Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (Col 4:2)
This verse appears at the top of the weekly prayer list we use at our team meetings here at Matthias Media. Why? Well, sometimes prayer seems like a joy. But quite often it doesn’t; it feels like hard work and it is tempting to skip it. That’s why Colossians 4:2 is such a useful reminder.
It’s not a difficult verse to understand, is it? But let me make a few observations I hope might be helpful in applying it to our home groups.
These words imply that significant effort is required to keep praying. As Peter O’Brien puts it (in his Word Biblical Commentary): “Here the injunction suggests determination in prayer, with the resolve not to give up (Luke 11:5-13) or grow weary (Luke 18:1-8)”.1
I’m glad to say that prayer seems to be a pretty fixed item on the weekly agenda of our home groups—and thankfully I’ve not really heard of any groups ending up not praying at all. But nonetheless it is easy for prayer to become brief and superficial. Or for it to get squeezed out because the Bible study goes a bit long and we’re all getting a bit tired.
God is calling on us to make prayer a priority, so maybe that means praying before the Bible study sometimes. (But be disciplined and don’t squeeze out hearing from God’s word regularly either.) And maybe, for you as leader, it means putting preparation into the prayer time just like you do for the study time, so that you can lead people in ‘watchful’ and ‘thankful’ prayer.
What we are to continue in is prayer—not collecting up prayer points! Too often we spend more time in our home groups going around the room sharing prayer points than we do actually praying to our heavenly Father. Although giving people the chance to share personal concerns is important, so is praying together. With a little bit of thought, both are possible. Here are a few suggestions:
This phrase might remind you a little of the Lord Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “watch and pray” and “stay awake” (Mark 14:38; Luke 21:34-36; Mark 13:32-37). It may have connotations of being watchful for the Lord Jesus’ return, but it certainly indicates that we need to be alert to kingdom matters and spiritual dangers. Praying with our eyes wide open in other words. (Not necessarily literally, of course.)
That again should shape the way our home groups pray. As the leader, how are you going to encourage people to pray beyond themselves and their material needs? How do we ensure we pray for wider gospel concerns? And how will your prayers flow out of what God has been saying to you in the passage you have just been studying?
Focusing our minds on what God has done for us already (as opposed to what we are asking him to do) will inevitably lead us to thanksgiving. So rather than just putting together a list of petitions to present to God, take the time to think and list out ways that God has blessed us—and be sure to thank him for these things. (If you’re using the online prayer register document described above, maybe have a section specifically set up for people to add their points of thanksgiving.)
In our brief family prayer times (generally after dinner) we go around the table and quickly share two things: something to give thanks for and something (or someone) to pray for. We find it a helpful practice, and maybe it’s one you could use in your home group (or the pairs and triplets in your group).
One final piece of advice. The prayer life of your group will tend to reflect the health of your own personal prayer life as leader. So if this is an area you struggle in, share that struggle with someone (perhaps another home group leader or your pastor) who can help you and pray for you and encourage you to pursue faithfulness in this key area.
If you have any other suggestions for the prayer life of home groups, I’d love to hear them. Use the Facebook thread for this article so that others can benefit too.
1. Peter O’Brien, Word Biblical Commentary: Colossians-Philemon, Thomas Nelson, Dallas, 2002, p. 238.↩
2. Set some appropriate guidelines for your group about confidentiality when committing prayer points in writing.↩