"Lord, teach us to pray." Every small group, from Jesus' to yours, has asked that question at some point. What do you say to the God of the universe? Prayer can be intimidating. How do you listen to someone you can't see? Add other people's voices to the mix and it all becomes even more complex and intimidating. And yet, prayer is a gift from God to all of us, and group prayer binds us to one another in ways that no other activity can.
So, how is prayer going in your small group these days? When the leader asks: "Does anyone have any prayer requests?" Is that the most dreaded time of your group meeting?
Mary's Aunt Gertrude is in the hospital again, and explaining her condition requires a minimum of 15 minutes. John really needs some prayer but is afraid to open up to the group and express his deep needs. Tim is anxious to get going, since the group is running over anyway. Karen is frustrated because the group always seems to spend all its time talking and not much time praying. Joe, the leader, knows his small group needs to pray but senses the group's lack of focus on prayer.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Andrew Wheeler explores these kinds of situations in his book Together in Prayer. He also tries to lay out some practical groundwork for making prayer responsible and meaningful in small groups. He is careful to point out there is no magic formula to prayer. God delights in prayer from a sincere heart. However, one of our greatest challenges with praying in community is maintaining a consistent focus on God—not on ourselves.
We've all heard the statement "prayer changes things," but the truth is that God changes things. In his book, Wheeler points out we can help maintain a focus on God in several ways:
- By focusing our thoughts and prayers on the One who answers prayer rather than on the people and circumstances for which we pray.
- By focusing our attention on those things that we know to be God's will.
- By asking God directly to act and intervene, rather than praying generically that situations will change.
Prayer that is addressed to God, not people, and that focuses on his kingdom and will, asking him directly to intervene, will honor God and draw you nearer to him both individually and as a small group.
Together in Prayer is geared toward helping group leaders set the stage for community prayer times that will be a highlight of the group's life together. The book starts by looking at some of the principles of community prayer. Then it explores how to cast a vision for community prayer, and concludes by applying community prayer concepts to other prayer settings.
Here are some of the specific topics unpacked in the book:
- The Case for Community Prayer. It's safe to conclude that praying together was a significant part of the early church's life. It should be just as significant today.
- The Focus of Our Prayer. If you are addressing God in prayer, then God should be the subject of most of the verbs in our prayers. Avoid the temptation to use prayer to exhort, instruct, counsel, or sermonize other people. There is no magic formula for wording prayers, but it's important to "seek His Kingdom first" and focus on God's will when praying.
- Agreeing in Prayer. For prayer to be a group dialog with God, it's important for individuals to be brief and to the point with their prayers. A few individuals monopolizing prayer time, having competing agendas, or thinking about what they are going to say next rather than listening to other's prayer does not promote agreement.