Praying together is an important part of the Christian life. When you pray together with a few other people, how do you usually structure the prayer time? One of the most common methods I have encountered is to have one person start, and then go around the circle, having each person pray in turn. Sometimes it is even more highly structured, and we are asked to pray for the person on our right (or left). Even when I am praying one-on-one with other pastors, they often will ask "Do you want to open or close?" implying that we will each pray only once.
When praying around the circle, you need to fit everything you want to say into a single prayer. You won’t get a chance to pray a second time. Whoever is "next" is probably composing his or her prayer speech rather than really listening to the person who is currently praying. If there is a seeker present, or a person who is not ready to pray out loud, they might be fighting back a sense of panic about what to do when it is their turn to pray. Sometimes the first person prays briefly about all the requests on the list. What is the next person supposed to do? Go over the list again? We need a better way to pray together in small groups.
What is Conversational Prayer?
The problem with the "going around the circle" method of prayer is that it is very unnatural. Imagine that you are meeting in a coffee shop with group of friends. After you get your drinks and sit down, a person is chosen to start. He or she shares about several different topics. No one else says anything during that time. Then the next person has their turn to share, and so on. Each person speaks only once and needs to fit everything they want to say into a single speech. After the last person speaks, you all get up and leave. Is that what happens when you meet friends for coffee? Of course not! You don’t give a series of little speeches. You have a conversation! The conversation flows naturally, with different people jumping in to share their thoughts. At some point someone changes the topic, and as a group you move on to talk about something else. Each person can speak multiple times. Conversational prayer is a lot like that. We begin to pray, and several people might pray about the first topic. When someone senses God’s leading to move on, they begin to pray about a different request. As a group, you listen to Holy Spirit and to each other, and the prayer time flows like a conversation. Everyone is free to pray whenever and as often as they want, and you don’t need to fit everything you want to say into a single prayer. The prayer time is a conversation between the people involved and God.
How to Practice Conversational Prayer
When I have taught on prayer, I have been surprised to learn that many people have never experienced this method of praying in a group. If this is new to you, I suggest that you try it when you pray with a prayer partner or in a small group. Here are some suggestions for conversational group prayer:
- Pray for only one topic at a time, so that others can also pray about that topic if they wish.
- Keep your prayers short, preferably under 15 seconds. You can pray more than once! Save your long prayers for your time alone with God.
- Leave space for quieter people to pray, but don’t pressure them.
- When others pray, really listen and prayer with them in your heart. You don’t need to focus on composing a long prayer speech to give when it is your turn.
- Also listen to God. Remember that God is the center of the conversation, so we need to be listening to what he is saying to us.
- Try to sense the leading of Holy Spirit about what to pray for and when to move to a new topic. Instead of going around the circle, let Holy Spirit lead your prayer time.
What has been your experience with conversational prayer? Please share your thoughts, tips, and questions in the comment section below.