When I went to my first prayer meeting, I didn't think much of it. We met in an empty classroom and sat in a tight circle. One of the first things I noticed was that there were only a few of us -- three to be exact. I really didn't know what to expect; as far as I was concerned this was just another chance to be with my new-found InterVarsity friends.
I was a young Christian, the fruit of much prayer by the InterVarsity chapter members at my school, and just catching on to all the "Christian stuff." At first, it was difficult to pray out loud, but I caught on. My prayers were simple. I couldn't pray as eloquently as the others, but they didn't seem to mind. Slowly, my interest in prayer began to grow.
Little did I know that God was also lighting a fire under the rest of our small prayer group to tell others about praying together. We urged others in the chapter to join us. Then we moved the prayer meetings to a more convenient place and time and enlivened the format. In large-group meetings, we told how God was answering prayer. We sent personal invitations to remind people about our prayer meetings. Our chapter president circulated prayer requests every week with those who were highly committed to prayer (not just at the prayer meetings).
God taught us to rely on him in new ways that year. He responded to our prayers about people's jobs and health, our chapter's plans and goals, our personal growth and our outreach to the campus. One night a few of us were gathered informally in a friend's dorm room. We just started to worship God in song and to pray for three individuals on that floor to become Christians. All three yielded their lives to Jesus the following week! Answers to our prayers weren't always that spectacular, but God's hand was evident at our prayer meetings every day.
Chapter prayer grew from that humble beginning of three people my junior year to include nearly half of our chapter by the end of my senior year. Since then, I've learned our chapter's story isn't that unusual -- most InterVarsity chapters wrestle with getting people to pray together. Is it really that important?
Prayer in the Past
The works of God begin and end in prayer. Nearly all revival movements in our country's history were characterized by a commitment to group prayer. Whether we know it or not, we have benefitted from God's people meeting together to pray. Did you know that InterVarsity here in North America was actually born out of a praying fellowship in England? Our InterVarsity chapters wouldn't even exist if not for group prayer!
In InterVarsity's first decade, daily prayer meetings were essential to becoming an affiliated chapter. In For Christ and the University (IVP®), InterVarsity historians Keith and Gladys Hunt tell us that "the daily prayer meeting was the touchstone for an IV chapter. The strategy was to win people for Christ through prayer and Bible study. In fact, if a campus group did not have a vital daily prayer meeting, they probably weren't ready to become a chapter."
Surprised? Most of us have never dreamed that group prayer was so important. But God prefers to work through people who pray -- people who show a conscious dependence on him. As John Piper has written, "Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy."
Praying in the Present
Not only is group prayer conspicuously evident in past works of God, but corporate prayer is a vital part of our present need. One reason corporate prayer is so important is because group prayer embodies the best kind of Christian fellowship. We are created for fellowship with God. And as Bill Hybels says in his book Too Busy Not To Pray, "The most intimate communion with God comes through prayer." But we are also created for each other, and it is in just such seasons of prayer together that we find our greatest sense of unity and fellowship with one another.
Another reason to pray together is that we grow best when we are supported in prayer by others. We are encouraged and challenged as others pray. God heals us and restores our joy, as Jesus promised in John 16:24: "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete."
A third reason to pray together is that group prayer teaches us more about prayer itself. God reveals his nature as he works in the people around us. By listening to others and vocalizing our own prayers we learn to pray more effectively.
Finally, group prayer can provide a safe place for accountability. We need the support -- and occasionally the tough love -- that a caring community can provide. We hear one another's commitments clearly when spoken to God in a group. And when we fail, confessing our sin in the presence of others opens the door to forgiveness and the assurance that we're pardoned. Strength lies in numbers -- numbers of praying people, that is.
Prayer for the Future
Fellowships that don't sponsor some kind of regular prayer meeting just don't seem to grow -- or survive, for that matter. Prayer is the most important work in the kingdom of God. It is the breath of our chapters.
The future of our chapters depend on our willingness to meet God in prayer. Indeed, we are undergoing a very real spiritual battle every day in which prayer is the main support (Ephesians 6:10-18). Our chapters are continually at risk: no fellowship is immune to discouragement, loss of vision or the attrition of leadership. Given the transient nature of the campus, our groups are always two or three years away from extinction -- unless we pray and work for the future.
Ultimately, it's a question of what generation we live for. God sets the tone for the future of InterVarsity through our collective prayers. We must ask ourselves if we will make a spiritual investment into our future by praying together.
(from Student Leadership Journal, vol. 6:1)
Deepen your relationship with God with prayer guides and training materials from InterVarsity’s Spiritual Formation and Prayer team.