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The gospels contain an enticing promise made by Jesus to his followers. He said that if any two of us can agree about something that we want from God, then we can have it. (Matthew 18:19)

We wanted to understand exactly what this meant, and to set about making the best possible use of such a promise, and so we studied it prayerfully.

The first thing we noticed was that it took only two people to achieve the desired result. Somehow that has been overlooked in the popular concept of prayer amongst some professing Christians. They assume that the primary criteria is quantity. The more people they can enlist in their prayer, the more successful they will be in getting what they want. It has resulted in the phenomenon of prayer chains and similar superstitions. (See also Superstitions.)

We worked out that if anything is being overlooked in the contract, it is in the area of agreement. So we experimented within our own community with something called "conversation prayers". Rather than focusing on numbers or even intensity in our prayers, we worked on discussing amongst ourselves exactly what it was that we wanted more than anything, convinced that if we could reach full and deep agreement, we would get results.

Someone might, for example, request prayer for healing. But before we could be certain that it was what someone else in the room wanted, or, indeed, that it was what the person voicing the request really wanted, we needed to consider various possibilities. What if there was something that God wanted the sick person to learn first before being healed? What if it was God's time for the person to die? What if healing might actually result in that person turning away from God or doing something much more damaging to themselves and/or someone else? What if that person's continued suffering might act as a source of inspiration to others?

Obviously, only God himself knew what would be for the best of the individual as well as what would be best for everyone concerned. So in the end, our deepest agreement with regard to virtually every request was best summed up in one short line from The Lord's Prayer: "Thy will be done."

How could true followers of God possibly ask for anything better? Jesus himself prayed that in his darkest hour. He said, as he faced execution, "Father, if it be thy will, let this cup pass; nevertheless, thy will be done." (Matthew 26:39) And so prayer for God's will became the one thing we could agree upon deeply, passionately, and eternally.

Our experiment with conversational prayers was short-lived, because we quickly learned that they would all end up the same. The single heart cry of every true follower of God must be the same: "Thy will be done." And if two or more of you will agree together in such a prayer, we can, along with Jesus, guarantee that it will be answered, and that you will grow spiritually in a way which would never have been possible with the old selfish, shallow, shopping list approach to prayer.

We also discovered from this experiment that other promises which are being claimed selfishly by the health and wealth gurus and their flocks have been similarly misunderstood. Take, for example, the promise that Jesus makes, "If you abide in me and my word abides in you, you can ask what you will, and it will be done unto you." (John 15:7) It comes in the midst of a description of Jesus as the vine, and us as the branches, with God being the farmer who nurtures and prunes the vine, cutting off those branches which have lost contact with the life-giving sap.

The promise says that we can ask "what we will (or want)". But, if we are truly part of the vine, what is it that we "want"? Is it possible for a true branch on a grape vine, for example, to really "want" apples or oranges? More to the point, is it possible for a true branch on a grape vine to want basically and instinctively more than anything else to get a better job, a newer car or a bigger house? No. The only thing the branches want is whatever it is that the vine itself wants. If a branch wants anything other than what the vine wants, then it has ceased to be a part of the vine, and it is time to be pruned... cut off.

So let us agree together in our prayers, asking God for that which alone can bring true satisfaction. Let us ask for God's will... whether it be difficult or easy. True and lasting happiness can only come from the infinite wisdom of our Creator. God alone knows what is best for each of us. God's will be done. Amen?

(See also Total Control.)

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