Over Christmas vacation, my old high-school friends and I reunited at Jenny's house. After completing our undergraduate degrees, we'd all gone different directions and now looked forward to catching up.
We knew Shannon and Divine had just gotten engaged, so the rest of us took turns asking about their wedding plans.
Sunny, a newlywed, offered a tip on choosing caterers and photographers.
Celeste explained that she hadn't spent much time or money coordinating those kind of details, yet pulled off her wedding well and really enjoyed the day.
The rest of us reminisced about how other brides forced us to pay way too much for our dresses, and cautioned the soon-to-be brides to avoid making the same mistake.
We all chipped in with our opinions about nuptial do's and don'ts, each contributing a memory, idea, question or comment. We chatted about the various aspects of matrimony -- from honeymoon spots to wedding-cake flavors -- for about an hour.
No one preached a 15-minute monologue on the topic, nor did anyone suddenly change the subject to something unrelated. We talked about the various aspects of marriage until the subject was exhausted.
Likewise, group prayer -- when seen as a discussion between 2 or more people and God -- can have the same flavor.
"Conversational" prayer focuses on worship of our Savior, intercession for ourselves and others, confession of sin, and thankfulness to God.
Each prayer is brief. As in a normal conversation between friends or family members, no one person monopolizes the discussion, but each one contributes a few sentences at a time. Those who are praying change the subject naturally when necessary, and they accept silence.
Some believers dread prayer meetings. Perhaps they've lost interest during meetings where each person prayed a monologue covering everything on the list.
Or maybe they've gotten bored when one person prayed on a subject until he'd covered everything, then the next person prayed on a completely different subject for several minutes, and the third person continued the pattern.
People not praying might "zone out," plan their grocery lists or dream about the next event in their Day-Timer. Group prayer need not be like that and, with conversational prayer, doesn't have to be.
Monologues have no part in this type of prayer. One person brings up a subject, and others contribute.
For conversational prayer to really work, the people praying should all be acquainted with each other-they need not be dear friends, but it helps to at least have met others in the group.
Adam: We love you, Lord. Thank You for being here.
Barbara: Yes, Father. We praise Your name.
Christy: Thank You for friendships.
Dan: Jesus, I especially thank You for my friendship with Josh. I pray that he comes to know You personally, and soon.
Adam: I agree, Lord. I ask that You will use me and Dan in Josh's life in any way You see fit to bring You glory.
Elizabeth: Lord God, I confess that lately I've been ashamed to tell my unbelieving friends about You.
Christy: Jesus, assure Elizabeth of Your forgiveness.
Dan: Extend Your grace to her, and use her in a mighty way. Remind her daily of Your love.
Notice from the example that each prayer is short and specific. As Rosalind Rinker, author of Conversational Prayer writes, "Hidden in that simplicity is the sharp edge of the Holy Spirit piercing our carefully shielded complacency and privacy."
Not only was each prayer brief and precise, but also personal. Elizabeth confessed her own sin, rather than conceding that Christians don't tell others about Jesus often enough.
"Be honest in prayer," advises Vonette Bright, author of Learn How You Can Help Change the World Thru Prayer. "Say 'I' when you mean 'I,' say 'we' when you mean 'we.'" Once Elizabeth took responsibility for her sin, the others validated her.
Vonette recommends that Christians pray short, concise prayers so as not to intimidate new believers or newcomers at the prayer meeting. Often she challenges people to pray 6-word prayers.
That way, all can participate, no one looks more "spiritual" than another and everyone feels comfortable. She and Rinker encourage praying through predetermined categories.
For example, the group might begin by thanking God for one thing that happened in the past week. Then they pray for a friend who does not know the Lord. And so on.
"Revealing personal need breaks down barriers between people and removes masks," explains Rinker. "There is an immediate outgoingness. Anxiety and guilt are relieved. Someone cares."
We were created to pray. God designed us to be relational beings. Then we converse among friends, we talk about deep issues, laugh, fight for airtime and thoroughly enjoy ourselves.
The same ought to be true of meeting with God. It should set our hearts free.
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