Lessons learned from Zoom prayer meetings
What is the difference between praying on your own and praying with a group? If it’s a Zoom group, as we have experienced lately, the differences are plenty: mute buttons on and off, glitchy internet, simultaneous speakers… But whether in person or on Zoom, it's not as simple as repeating what we do on our own but with an audience. It’s different in purpose and therefore it stands that it differs in approach.
Prayer is primarily vertical in nature—we direct our prayers to God. But there are already many helpful resources written on that aspect. When we come together to pray with others, we should also focus on the horizontal nature of prayer. This means considering those in the group and how the prayer time is being used to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ. It matters that people turn up (or on) to a prayer meeting. And in many cases, we need to encourage more of the group to actively participate. Thus, it’s worth saying that how we pray in group settings may foster or inhibit the participation of those we pray with.
Before we discuss some ideas to help improve group prayer dynamic and participation, there are some nuances to consider. I’m hesitant to make it sound like there is a ‘wrong way’ to pray (though there most definitely is!). I’m not a fan of labels around the ‘pray better’ line. Still, it is worth offering a few observations and suggestions to consider for yourself and pass on to those around you on the practice of time together in prayer.
As mentioned above, it is quite important to first understand and communicate why we pray together. We come together to help each other spend time asking of God things that we might not ask on our own. Kingdom of God matters, worldwide matters, church-wide matters, and evangelism (to name a few).
Once the ‘why’ of group prayer is grasped, then we can move on to some practical tips to foster more people actually praying in the group:
Make prayer points accessible/relatable
We come together to pray primarily for the things that affect us in our lives together. As much as possible, pray for people and issues that concern the group as a whole. If you are in a tight-knit, long standing group then you have lived together through many personal things: children, parents, careers. But a church-wide, transient or open prayer group does not make an ideal setting for many personal, individual requests especially if it’s a complicated situation or not directly related to those participating.
The Lord’s Prayer is a great framework to build requests off, as are a number of Paul’s prayers. The more the group has a vested interest in the concerns, the more people will pray towards them. Personal requests are accessible because that person is there. But keep those requests as quick as possible and then use the time to pray for shared issues and people.
Don’t pray for everything listed
Often prayer time gets derailed or short changed when the early pray-ers pray for many or all of the items listed. If someone prays for many things it takes away other people’s felt need to join in with their contribution towards the list. As you go to pray and determine when it is your turn, choose one (or two if there are several) of the items to lift up to the Lord.
Don’t pray for very long
This is a subjective point. Still, it is worth remembering that if you catch yourself starting to ramble or go on for what you think is a long time, it feels all the more so for others. Stick to your key items and finish in a concise manner.
Don’t repeat prayers
One way to keep your prayer time going well is to know that you don’t need to add your contribution to an item already prayed for. It is great to thank God for many things and great to lift up his attributes in joyful reprise. But come prepared with a few different ways to thank God so that if someone says one you were going to, you can easily move on to another. Surely we have quite an inexhaustible list to work from!
Come back and pray again
If you keep your time short and pray for one or two of the points and are moved to say more or it occurs to you that something needs to be prayed for that has not already, do pray again. Having this in mind allows you to pray short prayers on a few precise things but still allows for more to be said if the group hasn’t said it.
Use regular language
Avoid praying with lofty language, using long or obscure passages of Scripture or speaking in a way that isn’t normal in how you talk to others. Yes, approaching God is different than talking to your friend. But reverence and honor doesn’t need to change vernacular. Humility, joy and thanksgiving mark our approach to God in prayer. And those things aren’t necessarily connected to formality or big words. He is our loving and caring father who wants to hear the requests of his children. This point particularly considers those who are slightly intimidated or new to group prayer settings. We don’t want to confuse or intimidate those who are learning to pray with others. And if they aren’t comfortable speaking differently, they just won’t pray.
Learning to pray together takes some intentional thought and action. The prayer meeting or prayer time of your group is something to be eagerly anticipated and cherished. It can grow in that over time as more people pray together and seek first the kingdom of God in their requests.