2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV) 14 "if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
United prayer refers to what has become a very popular and meaningful way of praying together in groups. For discussion purposes, I will refer to this as "facilitated united prayer." If you want to study about United Prayer as a group of people coming together to pray about a specific concern or theme, go to the What Is United Prayer section.
To the best of my knowledge, this form of "United Prayer" began in Cambodia on a Mission Trip where participants sought to include a believer of another faith who had not prayed much with other people. In praying for wisdom to know how to include this individual, the impression came to have participants offer short prayers on several general themes, one theme at a time, going around the circle, as prompted by a facilitator.
In this form of United Prayer, the group spends time praying on the first theme until the facilitator introduces the next theme. The next theme may be introduced with a transitioning prayer: "Lord, now we want to transition to a time of making specific requests...." The facilitator might also suggest a few Bible promises to encourage participants. The group would continue praying through however many themes were being followed. Participants are urged to keep their prayers short, limiting them to a sentence or two. The sequence chosen at that time of the Cambodia trip was based on the "ACTS" acronym: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.
What was the result with that first group in Cambodia? Individuals who were not accustomed to praying much, or praying with other people, easily participated and were greatly blessed. For them the method was a kind of prayer "training wheel"—similar to the training wheel on a bicycle.
The other participants were also wonderfully blessed in following this facilitated form of prayer. Not only did some of the group feel comfortable participating, but it also brought a wonderful bonding that had not been anticipated. Mission trip participants had come from various places in the US and had not known each other ahead of time. But praying together, they quickly connected. The United Prayer sessions brought such blessings, that participants brought the practice back to their home churches and introduced it to other people.
United Prayer is now known throughout the world and is a much appreciated form of group prayer.
United Prayer sessions are led by a designated leader who introduces the United Prayer method of praying, shares Bible promises to encourage members to participate, begins the first theme, transitions the group through the various themes of that United Prayer session, and finally concludes the session.
In preparing for the session, the leader—I sometimes use the word "facilitator"—should think ahead of subject matter: sometimes following the normal ACTS sequence or some variant of it, at times suggesting special themes such as the youth in the church, etc.; using hymns or promises to encourage and facilitate the transitions; and preparing notes that remind to educate on what United Prayer is all about, as well as reminders to instruct the group to pray short prayers.
This form of United Prayer is very effective if a smaller group of people are praying. However, if a group of one hundred people try to use this method, it won't work as well. It is better to divide a large group into several smaller groups if possible. The challenge is making sure all the people can participate. Including moments of silence when all can pray can be very helpful when there is a large group.
This is a commonly followed sequence today. Other sequences can also be used. Sometimes it is nice to follow sequences suggested by the Scriptures, such as the Lord's Prayer.
It is instructive to understand the various parts of the adoration-comfession-supplication-thanksgiving sequence.
Psalms 29:2 (NKJV) "Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness."
In the initial time of adoration, participants spend time remembering and telling God how much they appreciate Him—it is a time of worship in prayer. Even in our individual prayers we should take time to acknowledge who God is. These prayers might include "Thank you for your love"; "Thank you for dying for me on the cross"; "Thank you for sacrificing so much in coming to earth"; etc.
James 5:16 (NKJV) 16 "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."
Confessions is often the second theme followed. This theme helps participants come into right relationship with God by appropriately acknowledging short-comings—the key word here is "appropriately." You can read what Ellen White said about appropriate confession in an article entitled, "Acceptable Confession."
Appropriate prayers of confession might include, "Lord, you know I struggle with covetousness," or, "Lord, I am not always kind in my relationships." You can express much using general expressions without becoming inappropriately detailed. Some subjects should never be brought up in public confession—for example moral failures, as discussed by Ellen White. However, appropriate confession is a significant and necessary way of clearing the King's highway so that blessings can come. Ellen White speaks to this, and many of the revivals in our church have included times of confessing. Some groups may feel more comfortable with a time of silent confession. However, regardless of the method followed for confession, confession is a significant, not to be missed, part of United Prayer.
"By prayer and confession of sin we must clear the King’s highway. As we do this, the power of the Spirit will come to us. We need the Pentecostal energy. This will come, for the Lord has promised to send His Spirit as the all-conquering power."
"There are those who, when they make mistakes, stand out in stubbornness, saying that they have not sinned, and refusing to confess. Those who say, “I never confess,” will never see the kingdom of heaven unless they do confess. Read the prayer of confession that Daniel offered. He was called a man greatly beloved by God, and yet he confessed that he as well as the people had sinned.
Those who make no acknowledgment of sin, those who refuse to confess because they think it would hurt their position and influence, will never be cleansed from unrighteousness unless they make a decided change in their attitude. We need the spirit of confession right here in this meeting. It would be surprising if none of those present had anything to confess. Brethren and sisters, will you not take the stumbling-blocks out of the way, and clear the King’s highway, that he may enter in among us? Then we shall see of the salvation of God, and the glory of the Lord will be revealed."
Philippians 4:6 (NKJV) 6 "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;"
Thanksgiving is also a vital part of United Prayer. Remembering the many ways God has answered prayer encourages more prayer. Thanking God in anticipation of answers after specific requests have been made, gives participants a wonderful sense of being heard. Accordingly, sometimes the "thanksgiving" segment comes after the "confession" segment, sometimes it comes at the end; sometimes it comes after the "confession" segment and again at the end. Giving thanks is also vitally important because such gratitude allows God to bless in a greater way, as noted in a Bible Echo article entitled "Praise Ye the Lord."
"Shall all our devotional exercises consist in asking and receiving? Shall we be always thinking of our wants, and never of the benefits we receive? Shall we be recipients of his mercies, and never express our gratitude to God, never praise him for what he has done for us? We do not pray any too much, but we are too sparing of giving thanks. If the loving-kindness of God called forth from our hearts more thanksgiving and praise, we should have far more power in prayer. We should abound more and more in the love of God, and have more bestowed to praise him for. You who complain that God does not hear your prayers, change the present order, and mingle praise with your petitions. When you consider his goodness and mercies, you will find that he will consider your wants.
These prayers of thanksgiving should also be short and to the point.
Matthew 7:7-8 (NKJV) 7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."
Though we do not fully understand why God requires that we ask Him for blessings in prayer, "asking" is required. Note the following:
"It is a part of God’s plan to grant us, in answer to the prayer of faith, that which He would not bestow did we not thus ask."
During this sequence, participants verbalize their needs in short prayers that are limited to one item usually—or one theme. For example, "Lord, I am taking a test and I need your blessing on my preparations." Another person might pray, "Lord I am concerned for my family. They don't know the Lord. Please send the Holy Spirit to touch each of their hearts." Participants should remember to keep requests appropriate.
Sometimes it helps for the leader to suggest a focused theme as was discussed earlier on this page. For example, it might be suggested that the group take extra time to pray for the youth of the church. In response the participants would begin praying for the youth in short prayers. In anticipation of such a theme it would be good to invite a leader of the youth, or some of the youth, to come and share about the needs being faced by the youth. This will help the United Prayers be more effective and relevant to what is going on. This special focused praying, by the way, allows additional people to be invited to attend, who may end up attending long-term: they have experienced the blessings, have decided they like United Prayer, and invite their friends to come and pray with them. Sometimes the youth end up in their own United Prayer group, but that is fine since they are praying.
During the request time, it is important to be sensitive to the people who are more shy about jumping in and praying, or who feel uncomfortable mentioning their personal needs in front of others. To address these concerns, care should be taken to make sure that time is given for everyone to list specific personal requests who have been slower to speak up, the leader stating, "Lord, perhaps there are people who haven't mentioned requests; we want to take time for them to pray." It can also help to have a time for silent requests, the leader stating, "We want to take some time to silently tell God the things that we need." A time of silent requests would be good to include every time.
Be assured that this united praying is sanctioned by God and brings results!
"We should hold convocations for prayer, asking the Lord to open the way for the truth to enter the strongholds where Satan has set up his throne, and dispel the shadow he has cast athwart the pathway of those whom he is seeking to deceive and destroy. We have the assurance: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5:16.
Variety is the spice of life; it is also the spice of prayer and United Prayer. To always follow the United Prayer method may cause it to become routine. Constant use of the method can also cause some people to stop attending because they do not feel comfortable with the United Prayer approach for any variety of reasons. As a result it is good to vary the format of the praying from week to week, and in the course of individual meetings. For example, United Prayer could be followed one week, then followed by a more traditional format the next week. Or, in the course of a prayer meeting, the early part of the prayer meeting might include a time of United Prayer, but later the same people might follow a more traditional approach. Some churches have even found it helpful to have two groups praying simultaneously—one group following the United Prayer format, the other group praying in a more traditional way.
Ellen White refers to long prayers are "prayer meeting killers."
"There are some, I fear, who do not take their troubles to God in private prayer, but reserve them for the prayer meeting, and there do up their praying for several days. Such may be named conference and prayer meeting killers. They emit no light; they edify no one. Their cold, frozen prayers and long, backslidden testimonies cast a shadow. All are glad when they get through, and it is almost impossible to throw off the chill and darkness which their prayers and exhortations bring into the meeting. From the light which I have received, our meetings should be spiritual and social, and not too long. Reserve, pride, vanity, and fear of man should be left at home. Little differences and prejudices should not be taken with us to these meetings. As in a united family, simplicity, meekness, confidence, and love should exist in the hearts of brethren and sisters who meet to be refreshed and invigorated by bringing their lights together."
It is my experience that constant education must be given in this regard. Of course such education should be given tactfully but it must be done. If someone new joins the group late, it is sometimes appropriate for the leader to interrupt briefly to welcome the person, let them know what theme is being followed, and encourage them to make short, specific, one item, prayers. Education can also be provided by putting up an information sign near the entrance, or have little instruction sheets for new people.
Beyond announcements in the bulletin, posters and word-of-mouth advertising, sharing testimonies during the course of the church service is one of the BEST ways to encourage attendance of church members. If you want to get people excited about prayer in your church, you have to make time for testimonies about answered prayer during the course of your church service.
Some people will object to the United Prayer format. They may feel uncomfortable praying out loud in front of other people, confessing in front of other people, or the extended amount of time praying. Listen and try to be sensitive to their concerns. Realize that one size does not fit all, and therefore may cause some individuals to not attend some of the time. Seek to be inclusive, however, making sure there are weeks when individuals less comfortable with United Prayer will be comfortable coming. Don't insist that United Prayer is the only way to pray. Don't insist that every attendee participates. Do make allowances by providing time for silent prayer.
Be aware that some people are less trusting than others, and find great difficulty opening up before others. I find this is often true of older people. It is also true of those who have been relationally-hurt in the past. Encourage them to attend and participate as they feel comfortable. Make sure there are moments for silent prayer.
Some people object to the format, stating they don't find anything about that kind of praying in the Bible. I think the ten days prior to Pentecost indicate otherwise, though we don't know the manner in which they were praying. However, there is much regarding praying short prayers in Mrs. White's writings, as well as praying together in groups.
"How many come before the congregation and offer up long, tedious prayers that weary the people, and do not bring the blessing of God upon them. Keep your long prayers for the closet; and when you come to the meeting, present your request before God in a simple, direct way. Let your words be the expression of the need of the hour; for God has said: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."
"Short, heartfelt prayers right to the point, offered with an earnestness corresponding to the soul-hunger for the Holy Spirit, are not wearisome to God or to the people; for they reveal a longing desire for needed strength—strength which can be obtained only from the Source of all strength."
“Our Saviour follows His lessons of instruction with a promise that if two or three should be united in asking anything of God it should be given them. Christ here shows that there must be union with others, even in our desires for a given object. Great importance is attached to the united prayer, the union of purpose. God hears the prayers of individuals, but on this occasion Jesus was giving especial and important lessons that were to have a special bearing upon His newly organized church on the earth. There must be an agreement in the things which they desire and for which they pray. It was not merely the thoughts and exercises of one mind, liable to deception; but the petition was to be the earnest desire of several minds centered on the same point.”
Finally, this has nothing to do with contemplative or other spiritualistic forms of prayer that are unsanctioned. When United Prayer began, it was seen as a way of helping new believers of other faiths participate in prayer. The shared experience, however, was such a blessing, that it was introduced elsewhere. Today, United Prayer is a wonderful way to teach people how to pray. It also enables a wonderful bonding experience in prayer. It may be necessary to do some educating in this regard in the church.
egwwritings.org has an ocean of additional information. Look further down for specific strings to use in doing the research.
United Prayer Promises This is the booklet that I developed years ago that briefly discusses United Prayer and provides Bible promises and quotes for the sequences, as well as Bible promises to claim for the needs that may be mentioned.
You may be asking how you can find quotes when you study the subject of United Prayer. For the quotes listed in connection with this web page, I use the EGW research resources in which you can do Boolean search and the egwwritings.org site on the internet.
For doing Boolean search I used the string which follows. You can try the same thing by pasting the string in the advanced search section.
("unity of purpose" OR "given object" OR "union with others" OR "united prayer" OR "union of purpose" OR “united prayers”) (prayer OR prayers OR praying OR pray OR supplicate OR entreat OR entreaties OR beg)
Notice there are two sets of words in parentheses. That means that quotations will be returned that contain any individual word or phrase from the first set, AND any word or phrase from the second set. You can add additional sets and individual words.
Notice that phrases are in quotation marks: "desired phrase"
Phrases and single words can be mixed.