By Keith Lee
Prayer consists of both private and communal aspects. However, most of us are familiar and comfortable with the private individual side. For example, Pastor Tim Keller in his newest book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, in attempting to answer the question, ‘how do we actually learn how to pray?’ shares his personal approach: 1) praying through the Psalms, 2) taking time of meditation between Bible reading and prayer, 3) praying both morning and evening, 4) praying with greater expectation. These are helpful, yet they only touch upon the facet of prayer as an individual.
We have to remember that Jesus taught us “Our Father in Heaven… Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses… Deliver us from evil….” Notice the communal awareness built right into the foundation of Lord’s prayer! In ancient Israel and for most of human history, learning was always communal and in the context of personal relationships. People did not just learn, but they became disciples of a teacher or master. No one learned in a vacuum but needed mentors to help grow spiritually and intellectually. However, due to our modern society becoming more individualistic we are losing the vital communal elements. That affects the way we pray and more importantly the way we learn to pray as a community of God.
Fortunately, the essence of church is communal, and she constantly reminds us to pray in community, ‘if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.’ So how do we learn how to pray? One, pray with each other. Two, pray for one another.
We need help with prayers from others because many times praying feels like being asked to swim across the Pacific; as Keller writes “before it we feel so small and helpless.” That’s been my own reaction when I had to seriously wrestle with it during my seminary years. Even after years in ministry, whenever I attempt to pray a sense of helplessness starts to gnaw at me. It happens almost every time. Also when I challenge members of the congregation to a greater level of praying I receive a similar response. However, offering to pray with them or someone wanting to pray with me, lessens this powerlessness. In looking back, I recall many who came by my side to pray with me, to lift me up spiritually, to assist me to walk with them on our collective journey in Christ. Prayer is so much better together.
One of the ways we could learn to pray is to join a prayer group. Even when I lead a prayer group, I learn different aspects of prayers from members in the group. Just being around them, hearing them pray and seeing how prayer affects their outlook help me with my prayer life. The group helps to be disciplined with prayer. It keeps us accountable to prayer. Also as I mentioned before, it helps us when we cannot or do not want to pray. Our natural tendency is not to pray but through a community there is a regiment of meditation and supplication that guides us in learning how to pray.
Moreover, from praying with others flows praying for one another or intercessory prayer. Praying for my needs or even just the needs of my immediate family and church members seems like I am being confined. Our spirits and souls are stifled because Jesus taught us to pray for the Kingdom to be established on earth; Jesus invites us to participate in the immeasurable work of the Gospel for our whole world. Praying for others in our church, community, country and the world unleashes a greater awareness of the vastness of Kingdom work that God has begun through Jesus. Communal prayer for greater expansion of God’s community expands our hearts, allows us to be moved by the pains and needs of the world, and compels us to go into deeper levels of prayers with joy.
Let’s pray together. Let’s pray for one another. Let’s pray for the communities around us both immediate and outside of our boundaries. Let’s experience the Kingdom in, through and around us through communal prayers of the saints!