The Blessings of Group Prayer

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Having spent the past few posts on the hows and whys of individual prayer, it’s only right to acknowledge that group prayer has special benefits of its own. Jesus Himself said that “if two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:19-20). And some of the early church’s greatest moments, including the first Pentecost and the commissioning of the apostle Paul as a missionary, came about in the context of prayer groups.

For many a Christian introvert, solitary prayer comes easily but group prayer is fraught with squeamish situations. Where everyone takes turns praying, you freeze up when it gets to you, sure that everyone is judging you “uncommitted” by your silence. Where prayers are offered spontaneously, your mind wanders and you keep wondering when it’ll be over.

You have my permission (I recognize God’s right to override that permission in individual cases) to stay home from gatherings called primarily for the purpose of huge-group prayer. But you shouldn’t neglect praying with others entirely. Here’s why:

Group Prayer Strengthens Relationships

By saying you shouldn’t always pray alone, I’m not saying you have to join a roomful of people, or even a circle of a dozen. Jesus specifically said it only takes “two or three” to generate real power. More about “group prayer power” in a second, but I want to emphasize first that agreeing in prayer doesn’t just improve chances of getting a “yes” answer: it draws the prayer partners closer together in Christ. Agreement in prayer creates spiritual bonds, increases mutual love and empathy, and smooths the way to agreement in more earthly things, from whether to accept a job offer to what to budget for in a building program.

If you’re married, make sure the two of you pray together daily. Include your children and anyone else who shares the household. If you live alone, find one or two intimate friends you can share a prayer period with at least weekly.

Group Prayer Generates Power

In some mysterious way, having multiple people praying as one for the same thing apparently makes it easier for God to answer that prayer with a “Yes” (Matthew 18:19-20, above). That’s not to say the prayer of a single faithful believer can’t generate miraculous results–or that every group prayer gets the answer the group was hoping for. It simply means that having everyone in agreement clears away obstacles such as contrary desires, unresolved arguments, or self-centeredness.

For maximum effectiveness in a group “request” prayer, make sure everyone understands and in fact agrees with the request. If an important matter is involved, it pays to discuss it in detail–including bringing any individual reservations into the open–before actually praying. In larger groups especially, it can be easy to simply bow your head and “go along” while in fact thinking this is not the best thing to pray for. Whether or not this affects the chance of the prayer getting a positive answer, it will become a stumbling block to your relationship with God and the group.

Group Prayer Nurtures Empathy 

Hearing others’ prayer concerns helps curb temptation to feel you have all the problems and your needs are more important than anyone else’s. It also gives you a window into others’ souls that helps you realize your struggles aren’t so unique, and often it opens opportunities for you to share the perspective of experience.

Again, you don’t have to become a prayer-meeting aficionado if that’s not the way God wired you. Gathering regularly with one or two of your most intimate loved ones can be all God needs to shower all of you with the blessings of shared prayer!

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Benefits of Being Alone With God

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In the past two posts, I’ve talked about options for arranging private time with God. This post is for those who wonder whether that time is really necessary. What if you’re a natural extrovert who feels most spiritually alive worshiping God in a group? What if you get claustrophobic at the sound of silence? Would it really benefit you to meet with God in private?

It would, because:

You Need Private Time With God to Maximize Your Spiritual Growth

Praying as a team certainly has power (Matthew 18:20), but if you never pray alone, you may start letting others do all the work while you fall into the role of passive listener–or you may slip into praying to impress your peers rather than communicate with God. He has one-on-one things to say to everyone about their spiritual walk and individual purpose, and it’s hard to give your full attention to any one person (or Person) when you’re only two of several people in a larger conversation.

You Need Private Time With God to Sharpen Your Spiritual Hearing

Sometimes, even the prayers of others make too much “noise” for us to hear what God is saying to us. And sadly, many people prefer it that way: if they aren’t surrounding themselves with the chatter of other humans, they’re listening to audio broadcasts or watching video or indulging in the “mental noise” of reading/playing games/working on projects. Perhaps all that input you’re devouring is fully Christian and fully Biblical; but it still may be hurting your spiritual hearing by making human-generated words more obvious than God’s private words for you.

You Need Private Time With God Because the Spiritual Giants Did

Moses spent time alone with God. Elijah spent time alone with God. Paul spent time alone with God. Jesus spent time alone with God. If we genuinely want to do great things for God and become more than another face in the congregation, it makes sense to follow the example of those who accomplished the most spiritually.

You Need Private Time With God So He Can Help You Take a Good Look at Yourself

Blaise Pascal said many people are very good at making themselves unhappy by refusing to practice the art of quiet solitude. While times in a group or with loved ones can certainly be happy times, many people use the social-butterfly life as a means of running from their own selves: they fear that if they ever were alone and quiet, they’d find themselves in front of a metaphorical mirror and seeing the reflected image of a failure, a nobody, or a complete nonentity. Or that they’d hear a whisper telling them to let go of something they’re desperately addicted to.

The truth is, getting alone with God and really listening to Him can mean He’ll show you things you didn’t want to see or changes you don’t want to make. But He doesn’t consider you a nobody or a failure. And whatever He might ask you to discard, He won’t leave you with a hole in your life: He wants that space open so He can fill it with much better things, things of eternal value, great opportunities only you can make the most of.

Time with other Christians is important. But to fulfill your true potential, you also need time alone with God.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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