Six Keys In Learning to Pray Together

It takes time to learn how to pray together. Many groups begin with the best of intentions but find after a few meetings that attendance dwindles and enthusiasm wanes.

Why is that? Often, it’s because we simply don’t know how to pray together well. Our adversary also loves to throw any stumbling blocks in our path because he fears the power that our prayer releases. As hymn writer William Cowper pointed out, “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon their knees.”

Praying together requires commitment. We need to see it more as a marathon than a sprint and pace ourselves to go the distance.

It is also a work in progress. We get better at it over time. Once we learn a few basic principles, it’s much easier to stay the course.

If you’re wondering how your group can grow strong in prayer, here’s help! The following list is designed to provide those basic principles and a solid foundation for any group. You’ll find six exercises that can easily be used to start a new prayer group or breathe life into an existing one. They can be used over a period of days or weeks. 

May God bless you (and many others) as you pray!

Help 1: Beginning on Time

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:16

Goal: More prayer, less talk.

When we pray together, we enjoy an amazing privilege. God wants us to pray and to enter into His presence. We are invited and welcome!

One of the greatest challenges for people who pray together is that of simply getting started. It’s easy to spend a lot of time discussing what to pray about instead of actually praying. One member of the church I serve puts it rather bluntly when our conversation goes a little long: “Are we going to pray, or are we going to talk?”

He’s right. There’s nothing wrong with discussing needs, but there should also be a shared understanding that the main rea- son we are meeting together is to seek God. He is the greatest source of help and comfort for every matter we discuss.

Today, we will limit our conversation of what to pray about to five minutes. We’d like to ask everyone’s help to begin pray- ing together on time. (If someone would like to be a timekeep- er, please volunteer!) Our goal is to maximize prayer and the time we spend before God. This is also one of the best ways we can love one another, because we’re taking our needs straight to the Father.

If there isn’t enough time to share your concern, simply bring it up as a prayer.

As you talk to God about your concern, others will make an effort to support you and join in.

Help 2: Sharing the Time

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

Matthew 6:7

Goal: To encourage as many to pray aloud as possible.

Materials: Two pennies for every participant and a small basket. It’s easier for some folks to talk than others. But when we pray together, it’s not the number of words we use that matter. If words don’t come easily for you, you may feel you’re not very good at praying. But the sentences we string together have little to do with it.

The Bible tells us that people look “at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God’s Word also says, “do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God,” and even tells us to let our words “be few” (Eccle- siastes 5:2). A few words spoken from a heart intent on loving God can be “powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Today we’d like to encourage everyone to pray aloud. We’d also like to ask everyone to keep their prayers brief. Even if you pray only a sentence or two, don’t worry about what others think. You are talking to God, not others (more on this next week). To give everyone a chance to pray, we’re going to give everyone two pennies. Each time you pray, put your penny in the basket in the center of the group. When you’ve prayed your “two cents’ worth,” you’re finished praying aloud. 


Help 3: Simply Talking to God

The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men— robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who hum- bles himself will be exalted.

Luke 18:11–14

Goal: To encourage prayer that is uplifting and spoken directly to God.

Do you know what a “Your Mama” prayer is? It’s the kind of prayer your mother prays when you’re little and she knows you’re listening: “Help Johnny to take out the trash every night, eat his peas and to always do what Mommy says . . .”

Sometimes it’s tempting to talk to others when we pray. The Pharisee Jesus mentions is doing that. He isn’t really praying. He’s drawing attention to himself, and as a result his prayer isn’t heard. Praying and talking to others are two very different things.

We also have to be careful not to talk about others in inap- propriate ways. Our praying together should never allow gossip, complaints, or veiled “messages” to others. In order for God to bless us when we pray, we have to pray in love (John 15:16–17).

As we pray today, just talk to God simply and humbly. James tells us to “humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Peter also tells us to “humble yourselves . . .

under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6). Humble prayer is the most uplifting prayer of all!

Help 4: Praying More than Needs

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

Psalm 100:4

Goal: To praise and thank God more when we pray.

In Fresh Encounters, Daniel Henderson explains that prayer meetings at his church begin with a Scripture reading and a discussion of who God is, not with a personal airing of concerns or requests: “I usually say, ‘For the next ten minutes you cannot ask God for anything—only give Him what He deserves. If you ask for something, a trap door will open under your seat’” 

Of course there are no “trap doors” at the church, but his point is well taken. How often do we rush into God’s presence with our problems instead of first thanking and prais- ing Him?

Psalm 100 describes a gradual drawing near to God’s pres- ence in the temple through thanks and praise. Worshiping God lifts us above our own limitations and opens our minds and hearts to His all-sufficient grace. As we begin to recog- nize who God is, we are better able to seek His heart as we pray.

As we pray together today, let’s begin by simply enjoying God’s presence. We’ll thank and praise Him for the first ten minutes without offering any requests. (Remember that trap door!). God is always worthy of our worship. Let’s give it to Him!

Help 5: Learning How to Listen

I will listen to what God the Lord will say; he promises peace to his people, his Saints—but let them not return to folly.

Psalm 85:8

Goal: To become more comfortable with silence when praying together.

Are you a Mary or a Martha? Mary was comfortable just being at Jesus’ feet. Martha felt like she had to do something.

When many begin to pray together, they feel like Martha. They’re uncomfortable with what seems to be just “sitting there” and say something (anything!) to fill the silence. But Mary was doing much more than sitting. She was actively listening and enjoying Jesus’ presence.

Today as we pray together, we’ll practice spending time in silence before the Lord. After we’ve prayed for ten minutes, we’ll spend another five in silence. This may take some focus and self-discipline because we are culturally inclined to being entertained (and have shorter attention spans as a result).

God’s Word reminds us, “In repentance and rest is your sal- vation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). As we’re quiet before the Lord, He draws near and helps us to pray by prompting our hearts and minds through His Spirit. 


Help 6: Praying in Step

Since we live by the Spirit, let us stay in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:25

Goal: To pray in unity with God’s desires at heart.

Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom above all other things. It’s the first request of the Lord’s Prayer. Our Father wants us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” and makes it clear that as we do, our own needs will be met (Mat-

thew 6:33, emphasis added).
Praying for God’s purposes helps us to honor Him. When

we set our personal agendas aside, we humble ourselves and pray with servants’ hearts. We also pray strategically, because we are asking for things that God has said in His Word He desires to happen. God has made His purpose clear. He wants His kingdom to come and waits for us to ask for it. He wants the lost to be found, because Jesus came “to seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). These are prayers He loves to answer!

Jesus also wants us to pray with unity: “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19–20). As we pray together today, let’s make our requests with God’s desires at heart. As you hear someone pray for God’s purposes, join them in their request when you pray aloud. Let’s also sup- port each other with gentle verbal encouragement and offer an occasional “yes, Lord,” or “amen” to show our agreement with others when they pray.

Our Father is waiting. Let’s go to Him now. Let’s pray together!

"LostJames Banks is the pastor of Peace Church in Durham, NC.  He is also the author of the best-selling book Prayers for Prodigals, The Lost Art of Praying Together, and Praying the Prayers of the Bible (Discovery House Publishers).  James loves to encourage churches and the parents of prodigals to discover new passion for praying together through a solid Scriptural foundation.  James’ doctoral studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary emphasized the role of united prayer in reviving the church throughout history.  He and his wife, Cari, have been married for 28 years. They have two grown children. 
The above article is an adaptation of the article, Getting Started:Six Excercises to Help You Learn How To Pray from James Banks’ Book, "The Lost Art of Praying Together". ©2009 by James Banks. Used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI 4950l. All rights reserved. For more information