Three Prayer “Misfires”

In my early years of ministry, I tended to lead prayer gatherings based on what I had seen others do.  I basically imitated some traditional approaches without evaluating the biblical basis for these methods.  Soon, I learned they were not effective for life-giving experiences.  Eventually I stopped using these methods in exchange for the preferred ideal of Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based prayer. 

Yet, today I occasionally encounter settings where these three prayer “misfires” are still common.  Perhaps it would be helpful to examine each and explain a better way.

Misfire #1 – “Does anyone have any prayer requests?”

We’ve all been in prayer times that started with this question, typically followed by 30 minutes of detailed descriptions of a vast array of human needs ranging from slipped discs, to the financial problems of third cousins, to the destructive impact of liberal politics, to the emotional trauma of a lost dog.

Clearly, our Father knows our needs, cares deeply for us, and wants to work in our lives for our good and His glory.  However, this request-based approach to prayer presents several problems.

First, the prayer time begins with a man-ward focus rather than a God-ward focus.  This is in stark contradiction to the pattern Jesus gave us in the model prayer, which instructs us to start in worship of our Father in Heaven and the grandeur and holiness of His character.

Second, it is difficult to be an “equal opportunity provider.”  Once Aunt Matilda gets her five minutes of time to talk about family problems and physical ailments, brother Charlie, sister Jennifer, and everyone else in the room wants to have their turn to describe their grocery list of needs as well.

Third, actual prayer time becomes marginalized because we have spent an inordinate amount of time in the extended and detailed descriptions of our needs and the needs of many others who may, or may not, have wanted us to discuss their issues.  Often, we run out of time and are forced to offer a flurry of “bless” and “be with” prayers that are rushed and superficial. 

Fourth, this format can easily downgrade into gossip about situations and people.  Although well-intended, the discussion can spark questions about others that may eventually reveal details that are not necessary or edifying.  

Fifth, this is seldom a good use of valuable time as we spend time talking about concerns, then circle back to pray about the concerns.  In fact, we could have verbalized these needs by simply praying about them at the appropriate moment, usually with more measured words and in a more edifying fashion.

Given these concerns, people still wonder, “How do we keep track of a prayer request list?” One option is to have someone write down the needs as they are articulated in prayer so a list can be created afterwards.  Another option is to collect these needs from the group in writing, then distributing the list later via e-mail or a printed handout at the next gathering. 

Misfire #2 – “Let’s all just pray as we feel led.”

This opening instruction is common and often assumes that everyone is automatically “led by the Holy Spirit” as they start praying.  Unfortunately, many in the group are instinctively “led” by personal agendas, troubling world events, irritating political issues, surface relational conflicts, or even the medicine they have forgotten to take during the last week.

In fact, we should pray “as we feel led” once we have worshiped well (“Our Father in heaven, holy is Your name”) and surrendered our agendas to the Holy Spirit (“Your kingdom come, Your will be done”).  I have learned that we don’t really know what we should pray about, or how to pray about it, until we have first given quality time to seeking His face and yielding our will to God’s.

Misfire #3 – “Let’s just pray around the circle.”

Often, when it comes time to pray in a small group, we obligate participants to pray “in turn” as we go around the circle.  The problem with this is that all the participants are then required to say something just because they are next, rather than as they are prompted by the Lord in some specific fashion.  Again, some feel like they have to pray even when they feel no specific or spiritual compulsion to do so.  If you are the last person in the circle, you often feel the need to either repeat what has already been said or to come up with something different simply because it is your turn.

A Surefire Starting Place

I have learned that the best way to start at prayer time is with this statement: “Let’s all turn in our Bibles to….”  Of course, I have written extensively in several books about how to lead prayer times from the Scriptures.  Here are eight reasons why the Bible is the best starting place for prayer times:

  • First, the Scriptures reveal to us the character, names, and works of God — turning our thoughts God-ward rather than man-ward.
  • Second, as we follow the pattern Jesus gave us, the Bible provides endless insights about our Father in Heaven and the holiness of His name.
  • Third, the Bible also gives us language for our prayers that is according to the will of God, since His word is His will.
  • Fourth, the Bible is living, active, and penetrating and reveals the real needs of our hearts and lives, taking us beyond surface prayers about circumstances and people (Hebrews 4:12).  This leads to authentic confession and trust.
  • Fifth, the Bible unites those who pray as every heart and mind is aligned with God and His word.
  • Sixth, the Bible empowers us to pray in faith since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). 
  • Seventh, as the Bible inspires faith, our prayer time is pleasing to God because we are coming to Him in the truth of who He is, confident that He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him (Hebrews11:6).
  • Eighth, the Bible prepares us for victory in the spiritual battle.  As our prayers are infused with Scripture we are equipped to take the sword of the Spirit, God’s memorized and spoken word, as we confront temptation (just as Jesus did in the wilderness) (Ephesians 6:17; Matthew 4:1-11).

So, the next time you pray together, don’t misfire.  Instead, allow God’s word to work powerfully to bring great blessing and benefit to your prayers.  He is worthy of it and we are in need of it.

Copyright © 2013 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.