How can we encourage equal participation in prayer? That is, how can we encourage those who normally do not pray out loud to do so and how can we encourage those who normally do pray out loud to do so less?
Equal participation in prayer is a very worthy goal. This is the key truth Jesus quotes from Isaiah when He says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17 and Isaiah 56:7 – emphasis added). The context of Isaiah 56 makes it clear that this is not referring to a place where all the nations are prayed for. It is referring to a place where all the nations (ethnic groups) have equal access to God in prayer. Its primary application today would be to make sure that all individuals and all groups know and respond to His invitation to spend meaningful time with Him though prayer. No one should feel left out and no one should feel privileged.
People come to a time of corporate prayer from many different emotional and mental locations. Some may be very comfortable and confident in praying out loud. Their personality and background make them unafraid to enter in. Others are very cautious and uncomfortable with even saying (let alone praying) anything in a group setting. A key role of the facilitator is to help level the playing field. Applying what Isaiah said in Isaiah 40:4 [Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low] how can the one responsible for a time of corporate prayer encourage some to participate a bit more (raise the “valleys”) and others to hold back a bit more (lower the “mountains”)?
The key here is in the way we give direction. We should seek to make everyone’s prayer experience one that would leave them wanting more. We want each person to feel like they contributed to the overall prayer and that they personally interacted in a meaningful way with the Lord.
I remember being with about fifty staff people from a large congregation. We were going to be together for three days. Because this included the entire church staff from their congregation, I knew each of them had a different comfort level concerning their own walk with the Lord and corporate prayer.
In our first session, I referred to Hebrews 4:12, which says, “For the Word of God is alive and powerful…” I made a few comments about how Scripture is active and powerful and how we can receive life from it. Then I asked people to go around the circle and each one share a verse from which they personally had received life or seen God’s power. I mentioned that it was an “Open book test” so they could use their Bibles. I knew this was something everyone in the room could do. I encouraged them to just simply share the verse and keep any comments to a minimum.
After each person shared, including myself, I asked them to get with two other people and to use that verse as the basis of a short prayer for the others in their group and for all of us. I gave them an example from my verse, which was Romans 12:1 [Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices…]. In my group I will pray a prayer like, “Father would you please make Dick and Bill more aware of your wonderful mercy and love. Help each of us in this room, over the next couple days, to be more impacted by how you have loved us. Then as a result of that fresh awareness, please let us be more fully surrendered to You and Your ways. Amen.”
Because I had given each of them the opportunity to be aware of a key spiritual truth they were personally familiar with, and modeled how they could pray, they launched into their time of prayer with an equal opportunity to pray. Those less inclined to pray were in a smaller group, knew what they could pray and knew they didn’t have to pray too long. Those inclined to pray too long and wander knew they had a specific topic and time frame.
In other settings, I have encouraged people to “complete a sentence” in prayer. For example, in one setting we just finished singing the words, “He’s altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me…” When we finished singing those words, I said something like, “We just sang some wonderful words. Jesus is altogether lovely, He is altogether worthy, and He is altogether wonderful. Now let me ask you a question. What else is He? Let’s pray as a group and just tell Him what else He is to us. Begin your prayer with the words, ‘Jesus, you are altogether… and then you fill in the words you want to express to Him.’”
As the expression goes, we should put the cookies on the lower shelf. Everyone in the room felt they could participate in that kind of prayer and no one in the room really had the chance to dominate the time of prayer.
*Blessed by Doing – What is the level of equal participation in your prayer group? How can you as a facilitator help balance it so that there is no domination or lack of participation?