Sunday, October 11, 2009

Powerful Group Prayer (Stop the Shallow Rambling)

"Please pray for Nellie's cousin's neighbor's lost dog in Bora Bora."

I got the following letter and decided it needed to be shared. This woman is relatively new in her faith journey but she's echoing thoughts that most of us have had about group prayer. Her honesty and candor are truly refreshing and you may laugh as you recall times you've felt the same way.

I'd guess all of us have wondered (at one point) if there's some unspoken prayer etiquette that isn't freely shared. Should there be? Many facilitators don't have the slightest notion of how to guide group prayer sessions: keeping things relevant to those present, regulating each person's amount of time to share, and making sure that everyone feels that their needs matter. I could offer up some sage advice, but since I know the collective wisdom of many of my readers, I'm asking for you to respond to her inquiry. We all want to experience God's amazing presence when two or more are gathered in His name, so let's remember times when praying in a group was a supernatural jolt, not a frustrating snooze-fest. Here's what she says:

Dear Diane,

I'm having a difficult time with something and would like your input. Here's the scenario:

I'm at church at a women's group table and the leader asks, "Before we begin, does anyone have any prayer requests?" I do an internal eye roll because I know what's coming. Inevitably, someone wants us all to pray for Aunt Joan's neighbor's mole that might be cancerous, or their sister's friend (who lives 1,000 miles away) whose son is in the military and being sent overseas, or a child they heard about on the internet who is missing.

That drives me crazy! For several reasons:

1) I want to say, "Since I don't know Aunt Joan, nor will I probably ever meet her neighbor, please tell me what is on YOUR heart. I want to pray for YOU, the person I can see right now, who is in my life and who I want to get to know better. Are these people so holy that they truly think only of others and don't need any prayers for themselves? Or are they using the mole to cover up their true prayer requests so no one can really get to know them?

2) Sometimes I feel like people live for any miniscule amount of drama they can muster up in their lives. I, for one, go out of my way to avoid drama and/or encourage it in others. So do I have an attitude of not wanting to pray for what I am judging in others to be merely drama?

3) By the time it gets around to my turn for the prayer request, I usually pass. Or minimize what I really want to say. There are several reasons for this as well: First, my "woes" are nothing in comparison to everyone else's. Second, I don't really know these people all that well; will I be judged for asking them to pray for ME? Whatever is going on with me will eventually pass. I will pray in private to God about it and together we'll figure it out. Last, I feel like the prayer request time has been set up to be a quick snippet— a one sentence quickie prayer. I don't really want to take up everyone's time with my "stuff" when it will take away time from the group. Besides, if no one else is being "real", why would they want to hear about my struggles? I want to give anyone who is willing to share their heart with me my undivided time and attention, and I want the same in return.

4) I still feel fairly new to all this Christian stuff, so I wonder if I really know what I'm talking about.

Do you have answers for her? I think lots of new believers as well as ministry leaders would love to hear them.
Diane Markins


Julie Ferwerda said...

I too dread those types of group prayer times for some of the same reasons. But the woman answered one of her own questions as to why people don't share more personally. I think we all are afraid of sounding too selfish or too trivial to have others focus on us when there are so many other needs (often times bigger) around us. It is easier just to pray on our own. But here is the thing that I have come to. Why do we spend so much time talking about prayer and not praying? I have been to these prayer groups where you will discuss everyone's prayer requests for 20 minutes and only have 5 minutes left to pray. When I am leading a prayer group now, I usually discourage sharing requests, and we just dive in and open the floor up for people to share what is on our hearts. After all, in a true prayer group, every person should be agreeing with us in prayer as we are praying. There is no need to talk about it before we do it.

As far as intimacy, it is important for a group leader to set the tone for this by being vulnerable with her own personal struggles and prayers if the group is appropriate for that type of sharing. I think there must be a certain level of intimacy and trust in a group before many people will open up with what they are really struggling with. Others will be spurred on to share when they see that those around them are being vulnerable. So again, the tone is usually set by the leader.

Thanks for posting this Diane! I know that many people struggle with this very thing!

Anonymous said...

Good subject. Thanks, Diane, for having the guts to take it on. Group prayer, as I have experienced it, does more harm than good. Leave the tedious backstory OUT OF IT. If you can't express a prayer request in 25 words or less, then pass. Some people undoubtedly would think such a rule is rude. I think it's being considerate of the time of others. (God knows the backstory, anyway!)

The excruciating process of taking prayer requests gives group prayer a bad name. And the fake concern -- let's call it for what it is -- doesn't help anyone. (I include myself among those who have shown such fake concern, by the way. Guilty!)

Your friend may be relatively new in her faith journey, but she is on to something. Christians need to be called out on this, and I'm glad she did so.

Doug Carroll

Jeff and JIll Williams said...

Diane, Another great post!

Jill and I meet weekly with three other couples for a group prayer by conference call. These are couples like us who are involved in relationship ministry (ours is marriage coaching and training). The purpose of the group is to pray for each other's marriages, families and minsitries based on the premise that public ministry flows from private victories, and that protection, support, encouragement and accountability of prayer and fellowship of our Christian brothers and sisters is essential to fulfilling our God-given destinies!

The longevity and consistency of our group allows for ebb and flow of participation. None dominate, simply because each is emotionally intelligent and courteous.

The stated purpose of praying for each others marriages and ministries seems to be adequate to keep us on track. However, there have been occasions that specific focus on our own marriages has been missing. What seems to work best on such occasions is for the faclitator(s) to lead by example with transparent sharing about prayer requests for their own marriage, and then to invite others to follow suit.

One other thing we have learned through our training experiences. If you ask a broad, open question then the responses you get will be just as broad. But when you get specific in your request, you get specific responses. Simply asking for prayer requests gives permission to folks to request anything that comes to mind. But, asking for one or two requests for their own marriage and one or two for their ministry yields exactly what was asked for, and when it doesn't, the guideline has already been provided so the facilitator can prompt for more answers, or if someone keeps going the facilitator can say "Thank you for sharing two. Let's keep going around the room to make sure everyone has a chance to share."

Praying in groups can be great. It just takes some structure.


Anonymous said...

Oh you sweet New Believer in Christ! What an encouragment and delight to read your words this morning! How well I remember those days of group prayer and being in so many of the same situations that you talk about...wondering WHAT am I doing here?
I was where I was for a God ordained journey, and I bleieve that you are too! And what a journey, what a ride, what an everyday, minute by minute, and second by second journey he has me on and I love you will also.
However, he had to do a real number on my heart first. So I began to pray that he would just soften my heart. Just soften my heart. And Jesus, being the gentleman that he is, began to do just that. Slowly and softly he began to open my heart to these obnoxious people and began to speak to me a new and fresh and inviting way.
Jesus loves you and he is seeking YOU because he wants you as his child. I will pray for you...that Jesus will soften your heart!

Pat (Arizona)

Robin said...

I do think it is much easier to ask for prayer for others than for ourselves. Focusing outward and not on my individual prayer need is easier and less of a risk.

My husband has mentioned that many times as we are sharing a prayer is considered a prayer to God! I can be more open about "the struggle" I find myself in or the challenges of making sense of God in my life if those on the listening end are non-judgmental.

The key seems to be finding women you can GET REAL with who won't judge you. Building TRUST with women who share your values and passion is the bottomline! I think that type of relationship and/or that type of group takes time to build. It's not always found within the church walls either but more in people we are drawn to through the years who share our values.

In one of the groups I am in we write down our prayer requests on a a 3x 5 card and pass it to the person on the left. Maybe a bit anonymous but still I feel supported in this creative outlet for sharing needs.