by Dave Hintz
There is no doubt that for the Christian, corporate prayer can be a great blessing. From sharing requests in Sunday School or small group, to praying with one’s spouse and family, corporate prayer often brings Christians closer together. However, when left unchecked, prayer circles can also be venues for sin. Here sin wears a thin disguise, as we rationalize away gossip, self-exaltation, or a critical heart as “sanctified by prayer”. In this article I want to expose some of these sins so we realize that the act of praying does not automatically make the content of our supplications, or the attitude of our hearts, pleasing to God.
- A venue for gossip. “Pray for Joe and Suzy, they’re struggling with their marriage.” “ Pray for my sister, she’s hanging out with the wrong crowd.” “Pray for Johnny, he’s really stressed about his finances.” I have heard—and shared—many requests like these in various prayer group settings. Sometimes people bring up such issues out of genuine concern, unaware of the damage their comments might cause; other times they are simply cloaking their gossip with prayer. Painting a disparaging portrait of another in a prayer circle, they ‘sanctify’ their words by asking for prayer. In reality, the only prayer that could sanctify this subtle slander is a prayer of repentance.
- Exalting oneself in prayer requests. “Pray for me as I deal with my Mom. She threw out her back, so I’ve had to clean the house, do the shopping and cooking, and take care of the finances.” “Pray for my ministry, I’ve been so busy teaching Sunday School, leading a small group, working in the nursery and helping organize a retreat since no one else has volunteered.” “Pray that I can be a light to my coworkers who are jealous of my promotion.” In requests such as these, a person asks for prayer while subtly advertising their own accomplishments, drawing attention to their sacrifices, or complaining about their burdens. Under certain circumstances these could be genuine, God-honoring requests, but more often than not it’s just boasting packaged as a prayer request. When asking for prayer for difficult circumstances, first examine your motivations to make sure you’re seeking to exalt God, and not to win admiration for yourself.
- Talking more about what to pray for then actually praying. Often, when we gather to pray we spend fifty minutes sharing prayer requests and ten minutes praying. Now expounding on prayer requests can be helpful, as it gives others a deeper understanding of the need, and encourages them to pray for the supplication well after the meeting. Yet, we must be careful that the time set aside for prayer doesn’t become a social hour
- “Praying” for the faults of others rather than praising God for their strengths. “Lord, I pray that you will help Mark become more patient. I also pray for the Janet’s pride, that you might break her. And I pray that you will help Todd not have a critical spirit.” Even if you don’t share this type of request out loud, or are subtler about them, there are still two latent dangers here: First, when your mind is focused on others’ faults, we are often perceiving these people in a negative light, and not lovingly thinking the best of them; and second, in focusing on your friends’ failings, you may be fueling your own sense of self-righteousness. Before rehearsing the faults of others, pray that God might open your eyes to your own shortcomings. Further, take some time to praise God for the strengths of those around you, and ask God to teach you from their example.
The prayer circle can be a wonderful time of communion with God and with other saints, but the act of prayer by itself is not enough to guarantee such blessing. When you come to the altar of prayer make sure that your sacrifice is spotless and without blemish, free from pride and self-interest. In doing so you will insure that your prayer is a fragrant aroma to the God of all grace.