To get you started

  • Have available a number of shapes cut out of coloured. cardboard—squares, rectangles, triangles, stars, circles, semi-circles, etc. Invite each to select a shape that says something about him or her, print their name on it and then all work together to make a design by placing the pieces together on a flat surface. Invite people to say why they chose the piece they did and point out that just as each person remains an individual they will together give shape to the group over the coming weeks.

  • Invite members of the group to write down their questions about prayer. Gather these up and keep them for reference later in the course of this series.

Something to think about

OK, we’ve been told that we ought to pray. Where do we start?

Do we start telling God what we want? Is it like pressing buttons to get what we want from a vending machine?

Can the prayers that Jesus prayed give us a clue? Prayer is not a specifically Christian activity. People of all religions, and even people who say they have no religion, pray. Yet so many people have problems with prayer.

Let’s listen in to one of the prayers of Jesus:

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Matthew 11:25-26 NRSV)

While many people try to follow Jesus many reject him. It has been like this from the beginning. When he taught and healed in Galilee, the clever, the educated, the upper crust, generally rejected him. His following came from the poor and marginalized—the drop-outs. Did he feel depressed about this? Not at all. He thanked God for it because it highlighted the fact that people cannot come to God by their own efforts, God comes to them.

This finds an echo in Paul’s correspondence with the Christian community in Corinth written some twenty years before Matthew’s Gospel was put together.

  • Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Our relationship with God does not start with us and what we do. It starts with God and what God does. Then the same must be true for prayer. Prayer, for the Christian, should start with God’s grace, God’s acceptance of us.

If prayer starts with God’s love, there are no preconditions. We do not have to reach a certain level of education, intelligence, cleverness, or wisdom to pray. Prayer is open to the smallest, humblest, least intelligent and least educated of us all.

When we start with ourselves, rather than with God, we think that we have to come to God or that we have to persuade God to come to us. We have to adjust our spiritual sensitivity to be aware of God who is already present as the One in whom we live and move and have our being.

Prayer has been called human participation in divine activity. God is active in the world, and, in this activity, asks for our cooperation. We can give it willingly or even unwittingly, but we can also become an obstacle to it. Through prayer, we have the opportunity of becoming partners with God , agents of God’s purpose.

Some things to talk about:

  • What do you think about the idea that prayer be likened to pressing buttons on a vending machine?

  • “People cannot come to God by their own efforts, God comes to them.” Do you agree, and how does this affect our praying?

  • If God has already come to us, why do worship leaders say, “Let us come before God in prayer”?

  • If intelligence and learning cannot bring us to God, what part do intelligence and learning play in prayer?

Practise prayer

  • In silence relax into the love of God. Close your eyes and imagine that you are immersed in the grace of God or wrapped around by God’s loving parental arms.

  • Ask God to illuminate your mind, warm your heart, develop your relationship with God and enrich your relationships with other people through your participation in this group.

  • Pray for the group and each person in it.