Group prayer. What images and feelings does that phrase conjure up? Or here’s a better question: when was the last time you had a meaningful, energizing time of prayer with other Christians? Chances are those times are few and far between. I know they are for me. But I want that to change.
Yesterday, before the sun had started its day, I met with two other men to pray.
We prayed for nearly an hour.
It wasn’t awkward. It wasn’t boring. It wasn’t forced.
It was genuine. It was vibrant. It was beautiful.
Hear what I’m not saying. “We’re awesome because we prayed for an hour!” Hear what I am saying: when we take the time to pray, especially with others, beauty happens. We experience God, together. After all, isn’t there something to spending quantity time doing something? We always want more quantity time with our spouse, our kids, our hobbies, our physical fitness, our entertainment, and on and on. But then when it comes to the spiritual disciplines, we are too quick to defend: “Well, the heart is what’s important. God wants quality more than quantity after all!”
Do you say that to your spouse on date night? Do you say that to your kids during a family outing? “Well, honey, we had a good 15 minutes here. It was real. But I need to get back to Game of Thrones.” Talk soon!”?
Of course not. You’d be a fool if you said that. And you’d miss the point.
The goal of a good date or a family fun night or coffee with a friend is both quality and quantity time. You want the best time for the longest time available. Prayer is no different–even (especially) prayer with other Christians. Too often, Christians gather to pray and most of the time is taken up with requests and stories and then, at the end, a few people pray for a couple minutes.
Friends, this is not okay. This is not okay for me or for you or any Christian. This is not a matter of praying better or longer so God will love us more. That’s despicable moralism. This is a matter of learning to walk in step with the God who has graciously redeemed us through his Son Jesus Christ and because of that redemption now calls us “son” and “daughter.” This is why we take time to pray. Do we feel our need for prayer? Do we make the time to pray?
We may feel the need and carve out the time in our busy schedules. Yet there may be one more obstacle, especially when it comes to group prayer: What in the world could possibly sustain prayer so that we are actually praying rather than watching the clock go by? Let me share with you what my friends and I did yesterday morning. I hope it’s helpful.
We began by reading Psalm 92. We started with Scripture because prayer starts with God, not us. He is the host of this feast. He starts by speaking through his word. We answer God. (The psalms, in particular, help us here; they teach us how to respond to God.)
I slowly read Psalm 92 (in other situations, it may have been appropriate to read it two or three times), and after finishing, we started with adoration. I said “Let’s reflect on the psalm considering what we see here that showcases God’s glory and power and beauty.” We praised God for these things in short to medium length prayers back and forth. We didn’t go around in a circle or in order. We just prayed.
After several minutes, I said, “Let’s consider how these things we’ve praised God for move us to confession. What are we like when we forget God is like this?” We confessed our general sins related to the psalm and any particular sins we had been dealing with. This was a profound way to practice the command, “Confess your sins to one another.” It was humbling, enlightening, and powerful. I learned about them. They learned about me.
After several minutes of confession, I paused and said, again, “Now let’s move on to thank God for how he has redeemed us through Christ and how he is working his grace in us even now. What in this psalm moves us to thank God for what he’s done?” The psalm is about God’s mighty “works.” So back and forth we went, reflecting on God’s works in creation and redemption and thanking him for his mercy on us sinners.
Finally, we moved into supplication (or petitioning/making requests). I paused one final time to say, “Let’s ask God for him to work change in us so that we become the kind of men we ought to be. Let’s pray for our families, our friends who don’t know Jesus, or those who are suffering.” We ended by asking God, like children ask their father, for him to do something. We asked him for daily bread. We asked for protection from the evil one. We asked God to work in our lives and in our world.
By time we were done, almost an hour had passed and the sun had risen. God had indeed been gracious to us.
You don’t need to do exactly this to pray with other Christians. This is just a simple way to pray. But this simple way might be something the Spirit uses to kick start your group prayer life.
What ideas do you have that might help cultivate healthy group prayer?