"How should we pray?" This is the question the disciples asked Christ. In truth, not having the answer to this question keeps many people from developing rich prayer lives. Most people want to believe prayer works, but they have no idea where to start. So when the need to pray arises, they offer up a skeptical but desperate plea for God to fix whatever is broken in their lives. This lack of confidence in prayer can enter our small-group prayer times as well. The affected small group usually follows a mundane prayer routine week after week with little to no variance. Of course, the solution here is not a secret set of letters and symbols that will crack the prayer code to give you access to God's "yes" box.
How did Jesus respond when the disciples asked how to pray? While their question is recorded in Luke's account (Luke 11:1), the full response Christ gives is recorded in Matthew 6:1-15. We refer to this famous passage as the Lord's Prayer, though it would be far more accurate to call it the Disciple's Prayer since this is Jesus' prescription for his followers' prayer lives. A walk through this passage will unleash your small group to begin praying with confidence in the way God designed prayer to be practiced.
An Audience of One
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:5-6).
The most important part of the Disciple's Prayer is not the actual words; it's the heart behind them. Yet many group leaders unintentionally evaluate their group prayer lives by the "eloquence factor." As prayers grow longer and more eloquent, the group must be growing! However, Christ tells us we may be simply growing into better hypocrites. The Disciple's Prayer is one done in secret where only the Father can hear you. This is the first key to rebuilding your small group's prayer life.
Key Idea: A small group's prayer life is wholly dependent on the prayer life of its individual members.
If the only time your group members pray is in your small group, you are likely reinforcing the very perception of prayer Christ is trying to break in this passage. Though they'd never say it, your small group actually may be operating as if prayer is a small-group exercise instead of a way to commune with our Father in heaven.
Application to Group Prayer Time
The first step in rebuilding your small group's prayer life is making daily individual prayer an expectation of your group members. Read through this passage and collectively agree to seek God individually throughout the week. Then your group prayer time will inspire and encourage group members' personal prayer lives.
The Heart Matters, Not the Tongue
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this … (Matthew 6:7-9a, ESV).
Growing up I used to hear the Lord's Prayer recited in various venues. My high school baseball team would recite it before games, and I imagine the other team probably did too. I think we both wanted God on our side. We never talked about it or discussed what we were praying, we just did it. It was the pre-game ritual. Sound familiar? This prayer probably has become the most recited passage of all of Scripture. But look at verse 7. The phrase "empty phrases" is also translated "vain repetitions." Do you catch the irony? Do not use vain, empty repetitions. Do not say the same thing over and over without meaning it in hopes that you will be heard because you say it a lot. In other words, do not pay God lip service! God already knows our needs (Verse 8). The point of prayer is dependence, not repetition. Warren W. Wiersbe said, "All of us have one routine prayer in our system; and once we get rid of it, then we can really start to pray!"