“Prayer is a moment of incarnation – God with us. God involved in the details of my life.” — Paul Miller, A Praying Life
A key ingredient in gospel focused community and community on mission is prayer. Yet, our prayers and times in prayer together are often too small. Not in length but in scope. We ask for changed circumstances over changed hearts. We pray for good things to happen to us over kingdom advancement in and through us. God is interested in our jobs, health, our finances, and our emotions. Brining those to God is bringing God into the details of life.
This is significant, but it doesn’t have to end there. Don’t just pray for new jobs, new health, new funds, or a new attitude. Pray for the peace of Christ.
Take a quick survey of Paul’s prayers (get a complete list of Paul’s prayers here) and you will find overwhelming evidence that Paul wasn’t praying for sick grandparents, stress free trips to the super-market, or even acceptance into good colleges, or rest. Paul was praying for increased love, greater understanding of God’s love for us, power, thanksgiving for belief, changed hearts, power to defeat sin, joy, peace, and prophecy, among other things. Paul was praying in light of the gospel and for the gospel to advance in and through the church. These are inspiring prayers and they are unifying prayers.
INWARD: PRAYER FOR COMMUNITY
Pray for the mundane things of everyday life. After all you are a community that shares life. Ask people in your community for prayer in the day-to-day things like budgets, frustrations, issues at work, health, marriage, children, infertility, school work, etc. God cares about each of them and is present in each of them. Don’t just pray for the problems to go away. Pray for this to happen through them:
“[that] the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:5-6, 13
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:3–7
“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1:15-23
“That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:16-19
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11
This is only a small selection of the prayers found in the New Testament for communities of believers. The point is this: pray in light of who God is and what he has done. Pray for love, faith, hope, peace, grace, and comfort to come into each others’ daily lives. Pray for power, strength, endurance, knowledge, and righteousness. Pray for understanding of who God is and what he is doing in the midst of mundane life. In other words, as a community, regularly pray for one another to see God more clearly. One thing you will notice about the prayers in the New Testament is that they acknowledge deep pain and trails, yet they turn to the only one who could do something about the pain we experience in them. They prayed for the fruit of the gospel to be manifested in their lives amidst the trials—not just for the suffering to stop.
The profound heart shift is this: God, and all that comes with him, is better than a better job, health, financial peace, comfort, or whatever it is your heart desires instead of him. The prayer life of a community reflects either the shared worship of the community or the shared idols of the community. Listen to what you pray for with each other: is it for better lives or for more of God in your lives?
OUTWARD: PRAYER FOR THE MISSION
Prayer is also the fuel for a community on mission. If you are not being driven to prayer, your community is not on mission. Maybe you are doing good works or maybe you are making friends, but your hearts and lives have yet to be invested in their belief and reconciliation to God. When you make the shift from seeing mission as projects to people, you turn to prayer. There is no other way to continue on true mission than prayer. There is no other way to prepare for the mission than prayer. There is no better way to love your neighbor than through prayer. There is no strategy or plan apart from prayer.
Prayer is us acknowledging the presence and power of God. It is listening, asking, petitioning God with us. It is no small thing that the Great Commission begins with Jesus’ complete authority. Jesus is saying, I have the power, responsibility, and role to send you on the mission. It is also no small thing that the Great Commission ends with the promise that Jesus will be with us. A community on mission will pray regularly as an expression of his power and presence in mission. We pray because he is king of the world. We pray because Jesus is with us. Again, the New Testament shows us how to pray as we engage the mission:
“That words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” Ephesians 6:19-20
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:3-6
“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” Colossians 4:3-4
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” Romans 10:1
HOW DO YOU LEAD YOUR COMMUNITY INTO THAT KIND OF SHARED PRAYER LIFE?
By praying together. There are many ways to do communal prayer.
- Pray and walk around your neighborhood.
- Share needs and burdens, then pray for them.
- Pray before meals.
- Pray for individuals by name.
- Model discipleship oriented prayers and teach people. Show people the prayers in the Bible.
The possibilities are endless. I like to begin by praying the scriptures which teaches folks how to pray.
USE THE BIBLE TO STRUCTURE AN INTENTIONAL TIMES OF PRAYER
CHOSE A PASSAGE
If the aim is to teach your community to pray the way we have been talking about, pick one of those prayers form the New Testament. Or what is a passage that would need to grow deeper into the lives of folks in your community. What truth needs to be believed.
PREPARE TO LEAD PEOPLE INTO COMMUNAL PRAYER
Leading people in prayer doesn’t seem to get much attention from leaders before a group gathering. It seems to be something we expect to just happen. Or, as I’ve seen in many communities and prayer meetings I have participated in, it appears as though the leader decided to have prayer to give themselves a ‘night off.’ The leadership goes like this: “we are just going to pray tonight, anything you guys want us to pray for? Great, let’s pray. I’ll close.” I know this happens, because I’ve done it too many times. Instead you ought to prepare to lead people in prayer in the same way you would in leading a discussion or teaching a passage.
Prepare by praying and asking the Spirit how to lead.
Prepare by studying the passage, what are the key words, phrases, etc. What is the author communicating? What does this teach us about God, what he has done, who we are, and how we are to live?
Prepare an outline for the prayer time. How will you structure this time? What will you pray for first? Second, etc? How will you conclude your prayer time? This is good preparation, but do so open handedly. The Spirit might lead to something else, which we will talk about later.
LEAD THE COMMUNITY IN PRAYER
Introduce the time, explain the passage briefly and explain why your community needs to spend time praying it together.
Give guidelines and direction. One of the big barriers to communal prayer, especially in the beginning of a community’s dive into it, is the “long winded prayer-person.” It is difficult for a community to pray together when it feels more like listening to one person’s long prayer. Examples of guidelines and direction:
- Let’s pray with just a few phrases or sentences in response what we see in this passage.
- Fill in the blank: God we see your grace in ____. God we need your power to ____. God may your kingdom break into _____. This is especially helpful for people learning to pray and gaining courage to pray in front of others.
- Ask people to stay silent for a certain amount of time, simply asking them to meditate on a certain part of the passage or listen to the Holy Spirit.
- Pray one word or name. For example: Who do we want to see come to faith? Who do we need help learning to love? What are we thankful for? What is God like?
- As you lead, be listening to the Spirit and the possibility that God may want to take the prayer time in a different direction. Make your plan but guide your community open handedly.
Final tip: have someone right down the big themes, requests, or recurring ideas that are prayed. It’s just a good idea as your community grows up to remember what your hearts prayed.