Note: This article is excerpted from A Guidebook to Prayer.
Conversation prayer is praying with a group using a direct, simple, and brief conversational style. It's natural and scriptural. The prayer is based on the premise that God is concerned about everything in our lives, and the essential elements are an embrace of the Holy Spirit's presence and a dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide the prayers.
Conversation prayer is a combination of listening and asking. The prayer begins without the usual sharing of prayer requests. Often we gather for prayer and spend 50 out of 60 minutes sharing. Then a few people pray in the last 10 minutes. Instead, with conversation prayer, requests are shared within the actual prayer time. The prayer is not a monologue of one person speaking for several minutes and then another person speaking, but a one- to two-sentence named request, such as "Lord, help me with my finances," followed by reflective responses. The second person prays a response such as, "God, help him with his finances," and the third person might pray after listening to the Spirit, "Lord, help him trust you with his everyday needs."
Short one- to two-sentence prayers reflect conversation, thus the name. The conversation is between the group and the Holy Spirit. We sometimes use prayer time to reach others and share our wisdom or life experience. Conversation prayer is not about us, but about a complete dependence on listening to and responding to the Holy Spirit. If you are emotionally eager to pray next or you pray too long, you probably are listening to yourself more than to the Holy Spirit.
The prayer responses come from listening. You don't need to go around the circle, nor does everyone need to respond to every request. Listen to the Spirit. There are small spaces of silence to listen to the Holy Spirit for guidance between requests and responses. The silence also helps us to focus on the person's words rather than trying to get ready for our own contributions.
This type of prayer works best in a group of three to five people. Comfort matters. Conversation prayer takes 30 to 60 minutes depending on the group's experience. Don't sit on the floor and hold hands. If you become uncomfortable, it will be difficult to listen to the Holy Spirit.
The value of conversation prayer is that it is a natural and easy way for people to pray together. There are no experts or "saints." We all talk, and we can all talk to God together. Another value is the recognition of the movement of the Holy Spirit among us. It's not about our success, but the Holy Spirit's presence with us.
A leader takes time to clearly explain the prayer experience and to model it before the group. It's biblical but not natural for us to pray in this manner, so care is needed to describe and demonstrate how the prayer time happens. Having a handout can help each person follow along. Then the sheet serves as a guide when group members pray.
After the explanation, break the group into smaller groups of three to five. Tell them that the leader will watch the time, so people can completely enter into the experience. Make sure that all cell phones are off and watches are put away. The steps are as follows:
- Say together Romans 8:26-27.
- Then pray Ephesians 6:18: "Lord, we 'pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people.' Guide us as we pray."
- Begin in silence for one to two minutes, reflecting on the Spirit's presence.
- As you are led, thank God for whatever is brought to your mind and heart. Examples: "Thank you, Jesus, for saving me." "Thank you, Lord, for creating this beautiful world." Each person will most likely have several or even many short prayers of gratitude toward God.
- As led, thank God for others in your life. Examples: "Father God, thank you for my friend who stood by me." "Thank you, Jesus, for my mom." "Thank you for the life and inspiration of Nelson Mandela." Again, there will be several responses from each with silence in between.
- Throughout this time there are spaces to listen to the Spirit for guidance. Listen and then pray for whatever request comes up. After someone introduces a request, the rest listen for how to add their prayers to it. Sometimes you might even pray a couple of times for a request. Sometimes you don't have any clarity. Then just hold the request before the Holy Spirit.
- As you feel led, share the personal requests in your own life. Examples: "Lord, help me to stop obsessing about success." "Jesus, help me forgive the coworker who yelled at me." "Spirit, help me sense your presence in my life." Give space between requests to listen for how the Holy Spirit leads you to respond. It is like a threaded discussion.
- When there are no more personal requests, move to praying for others' needs. Examples: "Lord, I am worried about my brother who's been drinking again." "Jesus, help my dad find work." "God, my friend at school is very depressed." Listen for responses to each request.
- When the needs of others are finished, move to praying for broader concerns in the world. These are global concerns for which you probably don't have a direct connection. As priests to the world, we pray for the needs of the world. Examples: "Jesus, watch over the innocent children in Asia." "Spirit, help us to find a spirit of unity with people different from ourselves."
- The leader will say, "Thank you, God … " when five minutes remain. At that time, transition from the request prayers to again thanking God.
- When the time is over, the leader prays something like, "Holy Spirit, thank you for hearing our prayers and interceding on our behalf."
- Close with a blessing such as, "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Corinthians 13:14).
- Take time for group members to share about the experience. Are there any questions?