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Christians Who Pray Together…

Biblical prayer includes adoration, being ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’; confession: if we confess our sins, God will forgive (1 John 1:9), and it is sometimes helpful to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16); intercession, (work-in-prayer for others); petition: asking God for things in Christ’s name – ie, praying for the things Christ would pray for; thanksgiving (for what God has done) and praise (for who God is).


Here in essence is what the ancient and modern masters of prayer teach us: # Pray as you can, not as you can’t: your own relationship with God will be unique. # Ask yourself ‘What is my desire?’ (Mark 11:24): be honest and clear about what you want from God. # Prayer is a gift from God, not a bag of spiritual techniques: it is not so much you who are looking for God, but he who is searching for fellowship with you. # The main aim of prayer is to know God, through love. # There are three kinds of praying – with words, with guided thoughts (meditation), and with wonder (contemplation). # Find a quiet, regular place and time for prayer every day: if possible, try to be unhurried and uninterrupted. # Prayer is also living and working (see Isaiah 1:15-17). (26)


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 discip- lined 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.’ () Stephen Winward, Teach Yourself to Pray, H & S , 86. (Karrie – there will be 5 or 6 extra footnotes in the next few pars, if you could put them in the endnotes and rearrange the endnotes numbers).


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 impress- ed 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 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.’ () Quoted in John Mallison, Learning and Praying, Renewal Publications, 1976, p. 133.


For some evangelical churches the question ‘a prayer meeting for the whole church once a week or small groups?’ is an issue. The guiding principle is clear: corporate prayer happens best where there is a sense of community. In most churches (especially larger churches with multiple worship- services) the small group is the place for real community. In small parishes, particularly in rural areas, the whole church could meet for prayer. Probably, however, the small group ought to be the norm, especially in cities and suburbs. This gives opportunities for fathers and mothers to be involved at separate times if they have small children, and young people to learn from their peers (although they ought also to meet from time to time in trans-generational groups as well). A whole-church prayer meeting is most appropriate when there is a strong call for such across the congregation (eg. at times of crisis, or special events). Experience around the world is now teaching us that more people will pray more meaning- fully in small groups than in larger ones.


Such ‘growth groups’, ‘prayer cells’ – call them what you will – should do three things: scripture reading, medit- ation 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:


* The best size for the group will depend on what it does. If the emphasis is on personal sharing or therapy, it ought to be small – say 3 to 6. If the group majors on Bible disc- ussion the optimum size is 8 to 12. If it’s a ‘house church’ there may be 30 to 40, but there ought to be times where ‘twos or threes’ pray together.


* Sensitivity ought to be shown towards those who have rarely, if ever, prayed aloud before. Ease them into it by encouraging written prayers to be read, sentence prayers to be spoken, or ‘prayer points’ shared which one or two may bring to God on behalf of the group. With acceptance and love and encouragement, it ought to be expected that all will soon be able to pray aloud. The lengthy prayers of the verbose might have to be ‘reined in’ in the process!


* There aren’t many books on group prayer, and few resources. However, some excellent material can be found in John Mall- ison’s Learning and Praying (Vol. 2 in his series on small groups), and Maxie Dunnam’s The Workbook of Living Prayer. Charles Kemp’s Prayer-based Growth Groups (Abingdon) is a good introduction.


Many Approaches


* 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.’ () Michael Wright, New Ways for Christ, Mowbrays, 1975,44. Silent retreats, or quiet days with others can be healing occasions. () See, eg. Margaret Harvey, Worship and Silence,Grove Books, 1975.


* 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 is 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’). Plur- iform 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 of 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. () Mallison, op.cit., 167.


Group prayer, says Frank Akehurst, is an act of fell- owship building up the body of Christ in love; it is a ministry of care and support to fellow Christians; a partic- ipation together in mission beyond local or regional bound- aries; and an expression of life and relationship to Christ.


Onwards, then, to ‘the more’! () Frank Akehurst, Praying Aloud Together, Grove Books, 1975, 20.


Discuss: How many in your church are praying regularly with others? What might be done to increase this number?


Further reading: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1954; Sheila Cassidy, Prayer for Pilgrims, London: Collins, 1980. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1980; John Mallison, Growing Christians in Small Groups, Melbourne: JBCE, 1989; Rowland Croucher (ed.), Still Waters Deep Waters: Meditations and Prayers for Busy People, Sydney: Albatross, 1987.


Discussion

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  1. Dear sir
    my name isi sibi varghese.im finished fire and safety diploma in alapuzha (kerala).somany years im in home no job now im 23 years old.i have no job. Im applyed somany companies for a safety job but no use. no one want me.now my situvation was bad. no money in home . Daily im praying in night and day but jesus was not opening eyes.so please pray for me for get a job.
    Your faithfully sibi

    Posted by sibi | July 15, 2016, 2:45 am