The Struggle With Small Group Prayer

by Ryan Higginbottom January 20, 2016

You’ve been here before. It’s time for prayer in your small group, and with the sharing begins the hospital roll call. Injuries, symptoms, surgeries, diseases, pain. The length and variety of this list is overwhelming.

Because our friends have real physical needs, we must address these concerns in prayer. We have hope, because God can heal through medical or miraculous means. We plead for his intervention.

But, when it comes to prayer requests in your group, you have to admit—you were hoping for more.

Is It My Language?

I have tasted the cool water of rich prayer time with a friend. Knowing his heart, I’ve cried out to God for him, with him, that he would know and trust Christ in new or deeper ways. I prayed that God would transform his desires, that the baubles of earth would lose their sparkle, and that he would treasure Jesus above all. He prayed the same for me, and we shared a sweet, holy meeting with God.

Yet this same fellowship in prayer hasn’t blossomed in my small group. I once thought I had a language problem. If I could just describe my goal, my friends would catch on.

But in the middle of a battle, actions are more important than precise definitions. When a captain marches confidently up a hill, his troops follow.

The Obstacle-in-Chief

You see, I am my own chief obstacle. The river of human interaction flows toward less vulnerability, not more, and it’s relatively easy to share a health-related need. No one thinks less of me because of my injured foot or migraine headaches. It’s riskier to confess my impatience, gluttony, laziness, anger, doubt, or prayerlessness to my friends, begging for the Spirit’s work to change me. Such sharing is commended by the New Testament (James 5:16, Gal 6:2, 1 Thess 5:11) and leads to more honesty, deeper friendships, and a sharper focus in the group. But still I hesitate. Why?

It’s simple: I like feeling strong and capable. I want others to admire me, to praise me, to commend me to others. I don’t like admitting my weakness.

But the gospel I trumpet shuts me up with a bullhorn. That good, brave man I project? That’s not me; that’s Jesus! People don’t need to look at me, they need to look at Jesus. That perfect man died for this far-from-perfect man. He changed everything.

I no longer need to pretend I’ve got it together. I’m loved and accepted by Jesus; he holds everything together. My future doesn’t hang on how others assess me; because of Jesus, God has called me his son and promised me a permanent place with him.

Do you see how this can transform my prayer requests? Being accepted by God frees me to open up to my friends and ask for their help in my battle against sin. And when I as the leader start down the path of vulnerability, I can whistle for others in my group to join me. We’re headed into green pastures.

Two Keys to Honest Prayer Time

For the proud, the two suggestions below are impossible, but those broken by God’s love will recognize the path to freedom and growth.

To encourage honesty and vulnerability in your small group during prayer time, you must know yourself. As a forgiven sinner, where do you most need to repent and believe? Don’t settle for the “we’re all sinners” line; get specific. If you don’t know, ask God. He loves to answer this prayer.

Finally, let your friends know you. Show your group your true self. No one gains when you pretend you have it all together. As you are vulnerable with your friends, gently encourage them to follow you up the hill. Establish a safe place for people to confess their specific, ongoing need for their Savior.

As Christians speak honestly about their continual dependence on Jesus, something wonderful happens. You create a gospel-exalting culture. And this culture—properly called “love”—can turn your church and your community upside down.