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Small Group Prayer

This fall, we will be doing a sermon series on the Psalms.   The series is designed to move us as a church toward prayer, and toward better prayer.  I’m excited about it, because I think prayer is a neglected part of churches today.  So I was excited about this article that I read on small group prayer.  But in the end, I was disappointed.  I think the article fails.

The article seems to indicate that prayer is an important part of small group life, but instead it sends the opposite message of what it intended. The article (I think accidentally) seems to suggest that prayer is important, after everything else is accomplished.  In other words, we should pray, but make sure everything else gets done, too.  The suggestions are often bent toward getting through prayer time faster, or getting requests more quickly, or bundling it all into one week every now and then.  It appears to elevate teaching times, conversation, and service projects above prayer.

Only after 10 other suggestions is the most obvious solution given:  Pray first (or early) in our small group times, and leave the teaching for the end.  It’s a model I’ve followed in my small group for several years now, and elevates prayer to a place of importance instead of afterthought.  I tell everyone who joins my small group: we value prayer, and we are going to pray for each other.

However, my own value has led to another problem:  my small group acts as if the only prayer is intercessory.  There is little room in small group time for prayers of praise or thanksgiving unless they are attached to a corresponding list of requests.  It’s something I’ve thought about a lot as a small group leader, but have done little about.  That will hopefully change this fall.  If you’re in a small group (especially mine) hold your leader accountable!

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  1. mikewittmer
    September 8, 2010 at 11:26 am

    This is really important, John. If I had a moment with Augustine, one of the first things I’d ask him is why are you so Platonic? The first thing he’d ask me is why don’t your churches really pray? So now I’m praying I don’t run into him. It’s a start!

  2. Ian Coburn
    September 12, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    I’ve thought about the functionality of prayer to a significant degree, but instead of its importance and place in the hierarchy of church/personal spiritual growth, more in terms of its actual constitution. Or in other words, what actually is prayer? Surely this has been thrown around a lot, but the more that I think about prayer the less prayer becomes a designated space in which people pray. You may say it’s similar to dreaming by stating that dreaming is a thing that people do when they sleep.

    In this way I’ve begun to consider the flexible nature of prayer. That much I know, that it’s flexible. It has to be. It would seem that prayer is effectively the least viscous medium of communication available to humanity. This is because prayer is practically indefinable, save to say that it’s usually positive and usually directed at a higher power (God). I’ve asked myself whether you could say, “God” alone and consider that a prayer. I think so, just as much as “Help” could be a prayer.

    But what I’ve begun to question is whether this allows prayer to extend beyond the box of rational words. We may be able to say this is true if we look at languages composed of sounds and consider that a prayer could be formulated in this language. Or even more to my line of thought, that the written word can be considered a prayer. More or less, to bridge the gap a little faster, that could mean that physicality, corporeal objects, can be prayers (a sign with a prayer on it, for instance). I think it’s within the realm of reason, then, to say a house is a prayer, or a set of crutches, or an IV bag. Of course, the only caveat here being that a house, or any other object, is surrounded by the envelope of thought by a group of people or a person that thinks it’s a blessing or considers it with a Godly eye (or even just with a mind to be aligned to God).

    That’s the key, then, I suppose, that humanity bridge the gap to Earthly physicality via thought. For example, I might consider a hospital a prayer having been constructed with the intent to heal people. Or, I guess more obviously, a church could be a prayer– This facade is a prayer that one community may be brought closer to God.

    Even further, I’ve wondered if action is prayer. If you were to build a cross in your backyard, I’ve wondered if you could call that prayer, the digging and hammering of nails. I wouldn’t be too leery of saying yes, since if the action implies the intent, and the intent is good or aligned with God, why not? Or more accurately, the action is born from an intent, and if Godly, probably prayer like. You could ask this cross builder if why they are hammering and digging, and they might say, “To build a cross.” So you say, well, why are you building this cross? “To be consistently reminded of God.” I would say that’s a prayer: Help me be consistently reminded of God.

    The point here, then, is that prayer is also teaching, right? As a teacher you’re pointing a group toward understanding, hoping for clarity. To me this doesn’t sound dissimilar to “pure” prayer. Perhaps it would ease the delineation of prayer to say that this all means prayer takes different forms, such as dedicated prayer and indirect prayer. I might say then that we are praying enough (though we could do more in every aspect of our lives to align ourselves to a Godly ideal), but more specifically the body of believers needs to infuse every facet of life with the intent to move it towards God.

    There are two immediate consequences from this sequence of thought: study groups are almost wholly prayer, in one form or another and the state of mind of most is not necessarily geared towards prayer most of the time.

    A question that comes to mind, then, is this: do we only verbalize our prayers in order to assuage any doubt in our minds that we aren’t praying enough?

    Also, could a person go their whole life not verbally (or mentally) praying words and still have consistently prayed?

    Hope you’re doing well Pastor Lemke.

    -Ian

  3. John Lemke
    September 14, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Ian, always good to hear from you and as always your words send me into a tizzy of diverging thoughts!! (Send me a note and let me know where you are – we miss you)

    I would say prayer is directly communicating with God – that is, our words to God and His words back to me. With that definition, prayer is not as viscous as you have described. Rather, it is intentional moments of talking with God. That is how I think the Bible describes prayer.

    However, what you described I think would be called worship (e.g. Romans 12:1-2). All those activities you described could be worship, and so I think a person should be worshiping 24/7, through thought and action and ministering to others and to God’s world. So study groups, as you describe them, might have teaching, fellowship, and prayer, and all could rightfully be called worship.

    Does that make sense?

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