"I'm praying for you." Have you ever said this to small-group leaders under your care, only to realize that you have no idea how to pray effectively for them? If so, you're not alone. How should you pray for those that God has entrusted to you?
When asked how to pray, Martin Luther's answer was, "Use the Lord's Prayer." Luther saw this prayer as the model, the go-to prayer appropriate for nearly any situation. But Luther didn't merely recite the prayer; he used it as an outline to guide his prayer time. After all, Luther reminds us that Jesus said, "This is how you should pray," not "This is what you should pray."
In his book, Kneeling with Giants, Gary Hansen summarizes some of Martin Luther's teachings on the Lord's Prayer. Both Hansen's and Luther's teaching can help us develop a simple yet complete outline for praying for our small-group leaders. Keep in mind that only the Lord's Prayer itself is inspired—not this application of it! Feel free to tweak these ideas to fit your small-group leaders.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
In the first phrase, we recognize a balance in our relationship with God. He is our Father, which signifies an intimate, personal relationship made possible through Jesus' death on the cross. At the same time, he is in heaven, while we are on earth. We are meant to be intimate, but not familiar, with this God who is both our Father and the Lord of the Universe.
The next phrase is both a statement and a petition. God's name is honored because he is worthy. But we also plead for his name to be honored. This duality is mirrored in Revelation 5:13: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!"
So here we both express praise to God and pray for his name to be honored through the praise, Bible study, fellowship, and outreach of the small groups in our care. We pray for unity in each group (John 17), and we ask that God's love and grace shine through the groups to those around them.
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
God's kingdom comes in the lives of his people as we reflect the character of Christ. His kingdom comes in community through worship, the study of his Word, and relationships among his people. His will is done as we seek his direction in decisions and as we act in accordance with Scripture.
A few passages that are helpful when praying for God's kingdom to come in and through small-group leaders are:
- John 15: Pray for your small-group leaders to remain in the vine and for God to bear fruit through their lives for his glory.
- Galatians 5:13-26: Remembering the fruit of the Spirit, pray that your leaders will walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh.
- 1 Corinthians 13: Pray for an outpouring of God's love in and through your leaders.
- Philippians 2:1-11: Pray for Christ's humility to be reflected in your leaders.
Praying for God's will for the small groups in our care can mean praying for our small-group leaders to have wisdom in choosing studies, discernment regarding group relationships, and favor in the eyes of the small-group members. We can pray also for groups to grow in their knowledge of God through his Word, through the practice of prayer, and through seeing his image reflected in other members.
Give us this day our daily bread.
The prayer turns us now to personal requests—but it's not all about us. The first half of the Lord's Prayer provides the context in which these requests should be understood. We ask God to meet our needs knowing that it's actually his will to provide for us, and we ask him to take care of us in ways that honor his name.
As we bring our needs to God, two things should guide our prayers. First, we admit that we depend on God, not ourselves, for our sustenance. We trust him to care for us because he is a loving and gracious God (Matthew 6:25-34).
Second, we trust that God is answering our prayers because he promises that he will. By turning our needs over to God, we give him the freedom to respond in ways that honor him and provide the greatest benefit for us. Like Paul responding to God's refusal to remove his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), we accept and rejoice in God's answer because we trust his answer.
Praying for the personal needs of small-group leaders can take on many forms. If you know specific needs, this is the place to bring them to God. Otherwise, there are a few general areas in which you can pray for God's grace. Pray for health (physical/spiritual/emotional), finances, family, and work. All of these can affect a small-group leader's ability to lead, and can be prime areas for the enemy to attack.
Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.
Because sin is a universal condition, forgiveness is a universal need—forgiveness for our own sins and a spirit of forgiveness toward those who have sinned against us. Forgiveness, however, does not come naturally. We need God's supernatural work in our hearts to produce forgiving spirits.
Small groups provide many opportunities for forgiveness. For example, a leader fails to meet a member's unspoken expectations. One member dominates the conversation, causing resentment in the others. A needy member demands more time and attention than a leader can provide. Tensions arise from different interpretations of Scripture. One member's outreach idea is chosen over another's.
We can pray for a spirit of forgiveness in our small groups, for humility (Philippians 2:5-8), for the maturity to not take offense easily (James 1:19), and for a biblical response when one group member sins against another (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15). We can also pray for wisdom for our leaders as they guide their group members in these experiences.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
In his book, Hansen points out that this petition seems paradoxical considering God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13-15). It might help to think of the first part of this petition in two ways.
First, we pray that God will lead us away from temptation. God knows where the paths that lie before us will eventually lead. We tend to see only the next step. We need God's discernment to know which paths will lead to his glory and which to our own harm.
Second, the word "temptation" is also used for "trial" in the book of James and elsewhere. So we pray that God will not lead us into times of trial. When he does allow trials to come, we pray that they will bring maturity, perseverance, and wisdom (James 1:2-5), but we don't pray for the trials themselves. Instead, we ask God to rescue us for his own honor, as he so often rescued the Israelites.
Similarly, we can think of the phrase "deliver us from evil" in a couple of different ways. Keep us from causing evil, from stumbling, from harming others, and protect us from evil that could befall us.
Praying this specific petition for our small-group leaders, then, can take on many forms. We ask God to give them discernment to choose paths that will lead to his honor, to keep them from causing or participating in evil, and to protect them from trials. We ask God to use whatever trials he does permit to bring perseverance and maturity—for his glory.
Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.
This doxology is not included in every version of this prayer, but it fits the prayer's spirit, returning to a focus on God and his kingdom.
Because God is king, he is sovereign; he answers our petitions as he chooses. We come to him not with demands, but with requests which he is free to grant or not grant. God does not owe us the answers we seek—he's our King, not our servant. What he grants, he does so out of grace, not out of obligation.
Because God is all powerful, we can trust him to bring about what is best for those for whom we are praying. He "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (Ephesians 3:20). Because his thoughts and ways are higher than ours, his answers often take different forms than we imagine. But God's answers are never less than we ask—they're always more. If he doesn't answer as we envisioned, it's not because he's powerless—it's because he's gracious.
Our desire should be first and foremost that God will glorify himself as he answers our prayers. Whether we're praying directly for God's kingdom to come or whether we're praying for specific needs, we're praying for God's glory.
This is how you should pray.
Scripture offers many models for prayer. Praying the Lord's Prayer for your small-group leaders doesn't mean you can't pray any other way. But this prayer offers a helpful model for well-rounded, God-centered prayer for those under your care. May God's name be honored as you pray.
—Andrew Wheeler is the author of Together in Prayer; copyright 2013 by Christianity Today.