|Making it Work:
How to Help Your Group Pray in One Accord
God's plan for us involves much more than just living a disciplined Christian life.
He wants to draw us into spiritual intimacy with Him.
by Eddie Smith
In the computer world, there is a technique called "morphing." This term refers to the amazing ability of computer graphics to seamlessly dissolve one image into another. "Morphing" is the best way I've found to describe what I see happening when true corporate prayer occurs: a group of people gather, discover together the Holy Spirit's assignment for prayer, and approach God's throne as one person. The focus moves, seamlessly, from individual identities to corporate interdependency.
Praying with many different groups in recent years, I have learned that this process doesn't just happen. We must prepare ourselves for true corporate prayer--otherwise it will slip into the more common form of individual prayer in a corporate setting. The following are some guidelines I've learned from experience about the essentials of true corporate prayer. Can you pray effectively without them? Of course. But these ideas will help you sustain corporate intercession over an extended period of years, because they make it more dynamic and exciting.
A one-hour weekly prayer meeting might consist of 15 minutes of worship followed by 45 minutes of intercessory prayer. Start
on time and finish on time. Failure to start on time rewards those who are late, punishes those who are on time, and doesn't acknowledge that you are keeping an appointment with the King of kings! Ending on time keeps busy people involved and shows that you respect their time.
Keep conversation to a minimum. This is a time to talk to God, not to man. Don't allow chitchat to eat away your prayer time. Those who desire fellowship can remain afterward.
Play quiet worship music (recorded is fine) as people arrive. Up-tempo music has its place, but this is the time for music that will quiet your hearts, draw your focus to the gracious Father, and welcome the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit as you move through worship and into intercession. Instrumental music is preferable during prayer, as song lyrics might distract you. A skilled improvisational pianist can add Spirit-sensitive accompaniment to the prayer time.
Body dynamics are important, so prepare the room to facilitate corporate prayer. For a group of 50 or less, we have found that arranging chairs in a circle works best. A carpeted area is nice for those who want to kneel. But carpet squares on a bare floor will work, too. Keep the lighting soft and pleasant by avoiding harsh fluorescents.
Finding the Holy Spirit's Assignment
As you begin, several people might pray before the Lord establishes the focus for the evening. These prayers are important, as they allow the group to listen for the Holy Spirit's anointing on a particular subject. Signs that the Lord is touching a subject may appear in the form of increased fervency or spiritual passion, tears, or higher volume.
Listen for these cues in your own heart. If you become emotionally stirred while someone else is praying about children, for instance, ask yourself, "Is this a burden on my heart?" If so, take that cue and prepare to pray next. As the group continues to pray in this fashion, it "zeroes in" on the topic the Lord is revealing. It only happens, however, when each person is fully listening to, affirming, and agreeing with what is being prayed--
not trying to decide what to pray.
Don't be afraid of silence. It may be that God wants the group to reflect on what has just been prayed. Or it may be a sign that you have prayed through one topic, and the Lord is about to reveal another one.
The Servant-Leader or Player-Coach
Corporate prayer times should not be left without a servant-leader or player-coach to set boundaries and oversee the process. Sometimes the Lord will even lay the topic for prayer on the leader's heart in advance. Or once the group has established a topic, someone may suddenly shift to another one. The leader's role is to gently and graciously interrupt and say, "Bill, let's continue praying for the children. I don't believe the Lord is through with that subject yet."
Consider selecting a person to record the progress of your prayer time. This information can be used to debrief and learn from the experience. In the debriefing, look back at who prayed, what they prayed, what seemed to stir the group, and when the Lord's clear leading appeared. It is exhilarating for group members to see how they've prayed for the things on the Father's heart, and this makes them want to stay involved!
Empowerments to Prayer
With your group, learn about and try to implement the things that empower prayer:
Proximity. Jesus said, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Mt. 18:20). The word "together" implies physical connection. Have you ever entered a Wednesday evening prayer service to find people scattered randomly throughout the auditorium? They have gathered, but not together. Believe me, the enemy sees this and uses it to great advantage. It is therefore important to pray in physical proximity to each other.
Unity. God said, "If as one people . . . they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them" (Gen. 11:6). Unity enables. Jesus said, "A house divided against itself will fall" (Lk. 11:17). Disunity disables. Our functional unity is based on our organic unity.
Employ behaviors that promote unity, and avoid behaviors that promote disunity. If you don't know what these behaviors are, let the group establish guidelines that provide a comfortable, safe environment for all concerned. Sometimes individual liberty is exalted above corporate unity. The Bible indicates that this should not be (1 Cor. 14:5,12). Remember: Just because something is biblical does not mean it is always appropriate. How you pray in your prayer closet may be inappropriate in a corporate setting. Or what you do in corporate prayer with your own congregation may be inappropriate in a multicongregational setting. If in doubt, ask the leader of the group.
Agreement. Christ said, "If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven" (Mt. 18:19). Notice that He doesn't suggest that we will agree about everything! I once invited a pastor friend to a pastors' prayer meeting. He agreed to come until I asked if he would invite the pastor whose church was across the street from his. "But he's from a different denomination," he objected. "I can't pray with someone with whom I disagree." I said playfully, "Why not? Alice (my wife) and I disagree about lots of things, but we still pray together!" We can't agree about everything. But there are plenty of things we do agree on--and those are what we pray about.
Clarity. We cannot agree in prayer about something we can't hear. This was Pauls concern about the use of tongues in the corporate setting: "How can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say 'Amen' to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying?" (1 Cor. 14:6,16).
In order to truly pray in "one accord" (Acts 4:24, KJV), it's important to pray aloud and clearly. In groups of 50 or more, a sound system is beneficial. We typically put a speaker's stand with a microphone at the front of the auditorium, floor level, facing the platform. People are instructed to move to the microphone and speak clearly into it as they are led to pray. They may lay their Bible on the stand to read a passage of Scripture if they wish.
Brevity. Generally speaking, corporate prayers (unlike private prayers) should be concise and to the point, averaging 5-7 minutes and no more than 10 minutes. There is no need to spend time explaining things to God; He already knows. Avoid this kind of "preachy" prayer--simply ask God for what you need.
Reading a short, poignant passage of Scripture--or praying the promises of Scripture--is also a good practice. It confronts you with the dignity, power, and potential of the Word and brings focus in the midst of prayer. Beware, however, of reading long passages, which more often results in boredom. Nothing can kill enthusiasm for prayer more quickly.
Anointing. A sovereign empowerment of the Holy Spirit comes upon those who are led to pray. One of the limitations I have seen in sequential prayer (i.e., taking turns praying around a circle) is that while it may be my turn to pray, the anointing to pray may be on a person across the room. Instruct pray-ers to wait for a specific prompting of the Holy Spirit before they move forward to pray. They should know precisely what they are going to pray about.
In larger corporate prayer settings where someone is already at the microphone, those who have been led to pray can be seated on the front row and wait for their turn. Once they've prayed aloud, they can return to their seat to continue to pray in agreement.
Growing into One in Prayer
As in other areas of Christian life together, the more you pray together, the more you learn about prayer and each other. As some committed intercessory groups mature, they become skillful combat units. As soon as they enter a room together, the anointing for powerful prayer is there. My prayer for you and your prayer group is Is. 56:7: May God give you joy in His house of prayer!
10 Guidelines for Leaders of Corporate Intercession
1. Be Spirit led in order to lead in the Spirit.
2. Pray for wisdom ahead of time.
3. Prepare the room.
4. Review the guidelines with the group.
5. Discuss how you will find the Spirit's assignment.
6. Be spiritually discerning.
7. Be willing to confront and correct manipulators and monopolizers when necessary--earning the right to do so by loving others always and graciously understanding the difference between impurity and immaturity.
8. Remember that corporate unity is a higher goal in this situation than individual liberty.
9. Affirm and encourage.
10. Finish each prayer time with an instructional debriefing.
15 Guidelines for Participants in Corporate Intercession
1. Come prepared to pray by stirring up your faith.
2. Sit together.
3. Speak up! Others cannot agree with what they cannot hear.
4. Avoid "preachy" praying and ministerial tones. Pray simply and conversationally.
5. Keep prayers concise, clear, and to the point.
6. Don't read long passages of Scripture.
7. Don't pray as you
would in your private devotionals or pray through your personal prayer list.
8. Ask God; don't explain things to Him.
9. Avoid addressing others in the room under the pretense of prayer.
10. Once you have prayed, wait for other people to pray before praying again.
11. When in doubt about what to pray, ask for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on your church and city. All other requests are fulfilled when that occurs.
12. Try not to pray too big or too small. Pray for things the group can "get its faith around."
13. Don't be afraid of silence. It's sometimes golden.
14. Listen to, agree with, and affirm each prayer.
15. Submit to pastoral guidance.