So far this quarter we have seen the value of Bible study and how stories and parables make our discipleship effective. But this week we address one other important ingredient: how to reach others through prayer.
You might say that prayer is the most mysterious activity of our spiritual experience. Jesus’ prayer life was so unique that his disciples asked Him one day how to pray. And before we go any further in our study of discipleship, this must also be our desire–to know how to pray…
- both for our own strength and wisdom as disciples,
- and for those we hope to impact with the gospel message.
Memory Text: “‘I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word: that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You: that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.'” John 17:20, 21 NKJV
There are two things we notice in this verse:
- that He was so inclusive in his prayer that even to this day we can feel a part of that special group of disciples who followed Him while He was on earth–
- and that in order for the world to believe in Him, there must be unity in our ranks.
Sunday: Time-tested Compassion
Daniel is one of the few Bible characters who has no recorded sins, which is what makes his intercessory prayer for his people so interesting. This prayer in Daniel 9:2-19 shows that he totally identified with the Israelites. He doesn’t seek to put the blame on “them” in his confessions of wrongdoing, but consistently used the pronouns “we”, “us”, and “our” throughout the prayer.
The people had been disobedient, rebellious, and confused, and Daniel prays that God will show them (including himself) mercy and forgiveness. It shows the kind of humility and compassion we must have when we pray in the capacity of an intercessor.
Intercessory prayer focuses on the other person’s needs. It must therefore show
- compassion, and
- earnest longing for the salvation of others.
Another aspect of Daniel’s prayer teaches us that it’s best after confessing our sins and acknowledging the power of God that we trust Him to do what is best. Daniel only asks that God will act on behalf of His people.
Discussion Questions: How can our prayers be less self-centered? [suggestions: pray for the ability to serve, be more observant of people’s needs by actually serving them, don’t make your prayer sound like a wish list]
How can we trust God to answer our prayer in a way that best suits His purposes, not ours? How does this affect our whole attitude and actions, not just during the prayer, but after it?
Monday: Time for Prayer
Some examples of when and how Jesus prayed:
- “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray:” Matthew 14:23 KJV
- “Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.” Matthew 26:36 KJV
- “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” Mark 1:35 KJV
- “But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities. And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.” Luke 5:15, 16 KJV
- “And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve…” Luke 6:12, 13 KJV
Jesus certainly modeled a personal prayer life that included times before and after working with the people. Before dawn and in solitary places, away from distractions. Although it wasn’t His regular practice to pray all night, when the burdens were overwhelming, His prayers could extend that long.
Discussion Questions: How was Jacob’s wrestling match with the Angel similar to Jesus’ prayer watch in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest?
Why did Jesus, who was God Himself, need to pray while on earth?
Steps to Christ, p. 93 says, “Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him.” Why does it happen this way? Describe how you have felt this to be true in your own prayer life.
Tuesday: Timeless Teaching
I liked how the lesson calls prayer a spiritual adhesive. It’s what bonds us spiritually with our infinite Creator, allowing us to transcend our earthly, sinful natures and become one with God
No wonder Satan has done his best to change prayer into a self-centered, one-sided conversation. Jesus even called some prayers “vain repetitions” in Matthew 6:7 and referred to them as prayers of the heathen.
Could Christians today fall into this category when we pray, without trusting God to work out all the details? So often we dictate to God what course we think should happen, when in reality God sees it working out better another way.
The lesson quarterly said, “true faith is trusting God when we can’t see the outcome that we want and anticipate.” And of course, Hebrews 1:1 calls our faith “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
But there is a danger of allowing arrogance or insolence to mingle with our so-called trust, feeling a sense of entitlement as we approach God in prayer. We must never presume on God’s mercy, but know that when we humbly come to Him, we are forgiven. Then our efforts to correct our mistakes should not cease, just because we assume God will take care of it all. We must still strive to do the right thing, but now we can have God’s power to do it.
There are two signs of a humble spirit when we pray:
- having made a complete surrender to God
- having a forgiving spirit for others
We must also do two things to be able to forgive as we should:
- Pray that we will learn to forgive and do it completely
- Pray for the person that needs our forgiveness
Discussion Question: We know that lots of godly Christian people do not get their prayers answered. Paul, for instance, prayed for “a thorn in my flesh” to be healed (II Corinthians 12:7), but it never was. Discuss Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Was that prayer answered or not? (Luke 22:39-44)
Why is it so hard to give God the freedom to answer our prayers in His own time?
Wednesday: Timeless Compassion
In reading the Gospels, we can’t help but notice Jesus’ intercessory prayers and actions in behalf of others.
- Jesus was actively engaged in people’s lives.
- He understood them thoroughly.
- He passionately desired their good.
This close interaction reminds us that distributing tracts or books or even delivering present truth in an evangelistic crusade is not enough to win the hearts and minds of people in this world.
Effective discipleship means listening to someone’s distress and actively trying to alleviate suffering wherever it is found. The saying is true:
“People care little about what you know until they know how much you care.”
Discussion Questions: Why should our prayers for others be accompanied by efforts to be friends with them, or to be involved in their lives as much as possible?
How can church members build relationships with their neighbors, relatives, and all they come in contact with?
How will this involvement make a difference in the prayer life of the church?
Thursday: Timeless Compassion Replicated
Prayer became an anchor for the early church:
- prayed for unity as the church was founded (Acts 1:13, 14)
- Stephen prayed for those who stoned him (Acts 7:60)
- sent workers into the field after fasting and prayer (Acts 13:3; 14:23)
- prayed when someone was leaving, a farewell prayer (Acts 20:36; 21:5)
- often prayed for government leaders, fellow believers–everyone!
Reasons the early church grew so rapidly:
- their teaching and study of the Scriptures
- fervent preaching about Jesus
- miraculous gifts of the Spirit
- their loving fellowship with each other
- AND PRAYER!!!
Discussion Question: When Paul told the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing, or continually, (I Thess. 5:17) what did he mean? Should we be on our knees day and night, 24 hours a day?
How do our prayers sometimes become a source of guilt? [suggestions: perhaps when they aren’t answered as expected, or when we feel we haven’t prayed enough]
How do you measure success in your prayer life?
Summary: Humble, heartfelt, persistent prayer, such as the intercessory prayers of Jesus for groups and individuals, should be central to making and keeping disciples today.
“Solicit prayer for the souls for whom you labor; present them before the church as objects for the supplication…Select another and still another soul, daily seeking guidance from God, laying everything before Him in earnest prayer, and working in divine wisdom.” ~Ellen G. White, Medical Ministry, pp. 244, 245
Challenge: Choose one or more of the following ideas to improve your own prayer life this week:
- turn off media connections to encourage more time for prayer
- use a prayer journal to record both requests and answers to prayer
- use prayer to forgive someone, praying for them and myself
- find a close family member or friend to be my prayer partner
- start attending prayer meeting at church
- memorize and or study some great prayers in the Bible
- choose someone I know to have intercessory prayer for
Next week: Discipling Children