How to pray with Christians from other backgrounds

Black-and-white-hands-in-prayer Have you ever tried to pray with Christians from other cultures and different denominational subcultures? It can be difficult sometimes, but also rewarding.

There are a few occasions that particularly stand out for me. One was a prayer circle where we had a number of Aussies and an Indian guy. He went on and on forever, but he so passionate that it didn’t matter. I was reminded of how much we have to learn from one another, of why the one Lord, one body message is so important.

Another was a gathering of youth leaders where we were praying for a combined youth service that was coming up. Now, that combined churches network consisted of Pentecostals, Baptists, Catholics and more, and they all brought their own denomination idiosyncrasies to the prayer gathering. We had the Anglicans, with their prayer lists that took longer than their actual prayers. We had the Pentecostals, whose verbal exclamations and affirming interjections proved so loud and distracting that I lost all concentration. And then there was me, a contemplative guy who would have preferred sit in silence for fifteen minutes without anyone saying anything. I’m sure others would have found that frustrating. It was difficult. And yet, simply the fact that we were praying together was rewarding and encouraging.

I don’t pretend to be an expert, but here are some things I’ve learnt:

  1. Focus the lordship of Jesus, not yourself
  2. Be open to leaning about God through strangers
  3. Gentleness, patience and humility are signs of the Spirit

So, what’s been your experience, and what have you found has helped?

9 thoughts on “How to pray with Christians from other backgrounds

  1. “And then there was me, a contemplative guy who would have preferred sit in silence for fifteen minutes without anyone saying anything.”
    You’re a Quaker? *ducks*
    On a more serious note, I can see where some very different approaches to prayer in the same group could get…confusing.


  2. Don’t have to be a Quaker to be contemplative. Don’t have to duck either. I love Richard Foster and have a good mate who says he’s more Quaker than Baptist in the same way I’m more Anabaptist than Baptist. I differ from them in teaching and practice … but not entirely.
    I imagine different approaches to prayer amongst Christians is not unlike different approaches to magick amongst Pagans. Imagine OTO, neoshamans and heathans trying to cast a spell, together, spontaneously, without prior preparation, and you’d probably get the gist of it.


  3. When I was in Bangladesh, they did group prayer by all speaking at the same time, which took some getting used to.
    Also, if someone becomes a Christian from a Muslim background, and all their life they’ve been praying by taking their shoes off, and adopting a sequence of postures, could it be the loving thing for us to enable them to keep praying to the Father of our Lord Jesus with similar disciplines, if that was how they felt most comfortable?
    What about this – having read a good chunk of the Koran, there are passages in it that would be perfectly acceptable as Christian liturgy – would it be appropriate to take them and build them in as liturgical prayer for a congregation that contained Muslim converts?
    Keen to hear your thoughts


  4. I find it interesting that everyone, well, lots of people anyway, think that their way of doing things is generic, while other people’s ways of doing things are denominational.
    When I was an Anglican in one small town we had an interdenominational Sunday school, held in the Anglican Church, with a Methodist superintendent. On one occasion I was asked to lead some devotions, so I thought I would do it in an Anglican way. The Superintendent, objected, on the grounds that it was an interdenominational Sunday School, therefore it would be wrong to force the Anglican way on the kids, so I should therefore do it in the Methodist way.
    And then there were the Pentecostals, who mocked and caricatured the “vain repetitions” of the Anglicans (and would no doubt do the same with the Orthodox “Lord have mercy” and Jesus prayer), but the Anglicans in turn mocked them for their vain repetitions of “Lord”, “would” and “just — “Lord we just want to thank you Lord. Lord we would come into your presence, Lord. Lord we would just ask you to be with us today Lord.” But Anglican charismatics were sometimes just as bad.
    I think it might be better, on ecumenical occasions, to say to each group, “You lead it your way, according to your tradition, and the rest of us will follow as best we can. Protestants tend to pray sitting, with eyes closed, Orthodox tend to pray standing, with eyes open. One Orthodox woman saw a charismatic service on TV, and was quite horrified at the sight of people singing “with closed eyes and bared teeth”.


  5. Christian
    I think I’d have to take it on a case by case basis. Not automatically against using the Koran but not automatically for it either. Question is, what if, instead of talking about converts from Islam, we were talking about converts from Wicca or Hinduism instead? Would you be asking the same question about the Book of Shadows or the Gita? If not, why not? If so, why so?
    There is precident for Christians using Pagan writings. Not sure if you’re aware of it or not but the apostle Paul himself did so in Athens (Act 17:28), so I’m open to exploring the use of Muslim writings as well. But there’s a question of methodology and context.
    Firstly, in terms of methodology, I think it’s worth pondering Mike Frost’s summary of the critical contextualization process in and asking, should the same procedure apply for worship as it does for witnessing? Is there anything in the difference between worship and witnessing which we should be considering? I’d need to think more on this.
    Secondly, in terms of context, what proportion of the congregation are we suggesting might be Muslim converts? 80 percent? 20 percent? If the latter, do we run the risk of horrendously confusing the majority as we accommodate the minority. It’s one thing to accommodate shoelessness and bowing, it’s another to accommodate non-Christian scriptures. Again, I’d need to think more on this.
    Irrespective, I tend to think that even if we do use the Koran, we should do so Christocentrically. That is, the Koran should be brought under the lordship of Christ and the authority of the New Testament. This would involve an element of reframing which probably wouldn’t make Muslims feel comfortable at all. Recall the reaction of the ancient Jews to the reframing of the Old Testament? It was mixed. If we do it faithfully we should expect no less from Muslims.


  6. Steve,
    LOL, it’s interdenominational so let’s do it MY way! Brilliant! Oh, and you nailed the Pentecostals. But we’ve all got our idiosyncrasies haven’t we … well, at least you guys do. I don’t know about me 🙂


  7. I have enjoyed reading the comments on this thread. I’m not from a Muslim background but every morning, I pray barefoot and use a sequence of postures! I couldn’t help an empathetic giggle reading about the interdenominational prayer situation Steve describes. I’ve prayed with people from all different cultures (ethnic and church varieties) and I’ve never really experienced a problem because it has been in situations where people are truly seeking, praising, glorifying and honouring Christ! How blessed am I to have experienced such wonders… I mean it… I’m not being facetious at all… genuinely grateful! 🙂


  8. I guess you could say I am multi-tradditional in terms of what I’ve been exposed to and done in terms of my prayer history.
    However, I do find it frustrating that it is often very implicit in some circles of the faith that “if you haven’t said you haven’t pred” (or pray-ed).
    Some much `kudos’ is invested in those who “say-pray” in the wider church.
    Yet the language of prayer is not just about “talk” and loudness.
    When I am confronted in certain groups with what I call implicit “spiritual coercion” to speak loudly or in tongues, I either express my protest through withdrawing completely, or more demonstrably go into a more silent and contemplative mode of praying. I hate feeling that my worth as a Christian, or what I believe as a disciple depends upon the perceived paryer-eloquence of my mouth. And most of all I hate feeling religiously bullied to acquiesce to a status quo way of doing things I don’t really agree with in all my heart, or because it doesn’t feel right or feels like religious performance designed to manipulate people or God.
    Having said that, I respect other Christian traditions in prayer, including the more charismatic ones so long as humility and mutual respect for the other is observed.
    I love celebration of difference, and have both prayed in tongues, silence, liturgically, vocally and theologically, using Scripture, through art, in contemplative walks, in movement, in conversation with others, in fun and laughing with God and others.


  9. In recent weeks I’ve had a number of people say to me that they struggle with verbal prayer, and consequently, praying aloud in prayer circles. I wonder how prevalent this is.


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