Saturday, October 9, 2010

Prayer - Group Prayer

I have had experiences with prayer requests and group prayer that left me wondering if we were even talking to a real, living God. I have also been in the room when I was overwhelmed by the presence of God and the prayers of His people around me. I have had the privilege of being there when someone said their very first prayer out loud in a room with other women. What a scary step of obedience that is the first time. I have had a lot of practice praying out loud in front of a room. I went to a Christian college and I think it is part of the curriculum. You can't graduate without being willing to lead the group in prayer or at the very least pray when it is your turn in the prayer circle.

Since then though group pray is one of the areas where I most struggle to follow the Bible's teachings. I have always been pretty authentic in my own pray time. It is easier for me to be truthful with God because He already knows it all. There is no place to hide. But group prayer is a whole other story. Saying, out loud, my prayer requests makes them both real and also makes me aware of how off base my requests might be. I don't want to sound silly, whiny, or needy. I don't want to sound selfish. I don't want to be judged for my request or feel bad that my request seems trivial next to someone who is struggling with something real. I also don't know what to do when someone asks for something that I am not sure is really God's will. It is hard. And yet, we are taught by the example of Jesus and the early church that group prayer was part of their community life, part of their worship and ministry. So when trying to figure out how to pray as a community, let's look at Acts 4:23 - 30:
When the church heard that their leaders Peter and John had been arrested and told to stop preaching they prayed. On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“ ‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the Lord and against his Anointed One. Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

Peter and John had been arrested and told to stop preaching the Good News of Jesus which they were commanded to do by Jesus himself. In Matthew 28:19 - 20a, Jesus tells the disciples, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." There was no doubt about the will of God. They were to preach the gospel to all the nations. So they prayed. And here I think is the lesson for me. Their prayer was not "Lord, consider their threats and protect us so we can preach." or "Lord, considering their threats, give us safe passage so we can teach people about you." No, their prayer was something much greater. They prayed, "Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness."

Not protect us. Not prayers for safety or vindication.

They prayed that they would be able to do speak with boldness.

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