Family prayer was not practiced in my home when I was a child. Therefore, my first encounter with group prayer was at my grandfather’s home as the family knelt together. I still remember the good feeling I recognized. Although I didn’t understand all that was going on, I did realize that they were talking to Heavenly Father and that harmony, unity, and love existed within the family at this time. The memory of that unity has been a great help to me as I have served in different church positions.
One of my choicest experiences was a special fireside with the youth of my ward where one of the young girls asked me to pray for them as their bishop. We all bowed together as I talked to our Heavenly Father concerning the welfare of the youth of my ward, asked that they be given strength against the temptations of Satan, and left my blessing as bishop and father of the ward upon them. At the conclusion of this prayer we were totally united in love. The Spirit had borne witness to us again that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, that we indeed are children of God and have a divine purpose and destiny upon this earth. Tears were in our eyes and we felt great unity of purpose because of the prayer together.
Matthew records that the Savior instructed his disciples, saying, “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:19–20.)
Prayer, then, is the vehicle whereby we invite His Spirit to be with us. The Savior amplified this teaching in revelations to the Prophet Joseph some months after the organization of the Church, instructing us that if we are properly in tune we will ask for only those blessings that we should have and that all we request will be granted unto us. (See D&C 29:6; D&C 50:29–30.) We also learn that great spiritual preparation of each individual should precede the actual group prayer, involving a purging and cleansing of ourselves so that we might have the humility to receive spiritual dictation from the Holy Ghost.
The Savior set the great example of group prayer in the Lord’s Prayer. (See Matt. 6:9–13.) Notice that he says “our” and “us,” signifying that the one who is asked to be voice prays for the entire group.
The purposes of group prayer change with the type of group that the prayer is being offered for, of course; but the primary goal is to unite all those present, or to unite their faith toward a particular end desired.
One example would be a home teacher and his priesthood leader kneeling together, humbling themselves before the Lord as they consider the home teacher’s families, and later, the prayers of the two home teachers before visiting. Another example would be the opening and closing prayers given at a meeting for a larger congregation, such as a sacrament meeting or a quorum meeting, again one asking for particular blessings upon all. The prayer of a husband and wife together is a group prayer, as are those of the parents with the children. Missionary companions kneeling at the start and close of each day, prayers given in executive meetings, stake presidency meetings, quorum or Relief Society presidency meetings, sacrament meetings, Sunday School, even general conference sessions—all are group prayers and all have similarities. One person has the responsibility to speak for the group in thanking and asking the Lord’s blessing upon them all. This entails being sufficiently humble and in tune with the Spirit that one can receive, through the Holy Ghost, the knowledge of those blessings that would benefit the entire group. Others in the group also have a responsibility to mentally repeat each word and to unite their faith for the same blessings. If this were truly done in each group prayer, we would receive the marvelous promise of the Lord: “whatsoever ye shall ask in faith, being united in prayer according to my command, ye shall receive.” (D&C 29:6.)
Some of my choicest experiences have come about through prayer in groups.
One such experience was in a meeting with the stake presidency and Elder James E. Faust, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, at a stake conference. In the middle of this meeting, word came that the stake Relief Society president and her unborn baby were in danger of losing their lives because of complications in childbirth. As soon as this news reached us, Elder Faust suggested that we kneel and pray, uniting our faith as the stake president prayed for the life of this sister and her child. It was a rich experience as the Spirit united us totally in the single purpose of supplicating the Lord for this family. Before our meeting was over, word had come that the mother and the prematurely born son were both doing fine.
I recall another moving group prayer, this one at a testimony meeting at an MIA Girls Camp in the High Sierras. A young Mia Maid was becoming rebellious, and we had persuaded her to attend camp only after an all-out effort. The young lady who gave the opening prayer at the testimony meeting was inspired to ask “that those in the group who do not have a testimony can humble themselves so that they can be touched by the Holy Spirit and receive the witness that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was His Prophet, that the president of the Church is a prophet, and that the gospel embodied in the Church is true.” I’m sure I was only one of many mentally pleading with the Lord that this blessing might be given.
Those testimonies under the stars against a backdrop of tall pines and Sequoias were really inspiring. Toward the end of the meeting, as each of us was spiritually filled and tears welled in our eyes, this young rebellious girl got to her feet and told of the spiritual awakening she had just had, that she had received a witness from the Holy Ghost that the Church was indeed true. She pledged to adhere to all of the guidelines of the Church and to live her life to be worthy of marriage in the temple. Years later as I attended her reception, following her temple marriage, I again offered a prayer of thanksgiving that we had been united in purpose and prayer to witness that great miracle in the High Sierras.
On another occasion I was assigned by the stake president to meet with two brethren who, over a period of time, had developed very hard feelings. It was soon evident that my counseling would be to no avail, and so I asked them to join me again in prayer. I knelt and talked to the Lord, then asked each of them in turn to pray. As we all prayed together for unity and forgiveness, the old contentions faded away and these two brethren with tears in their eyes felt reconciled and unified in working together in the Lord’s kingdom.
Over the years as I have been assigned to speak at stake conferences or in wards or firesides, I have listened attentively to the opening prayers. As the person praying usually asks a blessing upon the speaker, I always mentally plead with the Lord that this blessing might come to pass. Often the one praying asks that there might be spiritual communication between the one speaking and those in the congregation; I again plead with our Father that the congregation might be receptive to those things the Spirit might say through me.
It has been my experience that prayer in groups can be as uplifting and spiritually rewarding as any other experience one can have. Success here lies in the preparation of the one giving the prayer and in the receptive hearts of those for whom the prayer is being said.
“Why is it that when a ward comes together in fasting and prayer, it makes a greater difference somehow than if anyone had done so alone? In part because such united efforts of the Saints are a testimony unto the heavens—a witness that Christ and his purposes take precedence over our hostilities and personality problems. The revelation says, “Be agreed as touching all things whatsoever ye ask.” (D&C 27:18.) Or again, “If ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:27.) Brigham Young, who learned much about prayer by listening to the Prophet, said repeatedly to the Saints that when someone prays in a congregation the rest of us should be saying in our minds what he is saying with his lips. We should repeat the very words in our minds. Then when we say “amen” we know what we are saying amen to. “Why?” Brigham asks. “So that Saints may be one.” The effectual, fervent power of united prayer cannot be overestimated. Powerful prayer unites the “Saints—unity expands the power of prayer.”
—Truman G. Madsen
Know Your Religion lectures, 1972–73