The term “conversational prayer” is not an unusual one. Neither is it original. I’ve found many groups of young people and adults using this direct, honest approach to God. Yet the word conversation needs a fresh defining.
What is conversation?
It is a method which should provide communication between two or more people. Unfortunately, it is usually listed among the lost arts of today.
To understand conversational prayer, it will be a great help if we get the following four points about real conversation clearly in our minds.
- When we converse, we become aware. Aware of the other person, his rights, his privileges, his feeling, and if we converse long enough, his total personality.
- Good conversation implies that we must take turn about and do it gracefully. When one person does all the talking we call it (if we are polite) a monologue.
- Finally, it should be clear that to converse we must all pursue the same subject, and pursue it by turns. We are, in a sense, the listening and speaking members of a team. We have agreed to agree upon our subject of conversation, and to do this each one must decide what is relevant and important at the moment.
- To carry on a conversation of any significance or interest, each person must use his memory to recall, his patience to wait, his alertness to jump in, his willingness to get out, and above all his capacity to hold back the disruptive. In other words, he should be in tune.
How does all this apply to prayer?
Let me tell you a true story.
Several years ago while I was visiting San Diego State College in California, Ray Williamson, president of the Christian student group, invited me to attend their daily prayer meeting. He pointed to a large tree on the far campus and said, “We meet in a circle around that big tree for fifteen minutes each noon. Meet me here at twelve-thirty sharp and I’ll go over with you.”
Later, as we walked across the campus toward the big tree, the following conversation took place between Ray and me.
“Is there any special method you follow in your prayer meetings?” I asked.
“Yes, there is,” replied Ray. “I usually start, and then the person next to me prays, and we go on around the circle until everyone has prayed.”
I reflected on this, knowing that I would very much like to introduce conversational prayer to Ray and his group. But I didn’t want to push.
I started with a question. “Ray, how does that give the Holy Spirit opportunity to lead you while you pray?”
He looked at me as we walked. “What do you mean?”
I tried to explain. “Well, you see, it’s like this. The Holy Spirit within us moves on our hearts and initiates our concerns and our love, as well as our requests. Could it be possible that in simply going around a circle, humanly speaking, you might ‘quench the Spirit’?”
“Quench the Spirit?”
“Yes, by following a set pattern. That makes it difficult for the Spirit to move us as we pray, and to make us aware of what He is saying as we pray. Didn’t you ever have a wonderful prayer idea right while the other fellow was praying, and say to yourself, ‘Now I must be sure to remember that and pray about it when my turn comes,’ and then when your turn came you couldn’t for the life of you remember what it was?”
Ray laughed, “I’m beginning to see what you’re driving at, Ros, and it makes sense. Why don’t you tell all of us about it, and show us how? Right now.”
“Right now?” I looked to see if he really meant it.
We had already been standing by the big tree for several moments, and the group was gathering.
“Yes, right now,” he repeated, and stepping into the circle, called the group together. “Ros has a few keen ideas for us, and I know they will help us have a better prayer meeting.”
Briefly I spoke to them, knowing the fifteen minutes would go by quickly.
“Instead of going around the circle today, let’s remember consciously that the Lord Jesus is right here, in the center of this circle with us. He promised, ‘where two or three are gathered, there am I.’ Let’s speak directly to Him, simply, honestly, just as we talk to anyone in whom we have real confidence. Let’s say ‘I’ when we mean I, and ‘we’ if we mean the whole group.
“Another important thing is to pray by subjects. If someone starts to pray for Joe Blow, two or three of the rest of you feel perfectly free to pray for him, too. Be direct and simple. Then let’s wait a moment before introducing a new name. The Spirit will guide us. You can each pray four or five times if you want to, but let’s keep to one subject at a time, and pray back and forth. As we open our hearts, the Holy Spirit will guide us concerning who to pray for, what to pray for and when to pray.”
Teenagers are quick to grasp new ideas. They were right with me, all of them. I made a quick recap.
“Now remember, the Lord is here. We are speaking to Him. Pray in short sentences, and then let someone else have a chance. He will guide us.”
There was silence.
I prayed first. “Lord Jesus, thank You that You are here. You said You would be, and all of us want to thank You, and worship You. (Pause) Guide us now, as to whom we should pray for first.”
Ray took it up: “Lord, I want to pray for Tony P., that Italian boy in my swim class. He’s my buddy, and I’ve been wanting to talk with him about You, but I haven’t done it yet. Please help me.”
A young man across the circle took it next: “Why, Lord, I hadn’t any idea Ray was in Tony’s swim class. I’ve already talked to him about You. Bless Ray real good, and give him faith and courage and love for Tony. And help us to work together now.”
A girl in the circle gasped audibly. “Oh. how wonderfull” Her spontaneous prayer continued, “Lord, I sit right next to Tony in an English Lit. Class, and I’ve already lent him my HIS magazine. I was just wishing Tony knew some real Christian guy who’d talk to him. Why, isn’t this wonderfull I had no idea that both Ray and Ted knew Tony!”
Several members of the group prayed for these three and their further contacts with Tony, and for Tony that his heart might be open to receive Christ as his Saviour.
I prayed, “Lord, guide Ray and Ted very definitely. Show them the next step. Show them what you want them to do tomorrow. Help them show Your kind of love to Tony in some definite way.”
Ray couldn’t wait any longer. He spoke up, and to the whole group. “Say, isn’t this great! Hey, this is really neat!” And looking at his wrist watch, “We’ve got about five minutes more to pray.”
Those last five minutes were just as wonderful as the first ten. When the group broke up to go to classes, several of them including Ray walked back with me.
“Ros, tell us more. Why, we were really living just then. This makes prayer alive. What else can you tell us? Is there any more? Shall we just keep on like this?”
“There is just one thing that comes to my mind right now,” I replied, not wanting to load them down with too many details which would in any way lessen the joy of their new discovery.
Turning to Ray, I said, “You know what you told me before the meeting about praying around the circle?”
“Well, when you pray that way you just naturally assume that each person who attends wants to pray, and is willing to pray. Right?”
“Yes,” said Ray, slowly thinking it over. “Oh, I think I see what you are driving at, Ros. You mean that there might be someone present who just wants to listen, and not pray. Hey, do you suppose anyone who’s not a Christian might want to come to a prayer meeting?” he finished incredulously.
“That’s what I’ve found,” I said, “especially persons with whom I have already talked, and whose hearts are wide open to know the truth. I’ve known people like that to come, and sometimes the very first time they pray aloud in spite of themselves. The Lord is so near and so real when a group is talking conversationally with Him. And I’ve seen non-believers walk right into life with Christ just by speaking to Him personally.”
Ray was really excited.
“That makes wonderful sense, Ros. After all, when we talk to Christ we’re speaking right to truth Himself. He said, ‘I am the truth.’ If a person really wants to know the truth, what better way is there than to get into a group where it’s easier to begin to talk right to God.”
That student had struck a deep note.
When we pray, to whom are we really speaking?
Rosalind Rinker, Prayer: How to Have a Conversation with God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).