By Lia Martin, Crosswalk.com
I wonder if you’ll take a journey with me. Because I want to know... what is a prayer circle? Do you know? If you’re already actively committed to praying in circles or forming prayer circles, then my honest inquiry may fall behind.
But if you’re curious, like I am, if there are any benefits to prayer circles, then let’s explore.
Two Sides to a Prayer Circle
Before I began researching the term “prayer circle,” I nurtured memories of holding hands with friends, praying for each other in Bible study groups, moms’ back-to-school breakfast gatherings, or middle-of-panic support for family or friends facing dilemmas.
I love the visual of a circle. Jesus had an inner circle. You probably have an inner circle of support. And the Bible calls us in Galatians 6:2 to “share each other’s burdens” to obey the law of Christ.
Biblically, a circle signifies “the vault of the heavens,” and in its closing book, we learn that a rainbow encircles the throne (Revelation 4:3). In classic Christian art, circles were often used in halos on the saints in heaven as well as to represent the eternal nature of God.
A circle feels complete. Safe. Sacred.
Yet I was alarmed to discover that the notion of a prayer circle has another side. Apparently, some believe that if you draw a circle and stand within it, praying your desires (or, possibly, demands) to God—he will comply.
So, to clarify: in this article, I don’t want to claim that drawing lines beget divine intervention.
I don’t believe you even have to shape yourselves into a physically connected circle to enjoy the power of prayer.
But I do believe that the Bible calls us to circle up with others, and as 1 Thessalonians 5:11 inspires us, to “encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”
What Is the Origin of Prayer Circling and Who Practices Them?
Christians aren’t the only ones circling up to support each other in prayer. Ritual prayer around an altar is common in paganism, and a simple Pinterest search will yield all sorts of ideas to use “circling prayers” for house blessings, protection, or spiritual strength.
Ritual prayer dances around an altar were practiced by early Gnostics, and the practice was condemned as heresy by the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 A.D.
Earlier Mormons (as early as 1833) who took part in an endowment ceremony (to prepare participants to become kings, queens, priests, and priestesses in the afterlife), practiced prayer circling. The Mormon leader, John Smith, called it the "true order of prayer." It involves one person offering a prayer while a surrounding circle of participants repeat the words.
As believers today, we also establish and grow informal prayer circles; sometimes in person, sometimes virtual. Online prayer circles often serve as vigils in honor and remembrance of victims. Some circles may form to unite a faith in eradicating a condition or uplifting a cause.
So, if you, like me, see a prayer circle not as a geometric standoff or dance with God, but rather a collective “where two or three are gathered” (Matthew 18:20), I believe there can be worthwhile benefits.
Benefits of Prayer Circles
Although no shape is required to come together in prayer, and prayer circles are not mentioned in the Bible, we do see believers gathering to pray in Scripture:
The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. – 2 Chronicles 20:4
When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. – Acts 12:12
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf... –Romans 15:30
...as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. – 2 Cor. 1:11
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. – James 5:16
The benefits of praying within a circle of believers or friends can be experienced in many ways. Four of which are: togetherness, relinquishing of anxiety, dying to self, and the fulfillment of offering compassion for others.
We are not made to exist in isolation. God himself is a relationship. Praying with your inner circle, or even a circle of newly-gathered believers, can release the grip of worry, and reignite your desire for God’s will.
Prayer exists to connect us in relationship with the One who knows best. The only One who is actually in charge and able.
Praying for those who are sick or struggling (James 5:14), or for those in need of open doors (Colossians 4:3-4) can rid us of the weight of selfishness. It reminds us that we are not alone. Even Jesus proclaims in John 16:32, “...Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.”
This is the ultimate benefit of a circle of people with which to pray. It gives us a physical reminder that in this life...we are not alone.
How to Form Your Own Prayer Circle
First of all, forget about the shape. It wields no mystical power to lasso your specific requests. If prayer circles conjured authority, Jesus would probably have mentioned it in his lesson in Luke 11:1-4.
But if you want to circle up with others in prayer, I would advise against giving the circle shape a supernatural potency. Just choose one or several connections, whether family, friends, or colleagues, to share prayer requests with. And pray for each other.
You can connect in a private Facebook community, through weekly Zoom calls, or whenever or wherever two, three, or more can gather in his name. Get together for coffee, or host a book study.
You can even start a group text to share prayer requests at an agreed-upon time or weekday, so the group can pray together.
It’s not hard to start a prayer circle. Just ask one friend, and then another. And remember, circles require no shape, or even numbers, or even a big number. Prayer is the purpose.
So, are prayer circles pagan rituals, or purposeful pursuits? The answer depends on your intent.
If a group of Christians join hands and form a circle with the intent that the circle shape will give greater control and power to their prayer, then we have to wonder—are we really inviting God’s will?
If the purpose is for God’s will to be done in powerful ways, then please, circle up and pray.
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. – Psalm 145:18
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Rawpixel
Lia Martin loves to inspire others to lean into the Lord daily. She's a writer, editor, marketer, former Crosswalk.com Faith Editor, and author of Wisdom at Wit's End: Abandoning Supermom Myths in Search of Supernatural Peace. When she's not cultivating words, she loves walking in nature, reading, exploring the latest health trends, and laughing with her two wonderful kids. She blogs at liamartinwriting.com.