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Comparing Prayer Circles to God's Word

Author Mark Batterson draws a "prayer circle"

Author Mark Batterson draws a “prayer circle”

Is the practice of drawing a circle in chalk around specific prayers something we as Christians are supposed to be doing? Ever since Mark Batterson’s popular Circle Maker book began sweeping Christendom, we’ve been warning people against pursuing this non-Christian practice, because it is rooted in the occult, and Jesus very specifically showed us what prayer looks like.

And yet time after time, Christians are confronted with this popular trend in their small groups, church leadership teams and conferences. But check out what one woman, Jamie McMullan, did as she compared what was being taught to the true Word of God. Jamie writes about it in her blog, The Velvet Covered Brick:

Prayer Circles                  by Jamie McMullan

I recently attended the True Women Conference with Nancy Leigh DeMoss via simulcast. During the simulcast Nancy shared an illustration of a British evangelist from the 1860s, Gipsy Smith, who encouraged people to “Go home, lock yourself in your room, draw a circle around yourself, and pray fervently that God would start a revival within that chalk circle.”  Then Nancy, pointed out they have chalk circles around the auditorium for people to go pray in and she had a circle around herself at the podium; they were used throughout the conference. At the end of the conference, two men named Byron Paulus and Bill Elliff gave a presentation of their ministry movement called OneCry which is inspired by the teachings of Gipsy Smith. (1) (.1)Nancy Leigh DeMoss on Gipsy Smith

Seeing all this at the True Women conference gave me pause. The first time I saw circles like this in the church is from a book I saw being promoted on YouTube called The Circle Maker, by MarkBatterson, the Pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C. Instead of calling people to revival, Mr. Batterson promotes a prosperity message that is centered on praying for God to make your hopes and dreams to come true by praying in a chalk circle or circling the promises in scripture. In his book and website, Mark Batterson, sites as his examples, Gipsy Smith and Honi the circle maker, a Jewish legend in the Talmud  who drew a circle on the ground and sat in it until God answered his prayer for rain. Sources: (2) (3).
Out of curiosity, as well as being alarmed at seeing such rituals being practiced, I decided to contact OneCry to find out more about these circles and see if they were aware of the occult ties to the circle. I received an email back promptly assuring me these circles are to help us visualize our commitment to God as well as give an outward showing  to God that we are repentant and want revival to start with us. Then the representative stated: “No occult connections”. The problem with OneCry’s premise for the circle is that it directly goes against the character of God revealed in scripture.
  •  Psalm 51:16-17 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.
God knows our hearts, and we are desperately wicked. God tells us to repent and turn away from our sin and follow after him. A ritual circle is not what God tells us to do and goes against the fact that we can’t DO anything to please God or cause Him to act outside of His will. If we need a circle to remind us then perhaps we need to examine ourselves to see whether we are truly repentant of our sins.
It’s interesting that these practices are being promoted in Christian conferences and books being published considering there is no Biblical backing for such a practice. One can’t even twist scripture and say this is a prescribed way we are supposed to pray. The Bible says we are to pray according to God’s will, God’s Word also states positions in which to pray: standing, sitting, kneeling, bowing and with lifted hands. (4)

To go further, I looked up references in the Blue Letter Bible Concordance for “Circles” there were none, except for one reference to Isaiah 40:22 “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the Earth…” If the practice of prayer in a circle is not Biblical, where do they come from? One does not have to look far; a simple Google search will find chalk circles have a long history in most religions, most notably in pagan practices such as Witchcraft and Gnosticism. Regarding witchcraft the author of the book The Magic Circle says:

“There is no aspect of ritual occultism more ancient or more essential than the magic circle. Indeed, it is difficult to find systems of magic that do not use the circle in some form, and when they are found, they seem incomplete and naked. The magic circle is older than Solomon, older than Moses, and occurs throughout the world in all religions and systems of witchcraft and thaumaturgy. It divides, excludes, protects, attracts, focuses, and concentrates, as these functions are needed by the magician. It is used not merely for evocations, but for invocations, for charging of talismans, for scrying, for projecting accumulated occult energy, and even for meditation. A correct understanding of the circle, not only how to project it, but what it signifies symbolically, is the most basic knowledge any magician can possess, and no magician can be said to know anything of importance about magic who has not mastered the use of the circle.” -The Magic Circle by Donald Tyson

The Bible says relating to pagan practices:

Deuteronomy 18:10-12 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one, who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you.

Matthew Henry put it best in his commentary regarding these rituals:

Using arts of divination, to get the unnecessary knowledge of things to come, enchantments, witchcrafts, charms, etc., by which the power and knowledge peculiar to God were attributed to the devil, to the great reproach both of God’s counsels and of his providence, Deut. 18:10, 11. One would wonder that such arts and works of darkness, so senseless and absurd, so impious and profane, could be found in a country where divine revelation shone so clearly; yet we find remains of them even where Christ’s holy religion is known and professed; such are the powers and policies of the rulers of the darkness of this world. But let those give heed to fortune-tellers, or go to wizards for the discovery of things secret, that use spells for the cure of diseases, are in any league or acquaintance with familiar spirits, or form a confederacy with those that are—let them know that they can have no fellowship with God while thus they have fellowship with devils. It is amazing to think that there should by any pretenders of this kind in such a land and day of light as we live in.”

The words of Matthew Henry ring true even today, God’s revelation he has given us is clear. We are not to try to use outside forms or rituals to hear from God, we have His Word, The Bible. In His Word He has commanded us to not be involved in these practices.

1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 tells us: Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.

  • Ephesians 5:15-16 says: Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

We live in a sin filled world where evil always tries to find a way to sneak in so we need to be careful of what we do, what rituals we practice, especially if it is not something commanded in the Bible as a way of hearing and learning from God. The only rituals in scripture that God has given are the sacraments of communion and baptism.

  •  Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
  •  ”Matthew 26:26-29 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the newcovenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

According to the research I have done, there is nothing in scripture that supports praying in a chalk circle. It’s disconcerting that even after the Second Nicene Counsel deemed it a heresy practiced by the Gnostics it is still being practiced today. In the past 200 years we have had a resurgence of gnostic teachings come into the church through different movements; more recently in the last 50 years is the Charismatic Catholic Renewal Movement as well as Catholic Native Americans which call these circles Kateri Prayer Circles all of which use Gnostic teachings. (6)

The teachings of the Gnostics date back to the time of Christ, in the first century. In fact John, the author of 1, 2, 3 John, counters the gnostic beliefs that are being taught to the church by false (Gnostic) teachers in 1 John 1, 1 John 4 and 1 John5. In these references John is referring to the gnostic teaching that Christ did not come in the flesh something that was being taught by Gnostics in the first century. (7) John also states that that they are false teachers because they counter what Jesus said about himself as well as counter the eye witness account of the Apostles.
Just as in the first century, we encounter these false teachers. Romans 16:17-27 gives us instructions to have nothing to do with teachers who’s teachings does not line up according to the revelation of scripture that God has given us. (8)

Brothers and Sisters do as the noble Jew’s of Berea and search the scriptures to see if what I am saying is true (Acts 17:11). Take nothing on face value, just as it says in 1 Thessalonians, test all things. (Test what I am saying! Do the scriptures line up?) Do not practice something because it’s what everyone else is doing or because what a trusted leader says sounds good. The Bible tells us to have nothing to do with pagan practices as well as have nothing to do with leaders that teach it. The purpose of this article is a call to all believers especially Pastors to use your God-given discernment, line everything up with scripture before promoting it.

Father God, I pray this article brings Glory to you and that those who read it would search the scriptures and hear from you what the truth is bringing knowledge and understanding. The only knowledge we can have comes from you through your Word. In Your Glorious name, Amen

Works Cited
.1. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.onecry.com/resources/videos/
1, S. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.truewoman.com/?id=2250
2, S. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tg6ymCcIFDE
3. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.markbatterson.com/uncategorized/the-one-thing-you-cannot-delegate/
4. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://carm.org/dictionary-prayer
5. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.wicca.in/casting-circle-wicca/
6. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_circle#Origin
7. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+John+1&version=NKJV
8. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%2016:%2017-27&version=NIV

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18 Responses to “Comparing Prayer Circles to God's Word”

  1. Sharon W. #

    Thanks for this interesting & informing post.
    Not long ago, I was attending a church where a pastor/elder would often use this "circle" word when he would lead in prayer. He wasn't referring to drawing a chalk circle, but something similar like an imaginary "drawing a circle' as we gather for prayer. I thought it odd and maybe a fad, but this article shares some insights to consider about it's origins.

    March 10, 2013 at 12:46 PM Reply
  2. I see a huge difference between praying in a circle (or really without a circle) for something you want, and praying in a circle for something you already know is in God's heart. From what I read about Nancy DeMoss' presentation, she was encouraging people to pray for revival. I haven't done any research beyond just looking at the quote, but it seems like Gipsy Smith (and Nancy DeMoss by extension) was telling people that if you want to see revival, it has to begin with you! So, instead of praying for God to change others' hearts, symbolically draw a circle around yourself to say, begin the revival with me. It sounds like it was a call to humility and to passionately seek revival. I can't speak to the other circle praying promoted by other Christian authors, although I think any brand of Christianity that pushes praying for materialism over spirituality is sending the wrong message. But if the purpose of the circles here was simply to encourage people to examine themselves and ask God to start a work in their hearts, that doesn't really seem to me like it's patterning secular/pagan practices, it's simply symbolism.

    March 13, 2013 at 7:44 AM Reply
    • but... #

      Symbolism is bad enough. It's not in the bible to draw circles around ANYTHING, so why even "symbolically" do so? I'll stick with the bible's method of prayer, thank you.

      August 19, 2013 at 5:36 AM Reply
      • Sarah #

        but…# – do you pray in a literal closet? Because the Bible does actually say that when you pray, you should enter a closet (and close the door, no less!). Most people would say that that was just "symbolic" of praying privately and not praying to put on a public show. But if symbolism is bad, perhaps you should consider doing all your prayer in a closet…

        September 18, 2013 at 9:46 AM Reply
        • lyn #

          It all comes down to this, do we find a command in the Bible for this 'circle prayer'? Sola Scriptura was the cry of the Reformation, and should still be so today. If you cannot back this with God's word, it is not of God.

          September 18, 2013 at 10:51 AM Reply
          • Sarah #

            There are a WHOLE lot of things we do that weren't commanded in the Bible! We aren't commanded to eat breakfast – does that mean we shouldn't? We aren't commanded to go to church 3 times a week (or however many your church dictates). We weren't commanded to sit in pews, sing from hymnals (or projectors), have potlucks, etc., so does that mean that all of those things are wrong? The prayer circles was simply an illustration of getting people to focus on their own hearts before worrying about everyone else's – a lesson similarly illustrated in the new testament when God told people to worry about the beam in their own eye before accusing another brother of having a beam in his.

            September 18, 2013 at 11:01 AM
  3. Sharon W. #

    My devotional this morning used as an example how Jewish families would have a Blessing ceremony, and they would gather friends & family and form a circle around a son or daughter, to bestow a blessing. Later in the day, the scriptures about the Apostle Paul and the Handkerchief & apron came to mind. [Acts 19:12]

    With some fresh insight from my previous post, I'd like to propose another perspective which I'll call for now, the "true fit" & the "counterfeit".

    God does use symbolism & symbolic language in His Word. What God does or designs is good & true, but our adversary also has his own counterfiet in many things. Our 3 enemies…"the flesh, the world & Satan".
    A concern and sometimes a danger I'd like to raise is how often we've heard stories where people may start with good intentions using methods or objects as a means to pray or worship, but before long, lose sight on who we are praying to and become more dependent on the methods/means?
    Or in some cases, these things become "props" or "worldly" because of the lack of the true authentic move of the Spirit of God in believer's hearts or in corporate prayer. And yet, in some cases, it can even turn into form of idolatry.

    What I'd like to see? Where believers are more interested with "Those prayers that God does hear, ie. [John 15:7, 1 Peter 3:12]
    and those prayers that God doesn't or are hindered, ie. [James 4:3, James 1:6-7]
    and they will probably find they won't need alot of those methods or props because you'll be so fixed on your fellowship in prayer with God that's all that matters. What matters more?
    Looking unto Jesus Christ [Hebrews 12:2]
    Praying in the Spirit [Ephesians 6:18]
    A heart of humility [Psalm 10:17, Psalm 51:17]
    According to God's will [1 John 5:14-15]

    March 13, 2013 at 3:42 PM Reply
    • Forrest Jamison #

      Hi there, I'm not saying you aren't correct about the circles not being biblical, but my question to you is this. Have you read the book The Circle Maker? There are some truths and inspiration and testimony coming from the Matt. Just wanted to point it out. I'm not saying he is correct or incorrect, just stating the facts.

      August 25, 2013 at 7:49 PM Reply
      • Sharon #

        Dear Forrest, No, I have not read the book the Circle Maker and I will take at face value that you state that there is some truth & inspiration coming from Matt.

        I don't believe that I necessarily stated that these prayer circles are unbiblical in my previous two comments as much as my emphasis was on digging a little deeper into what is important to God (in regards to prayer).

        Many books are being written that contain some truth and inspiration, but I'm not a fan of "eat the meat & spit out the bones". God can use many things for His good & purposes. I encourage people to spend more time getting to know God and building a good foundation in His Word, so as to better equip ourselves to be able to discern these matters.

        August 26, 2013 at 1:54 AM Reply
  4. lyn #

    Sarah,

    I think you are grasping at straws, and going over the top to try and defend a means of prayer that is not found in God's word. The example of this type of prayer should be enough to warn others to steer clear; from the article "Gipsy Smith and Honi the circle maker, a Jewish legend in the Talmud who drew a circle on the ground and sat in it until God answered his prayer for rain".

    All this nonsense is similar to labyrinth walking, which has the participant walking in a circle-type pattern, praying and meditating all the while. This has it's origin in pagan worship, but has been drug into Christian circles as part of contemplative prayer practices, and is being promoted by Rosicrucian groups, at New Age festivals and celebrations, and throughout the neo-pagan world.

    Sitting down while we hear God's word being preached isn't comparable to how we are commanded to pray. It isn't even wise to try and base any argument on this. With all the new age/mysticism making its way into the church, it is essential we compare what we see happening with what God's word says. How are we to pray?

    I will share Matthew Henry's commentary on Matthew 6:6, 'But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall recompense thee.' —-

    "Instead of praying in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, enter into thy closet, into some place of privacy and retirement. Isaac went into the field (Gen_24:63), Christ to a mountain, Peter to a housetop. No place amiss in point of ceremony, if it do but answer the end. Note, Secret prayer is to be performed in retirement, that we may be unobserved, and so may avoid ostentation; undisturbed, and so may avoid distraction; unheard, and so may use greater freedom; yet if the circumstances be such that we cannot possibly avoid being taken notice of, we must not therefore neglect the duty, lest the omission be a greater scandal than the observation of it.
    [2.] Instead of doing it to be seen of men, pray to thy Father who is in secret; to me, even to me, Zec_7:5, Zec_7:6. The Pharisees prayed rather to men than to God; whatever was the form of their prayer, the scope of it was to beg the applause of men, and court their favours. “Well, do thou pray to God, and let that be enough for thee. Pray to him as a Father, as thy Father, ready to hear and answer, graciously inclined to pity, help, and succour thee. Pray to thy Father who is in secret.” Note, In secret prayer we must have an eye to God, as present in all places; he is there in thy closet when no one else is there; there especially nigh to thee in what thou callest upon him for. By secret prayer we give God the glory of his universal presence (Act_17:24), and may take to ourselves the comfort of it.
    (2.) The encouragements here given us to it.
    [1.] Thy Father seeth in secret; his eye is upon thee to accept thee, when the eye of no man is upon thee to applaud thee; under the fig-tree, I saw thee, said Christ to Nathaniel, Joh_1:48. He saw Paul at prayer in such a street, at such a house, Act_9:11. There is not a secret, sudden breathing after God, but he observes it."

    Prayer isn't a ritual we perform, it isn't some outward mechanical work; it is personal intercourse with our precious God, one on one. There is no greater intimacy between a believer and his/her God than when that person is in deep, heartfelt prayer with God. Visual aids are not necessary, just a heart that loves and seeks after its God.

    September 18, 2013 at 11:36 AM Reply
    • Sarah #

      I will end my argument here, because I think it's pointless to spend any more time arguing with someone who isn't really interested in changing his mind. I've personally never prayer in a prayer circle. I don't think anyone is saying that we have to do so. I also have rarely prayer in an actual closet. But I think we can use all kind of tools to refocus our attention where it needs to be, and if someone is able to use the idea of a circle, more power to them.

      September 18, 2013 at 11:42 AM Reply
  5. lyn #

    As Matthew Henry pointed out, it isn't a literal 'prayer closet' that was being referred to. If one needs a 'tool' to focus, then that person is relying on an outward source to help connect them to God, bring them closer, etc.

    As I stated, that cannot be supported from Scripture. Prayer comes from within. It's sad that so many Christians resort to outward means to get some type of closer experience their God.
    We defend what we can't support with His word, then we become offended when confronted. Rather than this be the end result, I would as that each of us seek the Lord, get into His word and search. Dig deep, compare what you see and hear with what His word says. Do research and see where the latest 'fad' originates. If there are any suspicious ties to any pagan movements, etc., wouldn't it be more honorable to God to avoid that method than possibly offending Him?
    We dare not think God will accept whatever we think is acceptable, remember "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them." Lev. 10:1
    They were struck down, on the spot. God had NOT commanded their strange fire, nor does God now command prayer circles, labyrinths, or whatever else man invents and says is acceptable.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:09 PM Reply
  6. lyn #

    There are a couple of excellent resources on prayer written by Matthew Henry and AW Pink, you can read Henry's at matthewhenryDOTorg/ and Pink's at pbministriesDOTorg/books/pink/Commandments/indexDOThtm

    September 18, 2013 at 12:16 PM Reply
  7. After reading all the comments here and other articles on this subject I noticed one omission. The work of the Holy Spirit has been ignored. Didn't Jesus promise to send the Holy Spirit who would lead his disciples and future regenerates into all truth? Isn't the work of the Spirit to point us always to Jesus and the inspired word? Is the Spirit also our line of defense from deception? We are warned to not follow myths and fables which are introduced by wolves who are led by demons! The Word of GOD has no mercy for false teachers but warns His flock to always be on guard against these evil tall tales. I am tired of people who keep defending workers of satan by buying their books , cd's,etc. One day we will all face Jesus as judge and that's where the rubber will meet the road. The truth of Jesus will fill the earth and all the circle makers, mystics,pantheists,universalists,dominionists,feel-gooders/ non negative positive thinkers will be put to shame by the most holy awe inspiring truth there is , Jesus the incarnate WORD of GOD who has no equal!

    January 12, 2014 at 6:54 AM Reply
    • lyn #

      Well said D.V….amen

      January 12, 2014 at 7:08 AM Reply
  8. frances #

    Pagan holidays included. Christmas and easter are not of GOD. look at the origins of those holidays.

    May 22, 2014 at 10:29 PM Reply
  9. LBE #

    When three people touch and agree while praying, they are generally in a circle. The principles are prayer and faith, trusting in His word. When God leads us to study His word, He gives us revelation and discernment. I thank Him for wisdom and revelation and connection by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

    July 7, 2014 at 4:56 AM Reply
  10. Kirsten #

    It makes no sense to me why fellow believers would want to embrace a practice that witches and satanist practice in their rituals. There is nothing in scripture to support this. Joining hands in agreement in a prayer circle is like comparing apples to oranges. Satan loves to take something and distort it and manipulate it away from God or to corrupt Christian standards in compromise. I think if people knew more of how the enemy works and who he is then you would not be look to bring anything that represents him into the presence of God, with any justifications.

    August 3, 2014 at 8:42 AM Reply

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