Together in Prayer

Vertical Prayer with Horizontal Impact

Keep Your Promise to Pray

This article was originally published on Small

“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?

Martin Luther’s answer when asked how to pray was, “Use the Lord’s Prayer”. Luther saw this prayer as the model prayer, the “go-to” prayer appropriate for nearly any situation. But Luther didn’t merely recite the prayer; he used it as an outline of topics for his prayer time. After all, he argued, 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. In this article, we’ll draw on Hansen’s and Luther’s teaching to develop a simple yet complete outline for praying for our small group leaders. Undoubtedly as you read this, other ideas will come to your mind – 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.

One caveat before we begin. The petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are so closely related that any attempt to develop an outline will produce some arbitrary results. For example, it’s hard to imagine “your kingdom come, your will be done” happening without God’s name also being honored. Any time his will is done, his name is honored. So we might put a given category of prayer items under the “your will be done” part of the outline, but that’s really just a way of helping us to remember them.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
We begin by recognizing a balance in our relationship with God. He is “our Father”, 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 at once our Father and also 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 God’s name to be honored through the praise, Bible study, fellowship, and outreach of our small groups. We pray for unity in those small groups, (John 17). We ask that God’s love and grace will shine in the groups and through them to others.

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 his glory and 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 the Scriptures.

A few passages that can be helpful in praying for God’s kingdom to come in and through small group leaders are:

  • John 15 (pray for your leaders to “remain in the vine” and for God to bear fruit through their lives for his glory)
  • Galatians 5:13-26 (“fruit of the Spirit” and walking by the Spirit instead of by the flesh).
  • 1 Corinthians 13 (pray for an outpouring of God’s love in and through your small group leaders)
  • Philippians 2:1-11 (pray for Christ’s humility to be reflected in your small group leaders)

This is also a great place to pray for God’s kingdom to come in the small groups themselves. The prayers of Paul can guide us in praying for our small groups (Ephesians 1:15-19 , 3:16-21; Colossians 1:9-14; Philippians 1:9-11).

Praying for God’s will in our small groups can mean praying for wisdom for our small group leaders in choosing studies, discernment regarding relationships in the group, and for 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 now to personal requests, but it’s not all about us. The first half of the prayer provides the context in which these requests should be understood. So we ask God to meet our needs knowing that it is 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 cannot provide for ourselves and that we depend on God 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 because he promises that he will. His answer may not be what we envisioned – but it’s his answer. By turning our needs over to God, we give him the freedom to respond to those needs 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 it is his answer.

Praying for personal needs of small group leaders can take many forms. If you know of specific needs, this is certainly the place to bring them to God. If you don’t know of specific needs, there are a few general areas in which you can pray for God’s grace, such as health (physical/spiritual/emotional), finances, family, and work. All of these can affect a small group leader’s ability to lead, and as a result, the enemy can attack in any of these areas.

Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.
Since sin is a universal condition, forgiveness is a universal need – both forgiveness for our own sins and a spirit of forgiveness toward those who have sinned against us. Forgiveness does not come naturally, however; we need God’s supernatural work in our hearts to produce forgiving spirits.

Small groups provide many opportunities for forgiveness. A leader fails to meet unspoken expectations of a member. One member dominates the conversation, bringing resentment from the others (spoken or unspoken). A needy member demands more time and attention than a leader can provide. Tensions arise from different theologies and interpretations of Scripture. One member’s outreach idea is chosen over another’s. And that’s just inside the group!

Here we pray for sensitivity to sin for our small group leaders (Psalm 51), for contrite spirits and for God’s forgiveness for them. We pray also 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 biblical response when one group member sins against another (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15ff).

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Hansen points out that this petition seems paradoxical, since 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 take us. We tend to see only the next step, so 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 James and other places. So we pray that God will not lead us into times of trial. When he does allow those trials to come, we pray that they will bring maturity, perseverance, and wisdom on our part (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, “deliver us from evil” can be thought of 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 petition for our small group leaders, then, can take one (or more) of 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, to his honor.

Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.
This doxology isn’t included in every version of the prayer, but it fits the prayer’s spirit, returning to the idea of God’s kingdom and moving the focus back from us to God.

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 grants out of his 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 pray. 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 his ways are higher than ours, those answers often take different forms than we imagine. But God’s answers are never “less” than we ask – they are always “more”. If he doesn’t answer as we envisioned, it’s not because he is powerless – it’s because he is gracious.

Because the glory is God’s, our prayers are ultimately prayers for God’s glory. 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 are praying for God’s glory.

This is how you should pray.
Scripture offers many models for prayer and many examples of prayer. Praying the Lord’s Prayer for your small group leaders doesn’t need to mean that 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!