The most compelling reason for praying with others is Jesus' promise that "whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my Name, I am there with them". (Matthew 18:19, 20).
Jesus took his disciples with him occasionally when he was praying in solitary places (Luke 9:18,28). We know what Jesus prayed in Gethsemane probably because part of his prayer was overheard (Mark 14:33).
The apostolic Christians prayed together from the start. The Holy Spirit was poured out on a group at prayer (Acts 1:14). They continued to spend a lot of time in prayer together (Acts 2:42). Paul prayed constantly with his co-missioners (Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11) and asked others to join him in disciplined prayer (Romans 15:30). James (5:16) tells us to "confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you will be healed."
Praying together is one of the richest experiences Christians can have with each other. "There is a deep joy in praying together, an added vitality, a plus difficult to define. It is rather like the difference between eating your meal alone and sharing in a party feast. Eating together is not the same as eating in solitude; the something more is the company, the fellowship. So it is with prayer." (1)
But prayer with others is not only helpful to us, it is also associated with all the great spiritual awakenings. For example, the Evangelical Revival in England in the late 18th century began in a little "Holy Club" at Oxford. So impressed were the Wesleys with the prayer vell principle that every Methodist society was organised into small Band and Class meetings. Similarly the great revival in America in 1857-1858 was empowered and nurtured in prayer meetings.
The longest-lasting revival in Christian history, affecting four-to-five generations of Koreans, has been noted for its powerful prayer meetings.
In his books How to Develop A Praying Church and The Exciting Church Where People Really Pray Charlie Shedd lists the advantages of praying with others. In a chapter in the latter book entitled "Where the People Pray - These Good Things Happen" he lists these "good things": "They care for each other; lives will be changed; they attract new members; there will be social concern; they also serve the church; they reach out to the world; the little negatives stay little; everyone is able to serve." (2)
Sometimes prayer meetings are large; they are church-wide. These can be powerful occasions, but only where there is a strong sense of community. In Western nations such imtimate "belongingness" on a larger scale is quite rare, so there has been a worldwide movement towards smaller prayer-groups. This is good. Such "growth groups", "prayer cells" - call them what you will - should do three things; scripture reading, meditation and study; sharing of our personal concerns with one another; then prayer. That is, we listen to God, listen to each other, then speak to God the things have have arisen in the other two encounters. The "mix" of Bible, sharing and prayer will vary from group to group, and from time to time in one group. What is important is that all three occur in all groups all the time.
IDEAS FOR GROUP PRAYER
Here's a pot-pourri of principles and suggestions for praying with others:
There are many ways to pray together. Charlie Shedd says "Pray in your own way. There are twelve gates into the holy city and a thousand different doors to prayer. When we pray we are entering a vast expanse of truth which leaves room for much experiment and many approaches."
Being silent in a group is important. After the scripture is read it is good to encourage silent meditation on the sacred words for a few minutes - or longer. "For people who live hectic lives, corporate meditation can be an oasis in a desert." (3) Silent retreats, or quiet days with others can be healing occasions. (4)
Sometimes the group can devote time to adoration and praise. Confession can happen in a group by silently writing down our sins, tearing the paper into small pieces, passing a cup around, then enacting absolution (either by saying something like "As you have confessed your sins to God, in the name of Jesus you are forgiven" to one another in turn; or by the leader on behalf of the group). Thanksgiving can follow this experience. Bidding prayers can invite members to verbalise their blessing. (For example: "let us recall 'high moments' from the recent past; let us thank God for someone, a book we have read, a scripture that has been meaningful to us' etc.). Specific intercession, selfless prayers for others, ought to be written down as they are prayed (to check for God's answer). Sometimes it's enough to mention a name, and no more details (to avoid gossip). Trust and confidentiality are important here. The group prayer could conclude with someone bringing a special benediction; or by the group praying a written-out prayer of dedication.
Try one - or two-word prayers of adoration: "Jesus", "Father", "maranatha", "Lord you are here", etc. Sometimes write out a litany, or pray a great hymn of adoration or dedication together. Bidding prayers can be offered by group members (Let us pray for our pastor and elders"; "Let us uphold our prime minister and cabinet before God"). Pluriform praying - all praying aloud at the same time - is practised in many cultures, and over many centuries. It's beautiful once we overcome our initial embarrassment!
The "laying on of hands" if someone has a special need (or by proxy for someone else) is an ancient practice being revived in many churches today. Symbols and liturgies have, from time immemorial, enriched the church's worship. Those os us from the "Free churches" who are exploring these riches are finding treasures everywhere! For example, "a cross, candle, loaf of bread, chalice, jug of water, open Bible, vacant chair, or a simple drawing of a fish or a dove, and other traditional symbols can be useful aids if they are varied." (5)
Group prayer, says Frank Akehurst, is an act of fellowship building up the body of Christ in love; it is a ministry of care and support to fellow Christians; a participation together in mission beyond local or regional boundaries; and an expression of life and relationship to Christ.Onwards, then, to "the more". (6)
Footnotes:1. Stephen Winward, Teach Yourself to Pray, H & S , 86.
2. Quoted in John Mallison, Learning and Praying, Renewal Publications, 1976, 133.
3. Michael Wright, New Ways for Christ, Mowbrays, 1975,44.
4. See, eg. Margaret Harvey, Worship and Silence,Grove Books, 1975.
5. Mallison, op.cit., 167.
6. Frank Akehurst, Praying Aloud Together, Grove Books, 1975, 20.
The foregoing is from a chapter in my book "Recent Trends Among Evangelicals". The other chapters are "Recent Trends Among Evangelicals", "Towards an Evangelical Theology of Social Justice"' and "Evangelicalism Towards the 21st Century". Available for $5 plus a few dollars for postage from John Mark Ministries, 7 Bangor Court, Heathmont, Vic Australia 3135.Shalom! Rowland Croucher
Director, John Mark Ministries - resources for pastors/leaders.
(Bookroom, library, and worldwide F.W.Boreham Trading Post)
Home Page: http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm
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