Intercessory Prayer In Groups
Doing It Together
One of the most powerful ways to go about praying for others is to form a small group set aside for that purpose. The prayer time can be surrounded with other activities or be stripped of most else; each group develops its own tone. It's best not to make a big fuss about praying together for others or for the Church or about any one prayer procedure or approach or strategy; it's something which works best when it's just done. As with all small groups, a commitment and a comraderie is likely to develop over time, just from sharing these concerns together. It can get exciting when one of the prayers is answered.
There are rules of good behavior - a kind of prayer etiquette, not law -- for intercessory prayer circle members to follow (these are good rules for other types of groups, too):
- Be bold. Don't ever think, "oh, this is too hard / big / small / rare a thing for us". Lay it before God, and if that's what God wants, God will make it come to be.
- Understand that God's purposes go far beyond your group, therefore concerns far beyond your group or your church must be a full part of the group's prayers.
- Follow your leader during prayer, even if you don't like the way it is going. Keep all arguments and fighting out of the actual intercessory prayer time.
- Pray with the flow of the meeting. There is a time for praying aloud, and a time for quiet and silence; a time to focus on interceding for a specific person or group or ministry, and time to take on all requests; a time to pray feverishly, and a time for relaxed trust; a time to speak up with a flow of words, and a time to just listen for the Spirit. The Spirit, like wind, can change direction quickly, and the meeting should learn to move with the Spirit.
- Praise God for answers to prayer, whether or not you think those answers are good. God is afoot in the world, and that's good news!
- Stay focused. Don't break from prayer unless you absolutely must. In prayer, you're collectively dealing with God, not each other. That means do the Scripture readings, announcements, healings, gifts of 'words', event scheduling, money collection, songs, counseling, correction or other duties before or after the prayers, not during them. (You can, for instance, go from one prayer practice to another, or suddenly steer into intercession for someone in need who is there with laying on of hands. But don't blurt out the time and place for the church picnic.)
- Put others' needs before your own.
- Keep your own motives as clear as you can.
- Gossip and criticism are not prayer. Pray, don't pry.
- It's okay when someone chooses not to pray. Noone is ever to be pressured to pray.
- Don't be afraid of gossip about yourself. Someone else needs your prayers and you need theirs, and in intercession, that is what counts. (Do not pray aloud about someone else in a way that would breach another person's private confidences. Pray that specific prayer silently.)
- Don't try to take over on someone else during prayer. Pray instead that the pray-er gets fresh direction from the Spirit.
- Prayer time is not a time to pass messages or signals to someone else, out loud or otherwise.
- A sermon is not a prayer. If the purpose of your speaking during prayers is that others hear your point of view, then be silent and get into what they're praying. You're talking to God, not to those around you. Do you think God likes to be preached at?
- Please don't say 'Jesus' or 'hallelujah' every other word. (This is my pet peeve, and most visitors and newcomers think it's bizarre.) Think of how it would sound to you if someone said your name every few words when speaking to you. Do you think God likes it any better? God knows His name! You can let out a good 'amen' or 'praise god', especially to voice support of another's prayer, but please don't let it swallow up the prayer itself.
- Don't reduce intercessory (or any other) prayer to the constant repeating of catch-phrases, like, "more! more!" or "fire! fire! fire!". That's not really intercession, because it's detached from people.
- Make your prayers concise, specific, and to the point, yet with enough words to be a sharing of the heart. There are those who ask for blessings, angel visitations and divine miracles on every little detail. That's for private time, not group time. No prayer hogs allowed. Everyone else must have the chance to pray aloud.
One of the great glories of the new web technologies is the possibilities of chat room prayer. One approach: people who bear a burden for, say, special needs children, or the victims of a disaster, can gather on the web in a specific room at a specific time from all over the world, all at once, sharing what they are each led to share, so that all can pray together on it. A record can be posted for the benefit of those who missed the scheduled time and still want to pray with them.
Intercessory Group Leadership
It is important that there be someone who takes the main responsibility for leading the group. Often a main leader emerges from the first few meetings, just naturally, but if things start to drift or fizzle after a while, a more deliberate choice needs to be made. A group without some sort of leadership usually drifts off into the mists. Leadership sets the basic course for the prayers of the meeting, maintains the contacts, makes suggestions for further devotions, makes sure schedules are set, and provides a way for the group to effectively pray on private matters without breaching privacy. The main leader is the main contact, the go-to person on specific prayer matters outside of group time, or with questions on prayer practice. Most groups find that it's best to take one subject at a time; if so, there needs to be someone who is responsible for keeping the group on course, and to stop members from hijacking the prayers, while still allowing the Spirit to have the freedom to switch the tracks. The leader also debriefs - he/she goes over what happened with those who couldn't be there. Leadership can be a shared or alternating role, but each one's responsibilities need to be made very clear. A leader should have traits like these :
- a servant's heart. (Intercessory prayer is not a stepping-stone to church office or power-broker roles.)
- a belief that God listens when we pray for others, God wants us to pray for others, and God acts because of it. (This trust is based on God's promises in Scripture.)
- has some ability or gift to spiritually discern. (This is how they know where to lead, when the group is going off-task, and when someone is trying to manipulate what's going on.)
- is reliable. (Someone can't lead if they suddenly don't show up.)
- is steeped in Scripture. (Through it, they develop a 'scripture instinct' that helps discern the Spirit's direction for the group.)
- is discreet. (Pray-ers get very personal and confessional sometimes. That can be fodder for the rumor mill in just about every church.)
- is open-minded and teachable, taking the time to really listen. (As time goes on, a good leader learns some lessons about leading and about following Christ.)
- is emotionally and spiritually mature. (If not, their place in the group is to follow.)
- prays and does personal devotions. (How can someone lead a prayer group when they don't have a devotional life of their own?)
- is loving, not harsh. (The leader should be someone who draws people in, not scares them off.)
- is not central in a congregation's internal politics. (If the leader's a player in the parish's power struggles, the group will eventually be drawn into it.)
- has enough time. (Leading takes preparation. It's hard to lead when a thousand other things demand your attention. The leader needs to be reasonably available to the others in the group, because some things will be left undone during meetings.)
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Remember This About Intercession
One last note: notice that I said nothing about Satan, nor about tearing down strongholds, or claiming victories over cities. This is not because there is no Satan; I believe the Devil really exists (in his own surreal way). I don't even object to a 'spiritual warfare' view of intercession, taken in the right way, viewed through the eyes of love. But spiritual warfare is not the heart of intercessory prayer, nor are strategies for victory against the Devil. Nor are prayer procedures, practices, traditions, or methods what really matters. Nor is praying together in vast numbers, or using exactly the same words, or using only bible phrases. Intercession is a matter of love first, before and beyond anything else. It is a matter of perspective, looking outward from ourselves to see what life is, or can become, for other people, and being moved by it. All 'strategies' for intercession prayers are specific -- they are about specific people (or specific groups) and specific happenings or needs. The Devil loses when the Spirit builds people up through praying and being prayed for. The place for all other matters (and there are many) is within the context of love.
Spirithome has more on what Christians are and have been doing to stand with and for those who are ill.
More on prayer groups.
More ideas on group intercession, from Living Lutheran.
"He prayed for His enemies, and you do not even pray for your friends."
---------- Johann Arndt, *True Christianity*
"All vital praying makes a drain on a man's vitality. True intercession is a sacrifice, a bleeding sacrifice."
---------- J.H. Jowett
"When you pray for your friends, be ready to lend a hand. Lip service does nothing for God."
---------- Dennis Kean
Study Questions on Intercession
- When you were ill or in serious trouble, did you ever feel the prayers of others? What was that like? What were you getting from those prayers?
- Have you ever been so concerned about someone that you felt driven to pray for them?
- If you take part in a liturgical service : take note of the Prayer Of the Church, which usually happen somewhere between the Sermon and Holy Communion. Is it an intercessory prayer? What is it that you are praying for in it? What can a prayer like that do for those praying it?
- Can you think of any gifted intercessors in your worship community? What is special about their intercessions? Do you ever pray for them? Do you ever pray with them?
- Is there someone who comes to mind right now? Take time right now and pray for that person.