I confess that that there are times when I find it difficult to pray on my own – but I have never found it difficult praying with others. Perhaps this is because around the age of seven or eight (I can’t remind the precise time) I began to go to a mid-week devotional meeting called ‘Junior Christian Endeavour’ and there we had what was called ‘chain’ prayer. We sat in a circle and one by one we went around the circle and prayed. Nobody was allowed not to pray – we all had to pray – and what is more, there were no silences in-between – we immediately followed each other on. From this distance of time I can no longer judge the quality – let alone the effectiveness – of those prayers; but one thing for sure, those meetings gave us all confidence to pray.
When I went on to secondary school, I joined the Christian Union. In addition to the weekly after-school speaker-meetings, we also had weekly lunch-time prayer-meetings. There were not many of us at these prayer meetings – as a result we could squeeze into in the room from which films were projected into our big assembly hall. At those meeting we again went round the room, praying for one another and for school-friends.
As a student I belonged not only to my college Christian Union, where we always went round the room praying, I also belonged to the university Baptist society, where in addition to weekly meetings for Bible study, we also had an early morning weekly prayer meeting. If my memory serves me correct, I used to ring Caroline up at 6.30 to make sure she was up – in doing so, I woke not only her up, but also other girls whose study-bedrooms were off the same long corridor on which the public phone box was to be found.
Praying together with other children, with other young people, with other students, has been the foundation to my Christian life. What’s more, without exception, the praying together has always been a lively and passionate affair. There were never long gaps of silence – we ‘gathered around the ball’ and prayed.
If the truth be told, I am not sure where that expression – ‘gathering around the ball’ – first arose. The underlying picture is of a rugby scrum. If you know anything about rugby, you will know that the forwards bind together (I used to play ‘second row’) and then in a highly concentrated fashion push hard with a view to getting hold of the ball and working it back through the scrum. The important point to notice is that the forwards work together and push together, with one aim in view – winning the ball. For me scrumming down is a great metaphor for a prayer meeting. When we are gathered together in prayer, we pray hard and focus on whatever the concern might be. In such a context, if there is a real issue at stake, then we are not satisfied with just one person’s prayer, rather we work away at the issue, as we keep on bringing before God the person or the situation which is on our heart. As we do so, we do not just repeat the prayer, but rather we explore the issue from all kinds of angles. There is not just passion, but also depth, in such praying. That is what ‘gathering around the ball’ in prayer is all about. The nearest Scripture analogy which comes to mind is the ‘wrestling’ of Jacob with God at Peniel (see Genesis 32.22-32).
In my experience prayer meetings which involve such passionate and focussed engagement can be amazingly rewarding. What a difference it makes to the preacher, for instance, when participants at the pre-service prayer meeting really ‘gather around the ball’ and pray for God to bless the service. Wow! You go into the service really ready to explode into action with an ‘oomph’. That’s the kind of praying that we need to encourage and foster