Last week we began a series of articles on group prayer. This week we continue this teaching with some discussion about formats and methods of prayer in your group. Idea: Consider using a different one of these models each time your group meets...variety in your prayer time will raise interest and expose people to the understanding that there is no one "right way" to pray.
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Most prayer group activities are done in a ring or circle. It's the most natural formation to take : each one faces most of the others, looking them in the face. It is a visible oneness (the ring) with visible parts (each person). It becomes even more so when the hands are linked, since the people next to you in a ring, the two folks you're least likely to be looking at, are the ones drawn to you by touch. Some see something mystical about the ring/circle, but its 'magic' is really simple human togetherness -- unity. God takes that and blesses it, since it's what God hopes to create between us. That is what makes prayers powerful.
The procedure that most people find most natural is to stand together in a ring, and have each person share for however long is needed, then going to the next person in the ring, until done. If hands are linked, one person can pass their turn on to the next simply by squeezing the next person's hand or softly saying something. Another common way is for each to share freely, in no particular order, waiting until the person speaking is done. Those who have experience in leading groups say that these are fine ways to begin, but it tends to become a rut, or concentration spans lapse. It helps to move from one procedure of prayer to another. For example :
Sentence prayers : each person, one at a time, offers a brief specific concern, praise, or thanks to God, ending with "Amen" or some other refrain. No explaining it, just saying it and leaving it. (Allow those who don't want to share to say just "Amen" so it passes on to the next person.)
Silent intercessions : The leader reads a general concern, and is then silent. Time is then taken to silently pray for specific people, actions, and ministries involved with that general concern. Then, after a while, the leader speaks a word of the Bible relating to that concern, and a brief prayer on it.
Basket of prayer : each person writes just one concern that is most on their heart, onto a slip of paper. The papers are gathered in a basket, and the group prays over them. This can be done by reading each one or leaving them unread all together in the basket.
Prayer for witness : Each person in the group names one person that they most want to see turn to Christ. This would be someone from work, hobbies, family, or other non-religious activities, that they meet in the course of their daily lives. After each one is spoken, the group then prays for an opportunity for a Christian's witness to hit home.
Two-by-two : at the start, names are randomly drawn to be matched in pairs. The pairs then go to separate locations from the other pairs (like, say, one in the kitchen, another on the deck, another in the garden, etc.). The pair then takes time to minister, share, and pray with each other.
Echos : Someone speaks a phrase of Psalm or hymn or a very specific prayer. Then each person repeats the phrase, with short breaks in between each time it is spoken. This gives everyone time to think on the phrase, or to silently let it sink in, listening for some stirrings within.
Groups confessing : one approach is for a leader to talk briefly about a general kind or category of sin. All those present write onto slips of paper a few words of a specific instance where they committed that kind of sin. These are not to be read by anyone; this is between them and God. The papers are then gathered into a cooking container. All those present gather around it, and speak together a prayer of confession of being sorry for that kind of sin and expressing the determination to cease that sin. Then all take the container to a safe place indoors or outdoors, and then someone lights it, allowing it to burn completely to ash. (Have something to douse or smother it with in case of flare-up.) Once this is done, someone then says that these sins are forgiven due to Christ's work on the cross.
Strong personal needs : Sometimes, in a group setting, someone will be so hurt by life (or so moved by the group or its actions) that they will break down. Other times, composure will hold, but the need for prayer is acute and prayer is requested. Either way, see to it that the person is sitting down securely. (This sitting is known in some circles as the 'hot seat'.) Ask that person to start praying. Then bring the others present to gather around him/her, laying hands and praying until a sense of comfort about the matter comes over him/her, or that person brings it to an end.
Written responsory prayers : Those in liturgical churches know these from worship services. A petition is offered, then ended with a clear ending tag, like, "O Lord" or "in Jesus' name", followed by a standard response spoken by all, such as "hear our prayer" or "let it happen, Lord". Then the next written petition is spoken, and so on. (The tags and response can be much less mundane than that. But simple often works best.)
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Next Week: When You Pray Aloud