What I’ve Learned about Spirit-led Corporate Prayer

IMG_0876

During the last few months I have attended several prayer events where there was no fixed agenda. Instead the event was led by the Holy Spirit. The leadership sought to discern the Spirit’s leading and stay in step with the Spirit throughout the event. As I have been involved in these times of prayer there are some common themes which have emerged as being essential for corporate prayer which is led by the Spirit.

Unity

Praying in unity is foundational for Spirit-led corporate prayer. Jesus talks about the power of agreement in prayer in Mathew’s gospel…

 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)

In Spirit-led prayer, this need for unity becomes even more important because the group is seeking to stay in step with how the Holy Spirit is leading. This means that instead of the group praying their own thoughts and idea, they are praying what the Spirit wants them to pray.

Getting into a place of unity where this is possible is not easy. It takes work, especially with larger groups. To do this requires time focussed upon God and recognizing our position together with Jesus Christ. It also means staying together in prayer.

Recently, in a group trip I was a part of we were moving as a group from one place to another. Those who walked quickly were soon out in the lead and those who were slower followed behind. I got the privilege of following up behind to make sure no one got left behind. But as we moved along I quickly found myself feeling isolated. The group was so spread out that we had lost any sense of unity.

If we had really wanted to stay together in unity we should have moved at the pace of the slowest person. Staying together in prayer means that we move at the pace of the slowest person. It is important that everyone knows where we are in the prayer and understands what we are doing. Practically, it means making sure that during a time of listening prayer that everyone has long enough to hear from the Lord. For some people, they need time to get quiet and listen to what God has to say. Others hear very quickly. It takes work from everyone. Those who hear quickly need to be patient with those who take longer to hear. Otherwise there is a danger that some of the group can run on ahead without hearing everything that the Lord may be saying to the group. Waiting and allowing everyone the opportunity to participate might mean a slower paced prayer time, but it allows people to remain together in unity. It also requires frequent times of debriefing to make sure that everyone understands what is happening and where the direction of the prayer is going.

Expectations

In seeking to stay in step with the Spirit during corporate prayer it is important to deal with personal expectations. This helps the group to stay in unity. Everyone comes to a prayer meeting with expectations. They may be as simple as dealing with a list of topics which need to be prayed for or it could be expectations about what style of prayer is going to take place. There is nothing wrong with coming with expectations, but it can become problematic if different expectations clash. For example, if one person arrives at the prayer time expecting a time of quiet contemplative type of prayer but another person arrives expecting to have the prayer led “Korean Style” where everyone speaks their prayers out loud at the same time the two don’t really fit well together. One or both of the people will either be frustrated or will have to give up their expectations.

If we want to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we need to surrender our expectations so that we can follow the Spirit. In some ways this is obvious, but it is not always easy. The ideas which we bring into a time of prayer may be great. The prayers may be good prayers, but if it is not where the Spirit wants to go then we will need to give them up. So if we come with a desire to pray for high school teachers and students, but the direction which the Holy Spirit gives is to pray for federal government we need to be willing to give up our idea of praying for high schools so that we can follow what the Holy Spirit wants us to pray for. There is a danger that if we come with a fixed idea like praying for high schools, which is a very good thing to be praying for, we can miss the more important prayer which the Spirit wants to prompt us to pray. The Spirit is the one who knows what’s happening at the current time. Perhaps there is a specific need to be prayed for within the federal government. If we do not surrender our own expectations, or at least hold them loosely, we could cause the group to get out of step with the Spirit.

As we surrender expectations together we move from our own agenda onto the Spirit’s agenda. We move into a greater place of unity and dependence upon the Spirit to guide our prayer time.

Our Father…

IMG_0668

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer has become a model for Christian prayer ever since. It can be prayed directly in faith, to cover all of the needs we have each day. Or it can be used as a model, a framework, from which an extended time of prayer can emerge.

The prayer begins with “Our father”, two words, but with profound meaning.

The first word “our” makes it clear that this is not individual prayer. Even though we may pray it individually, it is a corporate prayer. We live in a culture and society which places great value on the individual, “my rights,” “my choice” etc. We are continually challenged to be the best we can be as individuals. Immersed in this culture we have naturally applied an individualistic worldview mentality to our relationship with God. The church reinforces this when evangelists ask us: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”

It is right that they ask questions like this, each of us need to personally respond to the drawing and calling of the Holy Spirit, leading us into faith in Jesus. But while our decision to respond to the person of Jesus is personal we are born again into community, not as isolated individuals. Yes, faith is personal, but it’s not private. We are part of a community. We are members of the body of Christ, the Church.

This should be no surprise to us, as it is consistent with how God has chosen to work in the past. He has chosen to work with families, Adam and Eve, the family of Abraham, the children of Israel. God chose to work through a Covenant relationship with the Nation of Israel beginning with the Exodus from Egypt and continuing through to the present day.

When Jesus instructs us to pray “Our” Father, he is reminding us that we pray as part of a community, not as mere individuals. The prayer is not about us as individuals. It is not about getting what we want as individuals. It is not about God just meeting my needs. It is a prayer set in the context of community. It’s a reminder, that when we pray, even if it as an individual, that we are part of the larger community. We pray as the body of Christ and not as an isolated individual.

Why is this Important?

It’s important because God chooses to work through groups of people rather than individuals. Sometimes the leader is the only one who is seen, but there is always a group of people together. No one person has all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. God has designed us to need each other. As we work together using the gifts, talents and resources the Lord has given to us, we see his kingdom expanded.

God chooses to work this way because God is a person who loves community. In fact, God is community. He is the triune God, three persons yet one. The trinity is this mysterious expression of community, which through the Holy Spirit, we are invited to participate in. God reflects his very nature in the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples to pray. So as we recite this prayer in faith, or use it as a framework for an extended time of prayer we begin with the reminder that it is a prayer of community.

 ~~~~~~~~~~

Father God, thank you that you place us in community together and that you draw us into deeper community through the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Lord, when we struggle with that community aspect give us grace to be faithful and love to enable us to grow. As we pray remind us again and again that we do so not on our own, but that we join together with brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ to pray to our Heavenly Father, who has loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die in our place. Thank you for uniting us together in Jesus. In Jesus name, who unites us together as brothers and sisters, we pray. Amen.

Elements of Prayer: JOURNALLING

slide5

Journaling is a great way to maintain focus during prayer. It also gives a record of our prayers, which can be looked back upon. Distraction is big issues when it comes to prayer. It’s so easy to let our minds wander and find ourselves making a mental “to do” list for the day or thinking about a whole range of things which have nothing to do with prayer. The discipline of sitting down with pen and paper, or keyboard and screen can help to focus our minds and avoid, or certainly minimize the distractions. When we become physically occupied, it can help us to focus.

A Journal is also a place where we can return to see how God has answered our prayers. When we have a record of what we have prayed it’s easy to see how God has answered, especially when we begin to realize that God does not always answer us in ways we would expect. A journal can become a valuable resource for times of thanksgiving and praise.

There is no right or wrong way to journal. We bring our own personality and style to any journal. For some people writing out a whole prayer works best for them. For others, they may write as if writing a letter to a close friend or relative. Writing out a passage of Scripture can be a great way to journal. As you write you are forced to slow down and think about the words, which in turn can draw one deeper into the scripture and deeper into prayer. Some people even find doodling or colouring a great way to pray and journal. As they colour or doodle around a name or a situation they spend time praying.

It’s good to try different styles of journaling to find what works the best for you. Some styles and ideas will work better than others. Some methods will just not fit our personality but eventually our own journal style will emerge. Christian poet Luci Shaw describes journaling as “the catching and holding of joyful, crucial, exciting, significant moments in life”.  It becomes “a record of your spiritual travelling, your personal edging towards God.”

Take some time to sit down, reflect, pray and journal with the Lord.

Elements of Prayer: SINGING

slide4

Singing may not fit with a “hands together, eyes closed” style of praying. But song can be a very powerful element in our prayer lives.

Saint Augustine is quoted as saying “when one sings one prays twice.” It has been repeatedly shown that music and song connects with us on a deeper level, a fact I witnessed a few weeks ago when I was in a room of people dealing with various levels of dementia, but who all responded to a singalong video when it began to be played. We connect emotionally not just cognitively with God through singing.

The Old Testament Psalms, Israel’s prayer book, are filled with the directions to sing. Forty-one times in the book we are instructed to “sing praises.” Singing can become a powerful way to pray. It was as Paul and Silas prayed and sang that the earth shook and their prison doors were opened. Paul and Silas were released and the Philippian jailer came to faith in the Lord (Acts 16). King Jehoshaphat “appointed men to sing to the Lord and praise him” (2 Chronicles 20:21) and as they sang the Lord defeated the Ammonites and the Moabites. There is power in singing the praises of God.

Practically, singing in prayer can be as simple as singing a favourite hymn or worship song, either on your own or singing along to a CD or iPod. Or we can choose to sing a song which comes from our own heart. We don’t have to have perfect words or even a wonderful voice, for it is to God that we sing, and to our heavenly father there is no sweeter sound, than the sound of his child singing to him.

So, as the psalmist instructs us, let us…

“worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs” Psalm 100:2
and” let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” Psalm 150:6

Elements of Prayer: INTERCESSION

slide3

If petition involves praying for our own needs, then intercession involves praying for the needs of other people. This is true but at the same time the scope of intercession is far bigger than just the needs of other people. Evangelist Ed Silvoso defines an intercessor as “a person who stands before God, pleading for his will to be done on earth while actively resisting the devil in the heavenly places until he flees.”

In intercession, we stand in the gap. In Ezekiel 22 we see God looking for intercessors… “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one ” (Ezekiel 22:30). Sadly, no intercessors could be found. When it came to the city of Sodom, however, God did find someone to stand in the gap. Abraham stood before God and pleaded for Sodom, with the result that Lot and his children were saved. Moses was continually drawn into the place of intercession as he stood in the gap for the Nation of Israel. We see that he regularly was called into the gap to plead with God not to destroy the stiff-necked Israelites. God listened and responded to Moses and on more than one occasion the complete destruction of Israel was avoided.

God may call us to stand in the gap of intercession for a nation, but often it is for family members or for situations which are close to us. A sick aunt, or a cousin in a difficult life situation may become the focus for our intercessory prayers. The needs do not always have to be big. They can be quite simple. Whether the need is big or small, intercession becomes an expression and extension of our love. John Calvin expressed it this way…

“To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them” John Calvin.

In love, we step into the place of intercession, not just to pray for someone else but to engage in the battle with them. As we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in that prayer we can be confident that our prayers are in line with God’s will and we can have confidence that as we pray God’s Kingdom is advanced.
Who is God calling you to stand in the gap for?

Elements of Prayer: PETITION

slide2

Petition is one of the easiest elements of prayer for us to grasp and understand as it is praying for our own needs. We naturally gravitate to petition because we know our needs and we are personally invested in seeing the answer to our prayers. It is not a struggle for us to come to the Lord with our petitions. On the contrary, the danger is that we can spend too much focus upon our needs.

But why do we need to ask an all-knowing God for what we need? Does He not already know what we need? Yes, He does but petition is for our benefit. It helps us to express and realize our dependency upon God. When we look at Jesus, we see that he was dependent upon His Father.  He had to come before the Father in petition and ask. If Jesus had to ask, then so do we! E. Stanley Jones put it this way…

“Asking is the symbol of our desire, some things God will not give until we want them enough to ask.”

We are encouraged to ask the Lord to provide for everything we need. But when we pray it is good to be specific. “God bless me!” is a vague prayer, but “Lord, give me wisdom as I talk to the store clerk today and give me an opening to invite him to the Christmas service.” is specific. It is a complete prayer and it is simple. With such a prayer, it is easy to see how God answers the prayer.

It’s important to be specific, complete and simple in our requests, but we must also be submitted to the Holy Spirit. Asking the Spirit to guide our prayers and to guide us to pray for what will bring glory to God is essential for effective petition. It shifts the focus off us and restores it to the Lord, which is where our focus continually needs to be.

So, let us come to the Lord with specific petitions for everything we have need of spiritually and physically and then watch and wait to see how He will answer.

Elements of Prayer: SILENCE

img_0524

Have you ever watched a married couple in a restaurant just sitting with each other, no one speaking, but both fully engaged with the other? Science shows that communication is more than words, just showing up is a huge part of communication. It’s simply a matter of being present with one another.

The psalmist encourages us to take time to be silent before God when he says “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  When we become still before God we let all the stuff which is swirling in our minds settle and we simply become present to God, like the couple in the restaurant.

“This silent worship is the soul’s fellowship with God in prayer – There is something in our lives, also in our fellowship, which can never be formulated in words, which can be the common experience, nevertheless, of two who share with each other everything that can be expressed in words.” Professor Ole Hallesby.

Waiting in silence, just being in God’s presence, is enriching and draws us deeper in our relationship with God. But while it sounds easy, it is challenging. We don’t live in a culture which experiences silence. Instead, our lives are full of noise, and in the busyness of life it is hard to get our minds quiet enough so that we can be still and know God. It takes time and discipline.

Practically it can be helpful to do the following. First, sit comfortably and relax. Secondly, focus your thoughts on God as Father, Son or Holy Spirit. When the mind wanders (and it will) a phrase like “I long for your presence, O Lord” helps return the focus to the Lord.

Waiting upon God requires our whole being and our full attention. It takes time, but its time spent with the Lord. So, take time today to be still and wait upon the Lord.