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It never failed. Every Bible study or women’s ministry gathering would reach “that time.” A moment I looked forward to with a peculiar mixture of longing and dread.

“Does anyone have any prayer requests?”

“Prayer request time” usually went something like this: one by one we’d go around the circle, recounting specific challenges we needed covered in prayer. Most requests evolved into full-blown reports, detailing the particulars of each problem.

As the minutes flew by, I stopped listening to people and started watching the clock. The sister beside me was openly sharing her needs while inwardly I was crunching the numbers:

Five minutes per woman x six women = we are going to run out of time.

It didn’t help my sense of urgency if we were on the Triple Golden Overtime of free childcare—that sacred space of uninterrupted Christian fellowship for harried moms. We had to wrap up on the hour; else the nursery workers were sure to have some pretty urgent requests of their own.

Inevitably, each prayer session ended the same way. With just a few minutes left, the group leader would bring things to a close. “We’re almost out of time, so let’s pray real quick.”

Real quick?

Hello! Wasn’t prayer the point? What would happen if we spent less time talking about our concerns and more time praying about them?

It wasn’t until I joined a focused prayer ministry that I got an answer.

I had accepted an invitation from a group of ladies to pray for our students and schools. (With four children on three public school campuses, I was certain to have plenty of prayer requests!) Once a week I gathered with my fellow prayer partners to devote sixty minutes to prayer.

One hour. No requests. Just prayer.

Once I tapped into the power of such anointed conversation, I began to see answers to prayer like never before. Each single hour accomplished what countless prayer request sessions had somehow failed to do. When our time was up, we rose and went forward with the peace, comfort and resolution we needed. No need to count the minutes once you start counting on God’s provision.

Something miraculous happens “when two or more are gathered in His name.” Not only do we speak to GodHe speaks through us. We don’t have to provide a twenty-minute rundown on Jimmy’s troubles at school or dear husband’s career struggles or our most recent parental failure. No need to guarantee through our “many words” that we are heard and understood. All that is required are hearts open before God, ready to confess our weakness and claim his truth.

Don’t get me wrong—I still exchange prayer requests. And I depend on the wisdom and encouragement I get from heartfelt gab-sessions with my dearest friends.

But corporate prayer remains the single most important conversation of my week—and certainly the most time-efficient. Together, my prayer partners and I can cover more ground in five minutes of focused prayer than in five hours of girl talk.

Because that’s what happens when God moderates the discussion. And he uses his time well.

Also, the Spirit helps us with our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit himself speaks to God for us, even begs God for us with deep feelings that words cannot explain. God can see what is in people’s hearts. And he knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit speaks to God for his people in the way God wants. Romans 8:26-27 (NCV)