The Power of Group Prayer, Carolyn Carney. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2022.
Summary: A practical guide for intercessory prayer groups, casting vision for how these may transform both the intercessors and their world.
I am so glad Carolyn Carney wrote this book! I have seen both the power of God unleashed when Christians pray together and I’ve seen painfully dull gatherings that never get beyond the participants aches and pains, usually with more talk than prayer. Carney, who has led gatherings of students and church leaders in prayer believes in intercessory prayer that is an act of rebellion against a worldly status quo and the building of highways in which we join God in the coming of his kingdom, fueling our sense of mission.
She begins with our preparation to pray, helping us identify the way we may be blocking intimacy with God and how we may nurture that attachment. She makes the biblical case for corporate intercession from scripture and identifies four marks of effective intercessory groups:
- Good leadership
- Targeted focus
- Hunger for God’s kingdom to come more fully
Good groups have a clear focus, a sense of what they are aiming at that may be expressed through a guiding image. In praying for a community, they survey the land and identify both fertile and fallow ground. Carney offers a number of questions to help groups in this process. Well-led groups help break the habits of jargon-y, long-winded, unfocused prayer and vague requests. She talks about praying in agreement, in which groups listen to and add to what each person briefly prays about the prayer topic of the meeting.
Prayer is also listening to God, and Carney offers a number of way groups may do this as God prompts us in prayer, brings to mind scripture, a picture or vision, or physical sensation. Listening together, people can discern whether what individuals share rings true and if so, confirm what God is saying, leading to discerning how to pray and act. Scripture and worship play an important role in enlarging our vision of God and informing our prayers concerning what God wants.
Carney describes ways intercessory groups can “take it to the streets.” She gives tips on prayer walking, prayer mapping, and praying for events from worship services to major Christian conferences. She shares a vivid example around the latter of being part of an intercessory team at a major conference, where there had been a great moving of God. Organizers wanted to start “tear down” early, asking the team to vacate their room. All of a sudden, it seem everything went awry and the enemy attacked the good God was doing. The team resumed praying!
This underscores that intercessory prayer is a form of war and will encounter resistance. One of the appendices of the book includes a prayer for praying on oneself the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20). She offers counsel on facing opposition, including the role of worship in countering it, and the care intercessors should take when coming off a season of intercession. She concludes with encouraging a vision of intercession over the long haul and five practices that sustain it:
- Lament, sometimes with groans over how little of God’s kingdom we see.
- Fasting for breakthrough
- Expanding our view of God through worship
- Getting physical, whether through things like hand-held crosses, “walls” that we tear down in prayer, etc.
- Leaning on others.
The appendices of the book offer more practical help in specific areas from dealing with distorted views of God to specifics of planning a prayer meeting to specific counsel for prayer before worship and at large events, and finally “Lion’s Roar Prayer for Breakthrough.”
Even those of us who have been part of great movements of prayer and who have seen God work can lose our vision for the power of people seeking God together. Carolyn Carney’s vision, stories, and practical instruction may be just the thing to encourage you to gather with others to seek the work of God where he has placed you or help take to new places that prayer group that feels like it has gotten into a rut.
The pandemic years, with all their turmoil underscore our need for revival, pretty much anywhere in the world. I cannot find accounts of revival where intercessory prayer was not a central feature. It’s my prayer that every copy of this book will be like fertile seed, giving birth to prayer movements, through which God in his good pleasure may move to prepare the ground, to build the highway, through which he visits his people with revival. May it be so!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.