Encourage Personal Sharing
Within the guidelines of managing the time, encourage group members to share personal requests. Some group members may tend to share only requests for others. This can be a symptom of lack of trust or intimacy in the group, or it can be a means of avoiding accountability. Group members will more readily relate to praying for one another than for others whom they will most likely never meet. Interest and involvement in prayer is easier to maintain when group members focus primarily on their own needs.
As with other guidelines, this is not a prohibition against praying for family or friends outside the group. Occasionally, a significant need may arise that warrants the group seeking God in prayer. There is nothing wrong with this; the problem is that a steady diet of prayer requests for those outside the group can cause group members to lose interest over time. Keeping it personal helps keep it meaningful for group members.
Encourage group members to go beneath the surface in sharing their prayer requests. God cares about our temporal needs and wants us to bring these to him for his provision. However, he also cares about the deeper work that he wants to do in our lives and wants us to seek him for things like character development and the fruit of the Spirit. The caring, intimate environment of the small group is the perfect place to give and receive prayer for these deeper works in our lives.
One way to help the group move in this direction is to pick topics for prayer requests. There are many ways to do this, and here are a few basic ideas to help you get started:
- Have group members share about a fruit of the Spirit that is particularly lacking in their lives and pray for God to bring that fruit about.
- Read through one of the prayers of Paul for the churches, and have group members single out something from that prayer that they personally need prayer for.
- Pick a topic that you are studying in your Bible study or in church and have members formulate requests around that topic.
The point here is not to discourage prayer for the daily situations and circumstances in people's lives; it is often precisely at those points that group members need to know that the group is pulling for them and praying for them. Rather, the point is to begin to get group members to lift their eyes above the everyday circumstances and discern what God wants to teach them and do in their lives. By getting group members to think in these terms for prayer requests, you will also get them accustomed to viewing their lives more in terms of God's direction for them.
Finally, ask good questions. Again, balance is needed here to keep from focusing too much on the sharing time. However, a few well-placed questions can actually help focus the sharing time as well as help the group know how to pray. For example, if I receive a request to pray for someone in the hospital, my first question is always, "Is he a Christian?" I ask this question because the answer will determine the focus of my prayer over the situation. Asking good questions can be a way of helping to focus on the deeper spiritual issues underlying the surface of many prayer requests.