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Group or Personal Prayer?

In Judaism a minyan is a quorum of ten or more adults assembled for a religious obligation such as public prayer. According to the famous 12th century Jewish rabbi Maimonides, “The prayer of the community is always heard; and even if there were sinners among them [i.e., the minyan], the Holy One, blessed be He, never rejects the prayer of the multitude.”

A thousand years earlier, Jesus prayed with his disciples (John 17:1-26), sometimes with a small group (9:28), and sometimes alone (Matt 14:23). On at least one occasion Jesus emphasized how important it was for his disciples to pray “in the closet” (a secret place) where their words could be between themselves and God alone (Matt 6:6).

Later, the Apostle Paul prayed for many (Eph 3:14-21)– just as he often asked many to pray for him (1Cor 1:11).

Today, we pray in similar ways. In groups, with a few, and often when and where no one can hear the cry of our hearts but God.

Let’s think together about the choice we are faced with when we are trying to decide whether to keep something between ourselves and God, or whether to let as many as possible know about our need. Do we believe that the more people we can get to pray, the more likely we are to get the answer we want? Are those with more praying friends more likely to get what they are asking for? Or in asking many to pray for us are we hoping that there will be at least one person who has favor and power with God?

Sometimes I’ve had a hunch that, in asking for prayer, the real audience we are looking for is not so much God– but the people who might be able to help us.

It seems to me that some of our reasons for wanting others to pray for us reflect well upon God–while other reasons don’t. The idea that God is influenced by numbers seems questionable. Can we really persuade him by getting enough people to petition him in our behalf? Is that a motive encouraged by the Bible?

Or is our willingness to take the time to thoughtfully pray for others a way of getting the attention off ourselves, onto the tears and laughter of others, and then, most importantly, onto the God who is the real source of our daily needs?

Recently I’ve been intrigued with a motive that seems to explain why Paul encouraged others to pray for him. It seems so unselfish. In his first letter to the Corinthians he suggests if many people see God answer prayer, then many people will be able to share in the joy and thanksgiving for what God has done. Specifically, Paul wrote, “You also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many” (2Cor 1:11).

Would you agree or disagree that Paul’s motive seems to rise above the idea that the more people he could get praying for him, the more likely he was to get God to do something for him? Would you agree that there is a time to pray in “the closet” about things that are between us and God alone, and there are times to include those who share our life in the issues that affect our shared faith, hope, and love?

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11 Responses to “Group or Personal Prayer?”

  1. hal.fshr says:

    Praying corporately to manipulate God’s response is clearly something to be avoided. Of course, we should guard against this kind of motivation. Likewise, we should use discernment in what we share in a group and what is brought to God in private intercession. With this in mind, it is interesting to note that group prayer carried on with great power at the church’s beginning and as it faced persecution. Undoubtedly misconceptions about prayer were resident in some intercessors in the early church. But this did not prevent them from engaging in concentrated group prayer.
    Prior to receiving the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, the disciples were in prayer: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14).
    After the marvelous conversion of a multitude on Pentecost, the early church is characterized by group prayer: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
    As persecution led to attacks on the Apostles, once again group prayer was practiced: “Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5)
    I agree with Mart that we should examine our expectations and motives in prayer. However, despite imperfections in prayer groups today as there were in the first century, we should still continue to encourage and participate in concentrated group and private prayer.

  2. Abate says:

    Thanks, Martin, once again for stimulating our minds to search the real meaning and exact direction from the Lord in His Word.

    Regarding prayer, we must be careful and not tend to compare the relative effectiveness of corporal or individual prayer. The Word of God tells us that all have equal weight in the sight of the Lord for He told that if two or three agree, He will listen, and tells us also to pray in the “closet”. He also encourages us as given in James to ask the righeous to pray for us. There are prayer requests that we could pray publicly, or share it to a responsible and caring elder or brother/sister in Christ. There is prayer that we should only communicate directly to God, our Father.

    In Christ,

  3. drkennyg says:

    At our church we have a small group that meets to pray together every week. Here we generally discuss a lesson from the Bible that is about prayer and then share our individual requests. Usually we request help and God’s blessing for our church leaders and others in need in our congregation. I also use private prayer daily between the Lord and myself for my own private requests. We are not trying to increase our favor with God but rather for us to become more aware of our church family and their needs as well as the persecuted church around the world. Asking God’s help in this way seems very appropriate.

  4. JCW says:

    I’ve been thinking about this too lately.

    We are in a family crisis with one of our sons. He’s a 19 yr old young man who though previously incredibly strong in his faith, leadership and love for his family has now joined what we believe to be a cult like religious group. He’s supposed to marry in 4 weeks and has basically cut off all of us in his immediate family, we’ve even been crossed off the wedding guest list supposedly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    Prayer? More than I think we’ve ever prayed before. Both in and out of the closet.
    We are asking everyone we know to pray with us! Why? Desperation for God to intervene in what satan has gotten ahold of……that deception will be broken and truth will be known. We’re asking for God’s will!

    Will God hear our prayer? We know He is hearing and we are having to choose to trust by faith that He is answering! But… I am still going to be like the woman at the judges door….I will not stop knocking and asking others to join me knocking until we SEE our prayers answered.

    There is a time and a season for all things…. I’d say there are times to more than come out of the closet.


  5. lynntate says:

    As spoken by some of the others, I too enjoy the stimulation provided by the ideas you present. As to the subject of group/private prayer, I also agree that the motive is the key factor. I couldn’t help but think of God’s prophet mocking the worshipers of Baal, that they should pray louder because their god may be asleep. On of the things I hold dear, as David put it, is that our God is mindful of each and every one of us. And that we have the priviledge and honor to come before Him in prayer. And that God has given us the Holy Spirit, who translates our prayers (groanings). Yet we should not forsake coming together, and building each other up in times of joy and need. I look forward to sharing in these blogs. I get a lot from you, Martin, and the others. It is a joy to see so many who the Lord has touched.

  6. daisymarygoldr says:

    God has perfect foreknowledge and ‘knows the end from the beginning’ of everything (Isaiah 46:10). Therefore, be it individual or in a group, PRAYER IS NOT about changing God’s(will/plan/purpose/intentions/heart). Praying in private is a “one on one” time we spend with our heavenly father and that is important for building our personal relationship with Him. Group prayer enables us to look past “me and mine” and focus on others. We need others to pray for us during circumstances that overwhelm us to the point of spiritual paralysis…I’m sure we have all been through one. In this present day as we tend to lean more towards being ‘individual’, praying for another or hearing another pray for us brings us closer to each other as God’s family. However, this is not about increasing the number of petitions to make a case strong enough to move God to relent and swing open the windows of heaven:) It is God’s supreme desire to see us reflect the unity of the Trinity(John 17:21). Praying together actually prepares our hearts rise above ‘self’ and unite with a common purpose which then delights God to bestow His blessings on us(Ps133)!

  7. elena_william says:

    As David(in the Psalms) and James(in his epistle) have pointed out countless times, God has access to our innermost thoughts. This is a source of great comfort as well as awe. In order for prayer to be effective, our hearts have to be right toward God. In other words, our motives should be righteous.
    For me, personal prayer is easier than praying with others. I have a child-like trust in God and I can run to His arms and pour out my soul. I also find great comfort in committing my dear ones, family and friends to His care and protection.
    O the other hand, listening to others and praying with others is also very wholesome because it gives us perspectives we never had. After all, every human being is a unique creation, “fearfully and wonderfully made”. In praying with others, each one is accountable to God for being “righteous”. We cannot be judgemental or responsible for other people’s thoughts, words or actions. However, in a prayer group, clear guidelines must be laid out to prevent people’s privacy being violated.
    Thank you for letting me share my thoughts and thanks for sharing yours.

  8. Hephzibah610 says:

    In every area of Christian life we need to inspect our motivation in the light of God’s Spirit and Word. This does not just include our prayer life, but any interactions we have with others. Not all “forms of godliness” are as they appear…some are hiding our own insecurities.

    In my own life I have often shared my own requests with my spouse or church friends because I am weak and need someone to help “hold me up” or hold up the situation that I am sharing. I don’t believe it is just because God will answer their prayers better… It is as though I am “crippled” by some concern and they come along and give me a shoulder to lean on so that I can walk. We need others at times.

    As far as the times alone…we are to be praying (communing with God) without ceasing…this includes every hour of the day…so there will be alone times as well as times with others. And there are times when being alone with God seems the only appropriate stance in prayer…the time of deepest intimacy where we can truly pour out our heart (the good, the bad and the ugly)…it is the sweetest time of all.

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