Our Spring series of sermons (2010), “Cry of My Heart,” concentrates on the foundational dynamic of prayer in the Christian experience.
We’ve been taught to pray from our earliest moments of religious instruction. “Let’s talk to Jesus,” our parents invited us. Then the directions began: “Close your eyes. Bow your head. Fold your hands...” Remember?
What does prayer mean in the life of today’s Christian, growing in grace, attempting to become more and more like Jesus? As we apply biblical wisdom to our prayer lives, will we pray more or less? Will we pray alone or in groups? Will the focus of our prayers remain on our petitions, or will they be transformed into praise?
Please join us as we continue to study prayer.
Cry of My Heart
BEFORE YOU BEGIN. This study guide will serve you well if you just want to quietly explore the ever-personal topic of prayer. It also will be useful in the setting of a small study group. Divide the guide into sections, assign one or two sections to be studied in advance, and use the outline to gather each member’s comments and opinions and structure your discussion. Regardless of how you use the guide, please keep the following thoughts in mind.
A. Keep growing. The goal of biblical study is not that we all come to the exact, same conclusion, but that we continue to grow together, even when we ask questions we haven’t asked before, and come to see things in a new light. Remember the Bible’s commendation of the Bereans, who “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
B. Make some notes about your own experience in prayer.
- When are you most likely to pray?
- What are you most likely to pray about?
- Is your prayer life fulfilling, rewarding, and comforting? Or are you frequently frustrated or discouraged?
- When you’ve been critical of someone’s public prayer, what was it about that prayer that made you unhappy?
- What questions about prayer do you hope are addressed during this sermon series?
- Keep a journal of your prayers during the next six weeks. Record what you pray about. Keep track of how you change as you pray. And note your interactions with the people and issues you pray about.
C. Is it a good idea for Christians to pray? Read these passages:
D. Begin Where You Are. Read this statement from Steps to Christ, page 93, and respond to the idea that prayer is our turn to talk in our relationship with God.
“Through nature and revelation, through His providence and by the influence of His Spirit, God speaks to us. But these are not enough; we need also to pour out our hearts to Him... Our minds may be drawn out toward Him; we may meditate upon His works, His mercies, His blessings; but this is not, in the fullest sense, communing with Him. In order to commune with God, we must have something to say to Him concerning our actual life. Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend,”
E. Choose one or two of the following biblical prayers. Read the prayer several times. What are the circumstances that prompted the prayer? What happened to the person who prayed? What can we deduce from the prayers about how to pray and what to pray about?
- David’s Prayer - Psalm 51:1-19
- Solomon’s Prayer - 2 Chronicles 6:12-21
- Daniel’s Prayer - Daniel 9:1-19
- Ezra’s Prayer - Ezra 9:5-15
- The Prayer of Jesus - Matthew 26:36-44
F. Read Matthew 7:7, 8. Circle the number below that represents the number of people that need to be praying to assure us that God will hear and “answer.”
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 10 – 15 – 20 – 25 – 30 – 35 – 40 – 45 – 50
What is “answered” prayer? Where have we gotten the idea that more people praying pressures God into being more faithful in “answering”? Does such an understanding call attention to our goodness or to the goodness of God? How is focusing on our goodness a dangerous thing?
G. If you experience a prayer that is “not answered,” what conclusion do you draw? Check the box by the statement below that best represents your understanding about “un-answered” prayer.
- “God probably doesn’t exist and therefore can’t answer prayer.”
- “God is too busy to care about my needs or circumstances.”
- “God is saying ‘No’ to me. Or, ‘Not now.’”
- “I’m not good enough for God to answer me.”
- “I must be doing something wrong, blocking God’s answer.”
- “I’ve obviously asked for something outside of God’s will.”
- “I am learning something deeper about God’s interest, His care, and His involvement in my life.” (See Romans 8:28-39.)
H. Consider these devotional passages from great writers on spiritual matters. What does each passage teach us about prayer?
- “You first taught me the great principle ‘Begin where you are.’ I had thought one had to start by summoning up what we believe about the goodness and greatness of God, by thinking about creation and redemption and ‘all the blessings of this life.’ You turned to the brook and once more splashed your burning face and hands in the little waterfall and said, ‘Why not begin with this?’”– C. S. Lewis, to his friend Malcolm
- “I pray only when I am in trouble; but I am in trouble all the time, so I pray all the time.” – Isaac Bashevis Singer
- “Prayer, the most natural and authentic substratum of language, is also the easiest form of language to fake. We discover early on that we can pretend to pray, use the words of prayer, acquire a reputation for prayer, and never pray. Our ‘prayers’ so-called, are a camouflage to cover up a life of non-prayer.” – Eugene Peterson
- “Christians are called to love God and our neighbors as ourselves, and the Lord’s Prayer, prayed honestly from the places in which we really are, is a basic tool to help us do it.” – Roberta Bondi
- “In truth, Christians often treat prayer [as a kind of good-luck charm]. If I do my duty then God ‘owes me.’ Worship becomes a kind of transaction: I’ve given God something, so it’s God’s turn to reciprocate. Prayer as transaction rather than relationship can decline into a practice more duty than joy, an occasional and awkward exercise with little connection to life.” – Philip Yancey
- “I am now persuaded that speaking to God from your heart is the only real religious issue there is.” – James Carse
I. Listed below are titles we’ve seen for sermons on prayer. Below them are short explanations of the sermon’s content. Match the sermon title to the explanation that you think fits the title best.
- The Master Key
- Naked Before God
- Radical Prayer
- Why Pray?
Wrestling With Prayer
- a. We continue to struggle with what we were taught as children about prayer.
- b. Does prayer go any higher than the ceiling? Does prayer change God or change us?
- c. We pray unpretentiously: undisguised, open, and transparent before an all-knowing God.
- d. Prayer is a revolutionary dynamic that changes the life of the reforming Christian.
- e. Prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven’s storehouse.
J. Do you support an American National Day of Prayer? In 1952, asking people to “turn to God in prayer and meditation,” the U. S. Congress established a National Day of Prayer, formalizing a practice that had been part of the American experience since 1775. In 1988 Congress set the Day of Prayer to fall each year on the first Thursday of May, this year on May 6. However, on April 15 this year, a U. S. District Judge in Madison, Wisconsin, in a lawsuit filed against President Obama by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ruled that the day was “unconstitutional,” in violation of the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state. Shirley Dobson, chair of the National Day of Prayer and wife of James Dobson of Focus on the Family, says the legal ruling will not stop Americans from praying. How do you feel about the issue?
K. What would you like to do to improve the quality of your prayer life? Listen for suggestions during each sermon in this series. Then, make a list of actions you believe will take your prayer life to a new, exciting level, more powerful and effective (James 5:16) than ever before.