Prayer helps us discover what God is doing and trace his hand in the circumstances of our lives. In the process, God transforms us. Prayer is not a means of manipulating the master plan, but of being shaped by the master's hand.
Unfortunately, not all prayer groups are conducive to that kind of prayer. Not all requests follow that understanding. Consider these guidelines so that your prayer times will foster a transformational, ongoing walk with God.
Focus Prayer on the People Involved
The temptation at prayer-request time is to narrow each request to specific actions we want God to take, or to specific gifts we want from him. That misses what God considers most important.
For instance, when a brother is sent to war, the best opportunity for prayer is not to ask that God keep him at home. That limits the scope of prayer to events, when it should focus on people. It also limits the pray-ers to a specific request, without offering an opportunity to discern God's heart in the matter.
Instead, address the fears of the man's wife, the worry of his mother, and the faith of the soldier. We can pray that God will mold our courage and our ability to trust, that he will help us overcome fears, and that the brother will recognize God's presence. These are the evidences of God's work and are the kinds of prayers he answers.
Small groups give us time to process someone's struggles and help us identify God's work. Even home-size groups can be too big for this kind of prayer. It may be more effective to break into groups of two or three so that people really know each other and have the time to explore the situation together.
Seek God's Perspective
Many prayer requests that fit what we think is the best course of action run counter to what God is actually doing. For example, the Pharisees threatened punishment if Peter and John continued to proclaim Jesus. When the disciples gathered later with other believers, they could have prayed that God would convert the Pharisees or wipe them from the face of the earth. Instead, they prayed for boldness to continue doing what God asked, even when they knew they might be beaten, imprisoned, or executed for it.
A primary step in prayer is asking God to reveal what he is doing in the situation, and then pausing long enough to let him answer. Prayer should be directed by talking together to see if anyone has a specific insight about how to pray for the people involved.
Let Trust Fuel Your Prayers
Fear is the death of prayer because it is the opposite of trust. Many of our prayers are driven by anxieties and fears. For instance, even if God is providing for us financially today, we worry that he may not provide for the future.
What most enhances our relationship with Jesus is our ability to trust him, no matter what. He rarely answers prayers that ask him to fix our circumstances so that we can trust him less. Prayers permeated with a faith-filled security in God's love and confidence in his character will be more effective than petitions for him to appease us.
When we're afraid, we can pray first for our fear and for a fuller revelation of God's love—before we pray for the specific outcome we want. When we pray for others, we can do the same.
Pray in Agreement
We can learn a fascinating aspect of prayer from a group of Christians in the Australian bush. One man leading a prayer meeting offered unusual instructions: "Tonight as we pray, we'll only pray for what we agree upon. If one of you feels led to pray over something, ask the group if we all sense it. If so, we can pray in agreement. If not, we'll pass over it for now and move on to other requests."