all playing the same tune. For me that's the picture of "sumphoneo" in prayer. That the English wordsmiths would use such a biblical root to picture symphonic sound is just another affirmation of the applicable truthfulness of Scripture. A "sumphonia" indeed.
Human tuning is egocentrically dissonant. Living in harmony with other people is one of life's greatest challenges, even in communities of faith. The epistles the Apostle Paul wrote to local churches are lesson plans in living, serving, and growing together. He knew the discord that compromised the church's influence. As a result, his letters are catalogs of how this oneness among believes can be achieved. To the Philippians Paul wrote---
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in
the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind,
having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Philippians 2:1-2, ESV
"Having the same mind, the same love, being in full accord and of one mind..." are preludes to the kind of agreement Jesus identified as harmonious prayer agreement. Join me this week and we develop this biblical thought about being in agreement when we pray.
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