Tool Kit for Radical Methodists: Group Prayer
Are prayer meetings becoming a thing of the past? When I was growing up, there was a Wednesday night prayer meeting at the small rural United Methodist church where my family attended. I vividly remember showing up for another activity at 7:30 PM many Wednesdays and seeing a handful of faithful attendees leaving the church building. I sometimes wondered what went on at a “prayer meeting”. I figured it must be extremely boring since only 4 or 5 people (including the pastor) ever showed up.
I seldom hear the term “prayer meeting” anymore. I occasionally read about prayer services, and there’s usually some prayer in small groups and home fellowships. Committee meetings open and close with a token prayer, and many of us pray over our food when we dine with others. But how often do we get together with at least one other person for the express purpose of praying? I’m talking about prayer with no business meeting, no luncheon, no Sunday School class… where nothing is on the agenda except going before the throne of God with other Christians. The kind of prayer where you don’t stop until God shows up, and then you don’t want to stop!
John Wesley believed in group prayer. His journals give accounts of prayer meetings that lasted late into the night. I get the feeling Wesley’s kind of prayer meeting would seem strange to many of today’s Methodists. The truth is, more than a few of us are a little uncomfortable praying aloud in the presence of others. But there are some advantages to praying with groups. Here are just a few of the benefits:
- People learn how to pray when they hear other people pray. When I’m praying with a group, I always try to listen closely to how others speak to God, especially if I consider them to be effective at praying. Sometimes I sense something going on spiritually when someone prays, so when that happens I try to pay special attention to how they pray. Some people pray with so much faith that their prayers literally instill faith in me.
- Praying with others builds us up. I don’t know why this is the case, but I find it to be true in my own life. When my own prayers don’t seem to be getting past the ceiling, I can pray with someone else and almost always sense a breakthrough.
- Jesus seems to be present in a special way when two or more people get together to pray. That’s not saying he isn’t present when we pray alone. But it’s like he’s present on a different level when a group of people pray. He even said in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (NRSV).
- Group prayer can be more potent in some situations than individual prayer. Jesus said, “…if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19 NRSV). Perhaps praying with others helps us have more faith than when we pray alone. I’ve observed that faith is contagious, and since faith seems to be a condition for answered prayer (see James 1:6-7), it makes sense to pray with a group (i.e. bring in reinforcements), especially when the need for God’s intervention is critical.
- We are less likely to focus only on ourselves when we pray with a group. If you’ve become the subject of most of your prayers, then praying with others is the best antidote for that. It’s easier to think about others when you aren’t by yourself.
- Group prayer sessions are an ideal place to practice spiritual gifts. And the funny thing is, people sometimes start using their spiritual gifts and have absolutely no idea that something supernatural is going on! I’ve heard new Christians begin to prophesy while interceding for someone else, and I’ve personally received some cool visions and words of knowledge when I wasn’t expecting anything.
Here are a few tips on how to do group prayer:
- Start small. Find one or two others and get comfortable praying with them before making the group bigger. When groups start too big, the temptation is to worry too much about what other people are thinking when you pray.
- Find the right person to facilitate. Some people seem to have a gift of spiritual sensitivity. They flow in prayer and in most situations can sense the direction the Holy Spirit ants to take a prayer session. They don’t control the prayer meeting- they simply keep it from getting off track by gently prompting everyone to switch gears when God wants to move things in another direction.
- Use Scripture generously. When you want to hear from God, nothing “primes the pump” like God’s word. Use Bible passages to prepare your heart and mind for praying, and pray some prayers directly from Scripture. Bible passages are also helpful for getting your group back on track when you reach those occasional “dead ends” in prayer.
- Expect big things. If you expect a boring meeting, more than likely, that’s what you’ll get. But if you expect God to show up, chances are he will (but rarely in exactly the way you thought he would.)
- Make group prayer a priority. And don’t wait until you feel like praying. (I hardly ever feel like praying until after I’ve prayed!) Figure out a way to get together with others regularly to pray. Start with meeting once a month, then twice monthly, then weekly. Some groups pray even more often than that.
Remember that group prayer isn’t a substitute for private prayer. Both types of prayer are important for Christians who want to grow spiritually. John Wesley knew this well, because the rapid growth of the early Methodist movement was fueled by prayer, much of which took place at prayer meetings. I believe that rediscovering the prayer meeting for our time could potentially fuel another history-shaping movement.
Posted by Shane Raynor on August 27, 2009 at 02:02 AM |