Imagine this: you’re walking down the sidewalk on your school’s campus, and you run into one of your friends. You ask, “how are you?” and your friend says that one of his family friends passed away last week, and he’s taking the loss really hard. You express your condolences, he thanks you, and he asks if you’d be able to pray for him. Of course you would. He thanks you again, and you two go your separate ways. Later in the day you remember to pray for your friend — you’ve done something simple and good.
I would run out of fingers and toes if I tried to count the number of times a situation like the one above has happened to me. Pretty often, my friends and I will ask for each others prayers over specific situations in our lives, asking for certain virtues or strengths that we need. And it’s wonderful for friends to pray for each other. But, today, I present the idea of taking a step further. Beyond praying for one another, there is a special, incarnate beauty in praying with one another.
Don’t think I’m knocking the importance of silent intercession for our friends — I’m not. But, I do believe that there’s a unique beauty and intimacy that comes in the unique situation of two people praying out loud together in person. To be physically and spiritually present to one another and to open our hearts together to the Lord is an experience unlike anything else. Even in the gospels we see that Christ values His physical presence to those He loves and heals. So many of Jesus’s healing miracles involve a physical encounter with another, with words shared aloud and some incarnate sign of love — think of the hemorrhaging woman who is healed merely by touching Christ’s cloak (Luke 8:43-48).
As we strive to live and love as Christ in the world, it’s important to recognize the power that lies in our physical presence and of the breath and sound of our words. Praying together, in person with another is powerful. But, it can also be uncomfortable. Maybe you don’t feel empowered or equipped to pray out loud with a friend at all, let alone to do so well. So, in this blog today, I hope to offer some practical advice on how we might go about praying with others.
Invite the Holy Spirit
At His Last Supper, Christ tells us, “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you” (John 14:18). Um, excuse me? That’s beautiful! Christ promises that He will continue to be with us, not in the form of a human person, but through the presence of His Holy Spirit flowing among us. And, when Christ promises to send His Spirit, He really does! When the Apostles gathered in the upper room at Pentecost, “a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 1:2-4). Moreover, St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
The Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray, for He knows best the voice of God and exists as the eternal communication of love between the Father and the Son. When we pray out loud with others, invoking the help of the Holy Spirit can bring to our words a new life and light. The Lord delights in our invitation to Him to speak through us, not because He’s egocentric, but because He knows that we actualize our fullest human nature in entering into a relationship of love with Him through the Spirit He’s given us. If you’re praying out loud with a friend (or a family member or a stranger or an arch nemesis), it’s more than appropriate to begin your prayer with, “come, Holy Spirit, teach us how to pray.” The Spirit rejoices at this invitation to come into our lives to communicate the Lord’s love through our words, for it’s in His very nature to communicate the love of God.
Be Honest and Specific
As you pray out loud with another person, it’s also totally appropriate, before you start praying, to ask for which specific things the other person needs prayer. Taking a second to get to know the details of the other person’s heart and situation is not a waste of time; rather, doing so will show you how best to ask for the Lord’s graces to pour out. It’s realistic as well to consider that the Holy Spirit might invite us to pray with someone we don’t know very well, or even at all. This might seem kind of wild, but I’ve seen it happen, more times that I can count. In these less common but still important situations, it’s especially important to be docile (obedient) to the promptings if the Holy Spirit. If you feel called to pray out loud with a stranger, it might be appropriate to say something like, “Hi, my name is _____. This might sound kind of strange, but I really feel a calling to pray with you right now. Is there anything in your life that you need prayers for?”
Of course, our omniscient (all-knowing) God already knows what lies in our hearts. Even so, our verbalized intercessions carry a lot of power with them. To petition or thank the Lord for specific things in our lives brings to our own attentions what sits on our hearts, so, even if God learns nothing new, we can come to a clearer vision of just what it is we’re praying about and what’s going on inside of us.
It’s also crucial to be honest with the Lord while you pray. Again, He’s omniscient, so He can tell if you’re holding back! Rather than saying, “Lord, I do fear that my tender devotions to thee doth waver like so much dust in the winter wind,” you might say, “Lord, listen. I have no idea how to love you as I should, and it’s driving me crazy. I want to love you so much more, but I’m really really worried that I won’t be able to if I’m not perfect. Please show me your love for me in a special way today. I really need your help.” The Lord will not be offended or scandalized by your honesty with Him. He’ll be excited to hear from the rawness of your heart. And, I think you will be too. There comes a certain freedom in being honest and specific about what’s going on in our lives, and our prayers with one another afford us a beautiful opportunity to share this vulnerability with each other.
Be Not Afraid
Finally, as Christ affirms so many times throughout His life and ministry, as we pray out loud, we must be not afraid. We must be not afraid of sharing the truths of our hearts with another. We must be not afraid of telling God that we’re mad at Him or that we’re sick of what’s been going on in our lives. And, maybe, we must even be not afraid of standing with a friend in the middle of the sidewalk with our hands open, praying aloud and together in the midst of everyday life. The vulnerability that comes with shared vocal prayer can be intimidating, but we need not be afraid of it. Rather, we ought to see this vulnerability as an opportunity to grow closer to others and to God.
We ought also to be unafraid to be bold in our petitions and thanksgivings. We can ask God for big things! It is perfectly acceptable to ask God for miraculous healings, gifts of the Holy Spirit, courageous virtues, or other things that might seem beyond all hope. We worship a God of miracles, so He has no trouble granting big requests. Of course, not every time we pray for something big will we get a big result. Even so, the Lord will delight in our radical trust in Him, His power, and His faithfulness.
We might not be used to or comfortable with praying with aloud with others, but doing so can be really powerful. It gives us an opportunity to engage the Holy Spirit, to bear our hearts to God and to one another, and without fear to give over our deepest dreams and desires to the Lord. Christianity is a religion of incarnation, so our faith should animate the physical realities of our lives. And the incarnate presence of two people praying together is unlike anything else. So, the next time a friend ask us to pray for them, I challenge you and I to go out on a limb and invite them to pray right then and there? In sharing experiences of prayer we will come to a clearer vision of each other, ourselves, and our God.