Biblical Reasons for Prayer Groups

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In Reformed Churches, we have the practice of praying in public/corporate worship. Typically, our practice looks like the pattern laid out in Scripture, in that one individual prays to God before the assembly. We see David pray to God before the assembly when the men and women dedicate their gold for the building of the Temple (I Chron. 29:10-19). We see Solomon pray for the dedication of the Temple, standing before the people (I K 8:22-61). Ezra publicly confesses the sin of the people in intermarrying with unbelievers in Ezra 9. We have built our practice of public prayer in public worship on texts like these. Of course, we also find a rationale within the old testament for praying form prayers together in public worship. But that argument is for another day.

We also have a strong tradition of private devotion. There are many, many prayers in Scripture which reflect a relationship between an individual and God. These include many of the Psalms, the prayer of Hannah (I Sam 2), and the prayer of Jonah (Jonah 2). In this matter of private devotion, Jesus Himself commanded His disciples to go into their closet and pray rather than showing of through putting personal piety on public display by praying on the street corner for all men to see (Matt. 6). I would suggest that public prayer is grounded in the close relationship with God that happens behind doors, otherwise, it is just show. In public prayer we learn from wise and godly leaders how to pray in private.

What might be termed as “popcorn prayers” or just simply praying together as prayer groups (taking turns praying) is something that is done less frequently in the Reformed circles that I spend time in. We might say “I will pray for you”, but it is less common to hear “let me pray with you.” Is there good reason for this discomfort? In the case of showing off piety, I understand the discomfort. But then we should be concerned about this showing off in all areas, including private prayer and public prayer. We are not to be like the Pharisees who pray on the street corner(Matt. 6:5-8). Instead our righteousness is to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20), and that can only happen when Jesus Christ gives us a new heart. With a new heart we can sit together in Christian fellowship and call out to God in prayer from the bottom of our hearts. In this way we spur one another on, not because one is better than another because of what we do, but because Jesus is Saviour and Lord. Bad examples do not negate the good, but only show themselves to be faulty examples that we should avoid. The question should be: how can we help one another, also in prayer?

There are many commands to pray in the New Testament. We are to devote ourselves to prayer (Col. 4:2), to pray continually (I Thess. 5:17), to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other (James 5:16), bring prayers for all people (I Tim. 2:1-2), to be faithful in prayer (Rom. 12:12), to watch and pray (Matt. 6:7), to pray for our persecutors (Matt. 5:44), to pray when someone is in trouble (James 5:13), to pray in the Spirit in all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests (Eph. 6:18), etc. Many of these examples could take place in a setting of Christians praying together such as when the believers pray together for boldness in Acts 4:23-31. We also see the Church come to pray over the sick (James 5:14-15). We are to spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25), how about spurring one another on to prayer? We can also encourage one another and build each other up by the act of praying together (I Thess. 5:11). Much more could be said.

At the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, groups of students and a mentor will meet at the beginning of every week to pray with one another, for one another, and for issues in the church and the world. This is fitting as we seek to support and encourage one another in following Christ also in the act of prayer. As leader of the family is common for the father to pray, or he will ask his wife to pray. But it would be fitting for the father to ask various children to pray after him, or to do a form prayer as a family. A Christian youth group might do well to break off into groups to pray and encourage one another in prayer or to pray a form prayer together. The same could be said of other gatherings of believers outside of public worship.

In conclusion, Christians praying together is a beautiful expression of Christian fellowship and community, primarily as an act of fellowship with God. When we listen closely to what God is saying in His Word and respond by addressing our prayers to the Father in the Name of Jesus Christ and in the power of His Spirit, this prayer brings us together into the very presence of the Triune God. In His presence, we lose sight of one another, we lose sight of ourselves, and we find ourselves caught up in praising Him.

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