The prayer that typically occurs in small groups has for decades been a frequent matter of dissatisfaction for me.
It’s certainly a mixed bag. Some praying has been very richly meaningful, but for me, those instances have been too far between and mostly in the distant past. There is always room for improvement and growth; I do believe a large part of the problem lies in me.
Today, I want to express resistance toward the pervasive “prayer request” method. As well intentioned as it always is (attempting to show care for lists of “needs” for group members, “taking these things to God,” and keeping track of “what God is doing in our lives”), the listing commonly uses an inordinate amount of time, often seems shallow and one-dimensional, and in any event leaves me shivering and looking for warmth elsewhere.
In one small group, there were four listings of the same items in the same 75 minutes:
- “Let’s go around the room and have everyone share a prayer request.”
- Leader prays for each item in order.
- (After Bible study) “Let’s remember [reiteration of each item on the above list].”
- Leader prays again for each item in order.
I kid you not: four times through the same list! I don’t think that’s what “pray without ceasing” means. Since God is in fact God, I doubt He needs to hear the re-petitions. For my part, I need and want more from praying than a listing of needs that corresponds exactly in number to the number of people in the room.
Can’t I have two needs? (What would that do to the decorum?)
Does everyone has a need that ought to be shared? (Save us from the kindhearted but out-of-place requests on behalf of Sue’s daughter’s friend from school whose aunt has a sick puppy.)
Aren’t there greater, more comprehensive matters that demand address to God?
Where the “prayer request” method is used, may I suggest that it be acknowledged that God hears the items when they’re being shared the first time. It may not be necessary to mention each one in order again. Alternately, a specific prayer could be spoken immediately after each matter is disclosed.
Now concerning the voicing-aloud . . . any prayings in small groups are by nature relatively informal; even Christian groups that limit women’s roles may be able comfortably to explore including men and women in the praying aloud. Yet it is not necessary to “go around the room” in a perfunctory manner that obliges everyone. Not everyone needs to pray aloud every time. The method/pattern that seeks to be inclusive may end up discouraging genuine engagement if it forces the unwilling to speak.
No matter the numbers of people or methods employed . . . please, please can the prayers be
- more “natural” (yet retaining reverence, which is an absolute),
- more inclusive of Kingdom matters, and
- more pervasively cognizant of God in all His majestic identity, as well as His abilities?
In a small group, it seems that prayer might be explored and experienced to a greater extent than in larger groups.
Next: Current Arkansas small groups