9 Benefits of Praying in Community

9 Benefits of Praying in Community
 

A few months back, I read a really wonderful article on John Piper's website about the profits of praying with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of his points were ones I've found to be incredibly true in my own life – since starting the dinner club, a few of us have become accountability partners and we meet weekly to pray for one another and be invested in each others' lives. The prayer I've seen move in that group is so different than the prayer I've experienced on my own. The bond we're forming in that is continuing to keep our friendships centered on Christ and not ourselves. And when I'm going through seasons where I'm finding it hard to pray on my own (like now), it's often their prayers on my behalf that bring the communication with God that I need when I can't do it on my own. 

To be honest, prayer is one of the hardest aspects of our walk as a Christian. It's safe to say the majority of us will always feel that our prayer life is "lacking." But isn't it true that the greatest things in life are never easy? When I think of praying on my own versus praying with a group, I'm personally more inclined to pick praying alone. There's too many extra anxieties associated to praying with others, plus, if I commit to praying on my own I don't have to worry about "getting it right" – or even doing it at all. I have no one really keeping me accountable (unless I'm forcing myself to write out my prayers as documentation). But all of the reasons I'm hesitant to pray in a group are so obviously fears that are keeping me from the Lord. So, let's be brave. 

I thought Piper's article was a little theology heavy, so I took his points and made them a little more accessible and added my own experiences to them as well...

1. There's power in numbers.

Matthew 18:19-20 states, "Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." Though there's much mystery in this text (We'll get what we ask for? Does that mean what it literally means?), the overall message is that when we gather and agree, it is pleasing to God. When we gather in His name, seeking Him and doing our best to cast aside our selfish motives, He promises that He is there with us in that. His power is affirmed when we gather together in His name.

2. Multiplied joy.

What if I prayed on my own toward some end – maybe for finding a place to live in Austin. I could research on my own, pray about it, go out and actively look, be discouraged, pray about it, have something work out, then pray praise about it. This is good. But how quickly do I forget? What if instead, I presented my need to my friends and we prayed together that I would find a place. I would instantly feel supported. I would research, update them, and know they're praying for me when we're not together. I would go look – tell them I'm discouraged. We could hop on a call and pray together. I find a place – I let them know we're successful! They would be so excited, and we could pray praise together over this. 

Then, when I'm fretting about the next "big worry" of my life three months later, how sweet would it be for me to be able to turn to these friends and have them remind me of all the ways God has provided before? And especially in truly difficult situations where we're not sure what will happen... and we all see how the Lord provides. It strengthens not just my own faith, but theirs as well. It's not just that I have joy in Christ, but they do as well. 

3. Greater glory.

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. When we give thanks to God, we honor Him – and this creates deep gratitude. 2 Corinthians 1:11 says, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” Praying together not only adds power to the request, but also gets others involved – bringing more glory to the Giver when he answers.

4. Fruitful ministry and mission.

In his letters, Paul called upon so many churches to pray for him – he could've easily done this himself, and I'm sure he did. But he knew asking others to pray for him would increase the fruit created in his ministry. And don't think of ministry as just "ministry!" What that simply means is how we live our lives to create disciples – and that can happen in anything we do. Prayer increases the opportunity not just for this to happen, but for us to clearly see it happen in our lives.

5. Unity among believers.

Praying together is one of the most powerful things we can do to cultivate unity with and among our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a unity given to us as Christians when we come together centered on Him and not on ourselves (see point 1) and that unity is strengthened as we "do life" together. Acts 1:14 says it was "with one accord" that the first Christians "were devoting themselves to prayer." They did it together and supported each other in being devoted to their prayer lives. We are given "the unity of the Spirit" as a body of believers, and yet we are "eager to maintain" it (Ephesians 4:3). So, praying together effects both the unity we share in Christ among ourselves, and effects that unity to become deeper and richer. It is both a sign that unity already exists among us as brothers and sisters (God has given us that gift, thank goodness!), and is also a catalyst for more of it. 

6. Answers we might not get otherwise.

James 5:14–16 (and many other passages of Scripture) implies that there are some answers to prayer we just wouldn't get without involving others in our prayer:

"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."

God means for some answers to prayer to wait for others to join with us in the plea. Whoa. Like I noted in the intro to this post, we often pray alone for our personal needs – and God is pleased to answer. But sometimes, His means include others, such as the leaders of the church, our community or small group brothers and sisters, or just the humble prayer of a fellow sinner made righteous in Christ.

7. To learn and grow in our prayers.

The best way to learn to pray is to pray with others... especially those who have had their prayers shaped by Scripture. Listen for people in your life who's prayers draw you personally into more communion with Christ. Listen to how they approach God, the types of things they thank him for and/or ask him for, and how they keep others petitions and praises in mind when you're praying together. And even beyond the things we can study and be conscious of in someone else's prayers, know that we’re being shaped in profound ways for good when we join our hearts with others in prayer.

8. To know each other.

One of the best ways to get to know a fellow believer is to pray together. It's in prayer – in the conscious presence of God – that we’re most likely to let our walls down. We hear others’ hearts in prayer in a way we can't anywhere else.

When we pray together, not only do we reveal what most captures our hearts and what we truly value, but as we pray together, says Jack Miller in Tim Keller's book on prayer, “You can tell if a person is really on speaking terms with God”.

9. To know Jesus more.

 

This is by far the greatest benefit. When we pray together, in Jesus's name, we grow to know Jesus better. With our personal limited vision, perspective, and experience, there are aspects of Christ we’ll see with more clarity when we're with others. Our own experiences and personalities emphasize some features of His glory and make us blind to others. And so Tim Keller observes, “By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived”.

The point of prayer is not getting things from God – but getting God. This benefit alone outweighs the rest and will be a motivator that consistently provides.


Do you have people in your life that you pray with? What does praying with people look like in your life?

What you can do for someone with cancer

Cancer is scary – for everyone. When someone you love is diagnosed with it, it can often be hard to find the words to say. "Cancer sucks" may be true, but what words can you use (and not use) to affirm and build up your loved one? My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and our whole family took it hard. Her mom had passed away from the disease years before, and the memories from that time compounded with the news to make us feel as if our world was collapsing. God is so good, and thankfully, my mom was declared cancer-free just one year after her diagnosis. I asked her recently what people had done for her during that year that were truly helpful, because I think so often it feels impossible to know what you can do or say to be a good friend in the midst of something as scary as cancer. I'm so honored to share her words with you today...

 
 

When I was diagnosed with cancer, there were several things that people did that were so helpful... Here are a few things I would suggest you can do (and can avoid doing) to make the day of someone with cancer:

 

DON'T: 

  • Say the vague but often used statement, "Call me if you need me!" They won't. Understand that they're likely too overwhelmed to ask what they need, they don't want to be a bother, and it may be very difficult for them to lose some of their basic independence. Take the initiative by offering specifics, like walking their dog, picking up their kids from school, watering their flowers, or doing their laundry. 
  • Visit without checking in with them first. Your first instinct might be to go to their side and spend time with them, but a cancer diagnosis involves a wide variety of emotions and they might not be up to having visitors. If they turn down your offer to come hang out, don't take it personally... but feel free to ask again another time. They'll always appreciate that you asked.
  • Always ask for all the details about the current state of your friend's health. It can get difficult to have to share the details over and over again, and there's certainly more to them than just a cancer diagnosis. 

 

DO: 

  • Deliver a meal. Make sure to ask in advance if they have any dietary restrictions, are following any guidelines, or if anything in particular sounds terrible. I remember certain things tasting awful because of the way the chemo affected my tastebuds. Stay for a visit, or just drop off the food if they're not up for it – a cooler left outside the front door is perfect for this. Deliver a Tupperware of several pre-made meals your friend can heat up as needed. Use Tupperware you don't need returned.
  • Offer to run their errands. Groceries, toiletries, picking up prescriptions, you name it. Be in and out, no socializing needed. 
  • Offer a ride to chemo and keep them company during the treatment. Even better, commit to giving a ride on a regular basis throughout their treatments. I had a friend who picked me up for my treatment every Friday morning, large Sonic drink in hand. She waited while I got my treatment, then took me home. It gave me something to look forward to on Fridays, but it also freed up my husband to get some work done – it was hard for him not to feel as if every little thing was his responsibility alone to do while I was sick. 
  • Offer to do something fun with their kids. Cancer effects everyone living in the house – not just the person with it. If they have kids, offer to take them somewhere for an afternoon to do something fun. My treatments covered an entire summer, so there were a lot of days that they were stuck at home with me. Also, taking care of someone with cancer is a big responsibility, and is probably a big shift for any kid in the house to handle. Invite them to dinner or a movie one night or Saturday afternoon. Just getting away from it for a little bit “recharges the batteries.”
  • Gift a super comfy blanket. I promise it will be one of their favorite and most-used gifts – I had a blanket with me at all times. It kept me warm when I was (often) suddenly cold, and it made the car rides to and from treatment so much more bearable to my bones. 
  • Send a quick email, text, or message saying you're thinking of them. Text them a silly joke or photo (we can all use cheering up from time to time!). Add "No need to respond" to the end of your message – they'll appreciate hearing from you without feeling the need to do anything in return. Just the reminder that they are loved and have someone on their side is often enough to get through the day. 
 

Empathy card by Emily McDowell, photo of my mom and I by Lauren Kinsey

It takes a village

it takes a village - that's pretty ace
 

Chris is done with law school. It's a bittersweet thing to say. While I'm thankful for no more insanely large textbooks taking up residence in our house or discussions on the positive and negative aspects of chasing good grades, I'm sad to close this chapter. It means we're starting a new chapter, and it feels as weighty as beginning a whole new book.  

However, instead of stressing over all of that, I want to soak up this moment in time. Like it said on the chalkboard at Chris's party: "3 years of hard work, dedication, and commitment." It's no small feat. And it certainly takes a village.

As Chris and I sat mingled at a reception at his school, I looked around at the room of professors, deans, and judges and heard those words in my head – it takes a village. When we went out for a celebratory dinner with our parents that same night, I heard them again. As people arrived for Chris's party on Friday night, I couldn't help but hear that phrase over and over as new and old friends walked through the door. When we attended graduation on Saturday night and Chris's voice rang out from over the podium as he gave his speech, I looked around and took in those sweet words. It takes a village.

It's so easy to bury yourself under the busy-ness of life and miss how God has intimately woven people into it. People who love you and support you. People who share their wisdom. People who remind you that you're not alone. People you can rely on. People who mess up. People who remind you that people are human. People who refine you. Some are part of your story longer than others, but they're equal players all the same. And when you finally step back to admire the tapestry God is weaving, it can be astonishing. You really never did this life alone. 

I'll leave you with a few words from Chris's valedictorian (!) speech: "In a world that tells us to serve ourselves, we should look to put others' needs ahead of our own. In a world that tells us that winning is everything, we should seek to be humble. We should remember that these honors are not who we are or how we'll be remembered. And we should be ever mindful of the help and support that we've been given in getting to where we are today." Investing in people over investing in success is a wonderful way to live. Love y'all. 

Surrender.

IMG_9865.jpg
 

It's important to look back from time to time to remember how far we've come – it's an enduring testament to God's faithfulness, to see where He's taken us. One of the biggest ways I've seen Him move in my life has actually been right here on this blog. There are many of you who have followed along from the beginning, and have seen the fruit of His hands – and it would be a disservice to me to hide the full weight of what He's done from you. I've feared writing this post for awhile, because it's been hard for me to put into words. This may or may not be legible. Forgive me.


When I started the blog, I was looking to turn my passion into my income. I had been an avid blog reader for years, and felt that my immense knowledge of random tips and tricks would be perfectly suited to a blog. Growing up, I had written numerous short stories, chapter books, and diaries. I had just obtained my college degree in graphic design. It felt as if all of the pieces had come together. On our honeymoon, Chris encouraged me to just try it, and that was the last push I needed. I launched TPA in the fall of 2013 and posted Monday through Friday on travel, style, food, and anything else that struck my fancy. 

Over the next few months, my readership grew but my spirits fell. I found that blogging wasn't nearly as fulfilling as I had imagined. Chris and I got plugged in at our current church, and God began to do a serious work in my heart. I realized blogging was not a topic I couldn't bring to the Lord, and for the first time, asked Him about it.

I remember that December praying He would stop me if this wasn't His will. I told Him I was fine putting this dream in a drawer if it wasn't what He wanted for me. I simultaneously couldn't believe I was saying those words (after all of that dreaming I had done!), and also that I felt so at ease saying those words. I was ready to walk away. I prayed about it on my way to work, during breaks in my day, before bed at night. For several weeks, I kept offering these words up to the Lord – asking Him which way to go. This was all a completely new experience for me. I couldn't remember the last time I prayed, let alone praying continuously over something in such a focused way. 

I was working one night on a blog post and felt new words begin to sink into my heart – "let Me take it." It hadn't dawned on me before. Letting Him run something as worldly and mundane as a blog? "You're saying you're ready to give it up. Do that... but don't walk away from it. Just give it to me. Step in and surrender it." 

My world was turned upside down. Since then, He's turned my world on it's head several times, and much of that has happened here. I began to write more openly about my faith, and through that, found more and more community. I had people reach out to me via social media to thank me for sharing my words. I had strangers tell me they found healing here. I had a distant acquaintance stop me in the grocery store to tell me TPA was the only blog she read and that it gave her life. Every time I heard that, all I could honestly answer was that it wasn't me – it was all God's doing. I couldn't fathom that people came here and found what the encouragement they needed. 

He sparked in me a deep love and affection for women – another miracle I couldn't fathom, after having spent most of my life afraid of their friendship. I still find myself retreating back to that, and it's a constant battle for me to learn how to be vulnerable. Loving others hasn't been the hard part, but letting down my walls enough to let others in has been a true struggle. Blogging? Talk about "no walls." God has lead me to write more and more of what He's taught me here, and that means being honest, and it means letting the walls come crumbling down. I can't believe how freeing exposing more of my weakness through writing has been. I pray He continues to work in these areas in my heart – pulling up weeds and tilling the soil. Sometimes it hurts, and it's certainly not always pretty, but it's good, hard work that produces incredible fruit (or flowers, if you like those better ;) ). One of the beautiful gardens born out of that was The Ruby Project. I (well, let's be real, God) invited more women in to be vulnerable – to wave a banner of how their weakness has been where God has triumphed. It was a beautiful thing, and the joy of that has been sewn deep into my heart. To you women who were part of that – I will never be able to thank you enough. God did a good work  in you.

Then, I went through a period last summer where I was stopped in my tracks in a very unexpected way. A close friend asked good questions about why I blogged and where my biblical truth came from... and if it really came from the Bible. I questioned everything. I felt exposed, and as if I was teaching lies without realizing it. I felt as if I had lost my identity. I felt as if I had let everyone down. I let myself become paralyzed by fear and lies. I stopped writing. 

Friends, it was in this place of fear and darkness that led to one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Chris and I took a trip to California – his home state, and a place I'd never been. The ocean has always been a powerful teacher in my life (partially why we were married so close to it). I stood at the ocean's edge and let Him speak to me. Chris and I had long, lengthy discussions about where God was taking us – physically, mentally, and emotionally. We fasted for the first time. We came home still afraid of what might be next for us – but knowing we could have hope in our good Father. We rested in that knowledge.

Born out of that season was a desire to attend seminary. Y'all, I felt like a crazy person. What's a graphic designer doing in seminary school? What were my plans for ministry after graduation? Was this degree going to turn into a source of income for us? I didn't have answers for any of that. Of course I wanted to imagine speaking to huge rooms full of women; I wanted to dream of writing book after book on His goodness. But I felt as if that was narrow-minded of me. I had seen that play out before for the women I admired, but that wasn't the only option. I began to find great comfort in the unknown, in the turned-up palms that said, "Lord, whatever your will is. I just want to know You more." It still feels completely abnormal to tell people that I'm pursuing a degree that may not necessarily lead to a career path. But I love how God takes what feels terrifying to me and makes it all about His glory. 

Writing to you here has pushed me further and further out of my comfort zone. I look back and re-read blog posts and it brings me to my knees. It's hard for me to express the gravity of all that He's done in me through this blog. On the "about" page, I've written that I wish every blog post was instead us sitting down one-on-one, with steaming cups of coffee between us, chatting. I wish I could look you in the eyes and tell you to your face that He is good. I wish I could hear each of your stories. 

Because really, that's just it. I type all of this out to say that there's one story at work here, and it is big and beautiful. It's woven into a giant tapestry, and each raggedy thread is suddenly woven in as part of something bigger and more glorious than we can even realize at this present moment. Your story matters. God takes these threads of our lives (blogging? what would He want with that?) (me? I'm terrified of friendship. why would He want me to love on other women??) and He is good to claim them for Himself and tie them into what He's doing – redeeming and reconciling for His glory alone. There is great joy in that friends. I'll leave you with one of my favorites: 

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
- Hebrews 12:1-3 -


Recap: Pause & Pray

A few weeks ago, a little group of us got together to spend a weekend in prayer. We didn't really know what to expect (myself included, even though I had been planning for months!). We ended up having the most restful bonding time. 

A family friend let us use their lake house for the weekend, and it was a huge blessing. Though the lake it sits on is in a drought, we were still able to enjoy the view of the water – we were even fortunate enough to have a beautiful spring day make an appearance! Saturday we spent the whole day going between sections of discussion and sections of prayer time, both alone and with partners. 

We divided up our prayer time into four sections:

  • Meditation – reading His Word and spending time letting it sink it and resonate, asking God what He would want us to see there
  • Praise – using His Word to inspire ways we can give Him praise, even when it's hard
  • Confession & Repentance – seeing our own sin and selfish desires, confessing them to the Lord, and repenting
  • Petitionasking Him for His aid in every aspect, with our lives and the lives of those around us, with the world, etc.

We ended our time together on Sunday morning by sharing our petitions with a prayer partner and discussing the importance of prayer in community. The quiet away from the hustle and bustle of our every day was so restoring. 

One of my favorite things from the whole weekend was just chatting with the girls. Saturday night we stayed up talking (and playing Spoons). We started by discussing how it's hard to pray – to begin praying, to stay focused in praying, and especially to pray for longer periods of time – and ended up talking about all sorts of topics. It was such a joy getting to learn about one another. I had come into the weekend so anxious and unsure of what to expect. I was worried I didn't plan enough, or that I would come across as bossy. God was so good to soothe my heart. The whole day naturally revolved around resting in Him, and I can't describe fully how restorative that was for my soul. Thinking I probably could use more time like this in my life :) 


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