I drove home from a prayer meeting angry and frustrated, but I couldn’t understand why I was so angry. I felt guilty for even harboring such emotions. Why should a prayer meeting upset me so? All the way home, I struggled with the Lord about it and continued to wrestle with it for several months.
Then, through an experience where I learned how to pray with others, it finally dawned on me why I had been so angry and frustrated coming out of that prayer meeting.
Prayer is a wonderful privilege! To think that the God of the universe is interested in you and me and the details of our lives. He invites us to “cast all our cares on Him” (1 Peter 5:7). And we can go to Him in prayer anytime, anywhere, about anything. Our Heavenly Father delights in hearing our prayers.
Through prayer we can worship Him, praise Him, make requests of Him, talk things over with Him, etc. In short, prayer is a two-way conversation with God.
But we often treat prayer as a one-way monologue, as in: I pray, God listens. In prayer, however, we must learn to listen to the Holy Spirit’s promptings to know how to pray and what to pray for. Prayer should include listening like this and not merely talking. The Lord said, “Be still and know that I am God.” This aspect of prayer is where we can get into trouble when we pray with others.
The Conversation Hog
Have you ever walked up to a small cluster of people at a party or an event only to discover that one person is doing all the talking and everyone else is just standing there? The person talking is so intent on what they’re saying that they go on and on without letting anyone else enter the conversation.
Usually, in a situation like that, we quickly excuse ourselves and go off to find a more open group in which we can participate. We seek conversation—a two-way verbal interchange between two or more people.
In that fateful prayer meeting above, two individuals droned on and on that day without thought for anyone else present. We weren’t praying together. There was no conversation. Those two individuals each delivered their own separate very lengthy monologues, something they might as well have done alone. They certainly didn’t need or include the rest of us. I finally understood why their behavior had frustrated me so!
In their defense, I don’t think those two long-winded individuals knew any better. They were probably just following the example of others they had heard pray and thought this is the way it’s done. This is precisely why it’s so important that we provide a great example in prayer for others.
Compare group prayer with the proper etiquette for a friendly conversation:
- No one hogs the conversation
- Everyone can participate
- Stay with the topic until it’s time to move on
- We don’t interrupt each other
- We listen to each other and ensure understanding
- Keep our remarks short
Of all the conversations we engage in, prayer with others should exemplify those traits best. But when we neglect those traits, we turn what’s meant to be a holy conversation between God’s people and Him into something ugly. That’s why I was so angry when I left that prayer meeting that day.
I think our failure to pray well with each other explains why some find it so difficult to pray aloud with others. Who can compete with a 20-minute prayer monologue? Especially if they’re using high-sounding Christianese.
But when we pray together, deferring to one another, listening to each other, staying on topic, and keeping our prayers short, prayer with others can be a truly wonderful, edifying and God-honoring experience.
A few months after I left that prayer meeting, someone shared these simple, constructive prayer guidelines with me. Now I use these guidelines whenever I pray with others and encourage others to do the same:
- Pray short, sentence prayers (no long-winded monologues!)
- Keep prayers vertical (directed toward God, not others)
- Piggyback on each other’s prayers and stay on one topic until the Holy Spirit moves you on
- Embrace silence as an opportunity to listen to the Holy Spirit or transition to a new topic
- Listen to the Holy Spirit and to each other
- Believe the best of each other
Using these prayer guidelines when praying with others makes prayer a delight. These guidelines facilitate a shared prayer experience as you approach the Lord with one mind, heart, and Spirit.
©2019 Rob Fischer