Generally, when believers pray together, they pray in a large meeting, a small group of a dozen or so or in smaller groups of two to three. Over the years I’ve led a number of prayer meetings and expressed myself to God aloud before others many times. There are some times, though, when I’ve sensed that there are some members of the body of Christ who could use some constructive guidance on praying with others. Here are some ways that a person can avoid being discourteous and disruptive in the matter of praying together:
Understand the purpose of praying together.
It is not to gather as many believers as possible to pray about something, since God has promised to answer prayer where only two believers are in agreement. Very often, I’ve seen greater answers to prayer where only several are gathered in agreement and trust in God than when some well meaning believers are frantically trying to get as many people as possible to pray for their concerns. The number of believers joined together in prayer most certainly does not put any additional pressure on God if their hearts are not in accord with his will and their prayers are coming more from human anxiety than trust in his love and goodness and seeking his will.
Pray to be heard by God and not those around you.
Address your prayers to God for praise for aspects of God’s character which you truly adore, for thanks for things for which you are truly grateful and for requests on which you really want God’s answers. Corporate prayer is not a time to give announcements or testimonies or to slip the others in the group some concerns you would like them to think about under the guise of praying to God.
Remember that God knows all the details already.
Give no more than a summary of details when expressing praise, thanks or making a request of God. God knows all the details already, and your brothers and sisters in Christ need to know only enough so that they can agree to your prayer before God without misgivings.
Pray for one request at a time.
In the larger groups, spend less time in praying aloud, and generally stick to only one item in your request. You won’t give the impression of monopolizing the prayer time either intentionally or unintentionally if you pray aloud several times for several requests when there are openings rather than one long prayer for several requests.
Allow the Holy Spirit to lead and close the meeting.
Allow others openings to pray, and avoid any rush to start to pray immediately when someone else is finished. A slight pause between people praying is normal, and it’s not ‘dead air’ that someone has to rush to fill. In fact, in those pauses I’ve often felt God speaking to me to pray, and what came from me after taking the time to pause and concentrate on God was a greater blessing and expression of faith than if I had rushed immediately to speak. If a little while passes when no one is praying aloud, and you sense that others are getting fidgety, it’s normally acceptable to close in some way, with a quiet ‘Amen,’ or a short summary prayer. Since it would seem that the Holy Spirit is no longer prompting anyone to pray, it can be pretty much safely concluded that he has called the meeting to an end in this case.
Pray in a way which expresses a reverence and trust from the heart.
It’s generally better to pray more slowly and in a soft spoken manner if that expresses a thoughtful and reverent faith and personal approach to God than in a rush of words or an attempt at eloquence. While some subjects may elicit passionate prayer, most will not. Deep feeling and burdens in prayer may call forth unintentional eloquence before God (see Genesis 17, and Abraham interceding with God for Sodom and Gomorrah), but generally an attempt to sound eloquent as a show before man is not something which is impressive to God.
Allow yourself to be a part of God’s answer.
Sometimes someone may share something for which one of the group might have resources in which he or she could be part of the answer to the prayer, that could be pursued after the meeting. It’s generally best to pray silently during the meeting and request guidance as to whether God would have you to help. Then, if you sense his ‘yes,’ ask quietly after the meeting whether your help would be welcome. If the person sharing the request refuses your help, respect that refusal. After all, that person was requesting God’s answer, and wasn’t intending to give anyone else an opening to interfere or impose their answers instead of God’s answers.
Gently suggest counseling after prayer is concluded if you suspect that is needed.
If there is a problem which is shared which might call for counseling, a quiet inquiry after the meeting as to whether the person who shared that concern is receiving counseling is appropriate. If not, it could be suggested, but it would be inappropriate to be too insistent. Rather, make it a matter of prayer yourself that that person would see his or her need of the scriptural wisdom of fellow believers in the body of Christ, if God agrees that there is a need there.
Keep prayer requests within the circle of those who are there and praying.
Keep requests for prayer within the group, especially if it deals with matters which are personal or should be kept confidential, such as problems within a family. Generally avoid taking prayer requests from one prayer meeting and sharing them in another prayer meeting, unless the entire matter is also known to and a real concern of the others in the next prayer meeting. This will help to avoid the tendency among believers to ‘share prayer requests’ simply as a form of sanctified gossip.
Respect what others pray for and the way that they may pray.
Do not attempt to amend, correct or contradict someone else’s prayers before God. Answered prayer is promised to agreement among believers. If you are uncomfortable with what someone is asking, ask yourself whether you could see Jesus requesting that very same thing from the Father. If you are uncomfortable with the style of someone’s praying, you may need to ask yourself what it is that makes you uncomfortable. If it seems like that person is praying with genuine trust in God, it may well be something within your own heart that needs some dealing before God.
Let as many pray aloud as want to pray.
Sometimes individuals with strong personalities try to dominate a prayer meeting, whether intentionally or unintentionally. At other times, pastors or elders may dominate a prayer meeting, whether intentionally or unintentionally. If certain people seem to be doing the majority of the praying, or, more insidiously, trying to do all or most of the praying themselves, or even to keep other people from praying aloud, this is something to be noticed and corrected. Certainly there may be things that come up in a prayer meeting which are inappropriate, but it is not anyone’s responsibility to try to dominate or micromanage believers praying together. Rather, Christ through the Holy Spirit is quite capable of guiding a prayer meeting on his own, and human leadership often needs to remember to bow out and allow him to be Lord and Master of the prayer meeting.
Take the burdens from others and lift them to God.
When others reveal the depths of their hearts and often their pain, there can sometimes be too great a sympathy with them, so that we take on their pain and their burdens, instead of lifting them to God. The difference is this: is the burden left with God when prayer is concluded?
The times that we pray together are a special time that we can be the body of Christ together. They can be a time where our lips can be the lips of Jesus to express the prayers that he would pray for our brothers and sisters if he were in our place. So with that reverent understanding of our responsibility let us take care to conduct ourselves courteously, compassionately and reverently in our times of prayer together.