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Draw near: Praying with Others

Lynne Baab • Tuesday July 12 2022

Draw near: Praying with Others

I’ve written before that people often tell me they wish they prayed more. They seem to be referring to prayer alone. Many of my blog posts imply that I am focusing on praying alone. In reality, of course, any prayer idea can be used in prayer with others as well as alone. I want to stress that here.

Most Christians find it easier to pray with others than to pray alone. Last year, I had the privilege of being asked to write an article for Christianity Today on communal prayer. (You can read the whole article here.) Here are a few sentences from the article:

“When we pray with others, we pray longer. We pray for a wider variety of needs as our companions bring up new issues or perspectives. We can pray thankfulness prayers much longer with others because they see God’s beauty in places we haven’t observed, so we find ourselves seeing more of God’s gifts. We may feel led to confess our sins in new areas when we hear others confess.”

From the way people have talked with me about their guilt in the area of prayer, it seems like finding someone to pray with isn’t a common strategy to increase prayer. I suspect we don’t pursue that option in part because of Jesus’ words about praying privately in a storage closet (the literal meaning of Matthew 6:6). In my Christianity Today article, I talk about why I believe we have misinterpreted this passage. Perhaps the individualism of Western society and Western Christianity has influenced us.

When we feel frustrated with our life of prayer, or when we simply want to grow in prayer, we can try new forms of prayer as I have suggested in many blog posts. We can ask God to help us grow in prayer. We can also short circuit the individualism that surrounds us by engaging in prayer with others more often.

When I’m tempted to avoid going to church in person or on zoom, I can remind myself that church involves prayer with others. I can make the suggestion to my small group that we stop our discussion earlier so we can pray longer. Or I can join a small group. I can ask a Christian friend to be a prayer partner, and I can suggest praying together when gathering casually with Christian friends. I can pray with family members or housemates.

We might think that praying with others most often consists of sitting in someone’s living room and praying out loud with them. That kind of prayer is great. However, prayer with others can take so many additional forms, including silent prayer, writing prayers in a journal then sharing parts of them with others, walking a labyrinth or the Stations of the Cross with a friend or group, prayer retreats, praying while walking together, or praying together in a coffee shop or on a park bench.

As a young adult, when I first heard of silent prayer with a group, I thought it sounded so stupid. We can pray alone at home! Why bother to go somewhere to join with others to do something you can do at home? Then, about thirty years ago, my church began offering classes on silent prayer, and I couldn’t believe the richness of praying silently with others.

Another favorite communal prayer memory goes back to 2006, when I visited Milan, Italy, to catch up with an old friend who I hadn’t seen for more than 20 years. She took me to see the Milan Cathedral, and I asked her if we could pray together there. We sat in a pew, surrounded by stunning stained glass windows, praying for our family members. It felt like we were also surrounded – in some mysterious way – by a cloud of witnesses, all the people who had prayed in that space over the centuries. Recently I saw a beautiful photo of the Milan Cathedral, and I was flooded with the memory of a rich prayer time with a friend. The memory of that richness is especially poignant because she died of cancer two years after I saw her.

The Bible is full of stories of people praying together. When we see prayer as a mostly “me and God” experience, we miss out on so much support and depth we can experience when praying with others.

Lord Jesus, teach us to pray. Teach us to pray creatively on our own and with others. Help us see opportunities when we could suggest praying together to Christian friends and family members. Help us rejoice every single time we enter into your presence. Amen.

(Next week: O Antiphons. Illustration by Dave Baab: Parson's Gardens, Queen Anne hill, Seattle. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

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