It was really good this week to be able to listen to Ann’s sermon from last Sunday to hear her challenge about our relationship with God as father and friend. As Ann said last week it’s so important that we each have a personal relationship with God. Alongside our own relationship with God it is also important that as Christians we pray with others, that we have a shared prayer life with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I think one of the reasons so many of us struggle with prayer is that as Ann said last week we think others are better at praying than we are but also that praying with others is seen as the task or gift of those who go to the prayer meeting or those who’ve done the prayer courses. Sadly this only discourages the rest of us from having a go and letting God speak to us and call us deeper into God’s love. I am so delighted to hear that last Sunday one of the coffee breakout groups finished their time together by praying – so wonderful to hear and such an encouragement about how God was moving last Sunday.
There are obviously many different occasions when we pray with others, here in our Sunday services, saying grace before a meal, at the church prayer meeting as we had on Tuesday evening last week. Today though as I reflect on praying with others I want to think about what it means to pray regularly with a small group of people and the significant impact that can have on our faith as we have seen praying together has had on the lives and faith of Sue, Maureen and Sue.
So why would we choose to meet together regularly to pray with 2 or 3 others? Some of you will be sat there thinking what on earth is he on about, that’s the last thing I would want to do, what would we pray about! So why? Why is it good for us to pray regularly with a small group of other christians?
I’ve often quoted the American write Jim Wallis who says ‘faith must always be personal but never private’. If we only have our own relationship with God, which is so important as Ann talked about last week, we run the risk of making our faith private. Having a small group around us who we pray with enables faith to be personal not private just as being part of a worshipping congregation ensures our faith is corporate as well as personal. When we pray with others we create a space where prayer can really be a two way conversation with God not just us giving God a list of what we want God to do.
Praying with others in not about if 3 or 4 people say the same prayer God hears it more or will act quicker! It’s not about needing 3 or 4 people to shout loudly to wake God up so God hears what we want to say. Praying with two or three others is all about our own life and faith, about where we are at in life, what we are rejoicing and celebrating, where we are struggling, with others we can discern the next step with God. God always hears our prayers first time however what I tend to find is that we are not quite as good at hearing God. When there are a few of us it is much easier to discern what God is saying. Rather than the more of us there are the more God will hear it’s the more of us there are the more chance there is of us hearing and discerning what God is saying.
I think this is very much reflected in what Paul says in verses 1 and 2 of Philippians 4 when he speaks about prayer. He addresses not just one person but his brothers and sisters, he encourages them as brothers and sisters to stand firm in the Lord. In verse 2 he encourages Euodia and Syntyche to settle their disagreements and to be of one mind. Standing firm and being of one mind cannot happen if we are not in conversation with one another and together with God. If we only talk to God on our own the chance are we’ll not all discern the same outcome, we won’t be of the same mind and we won’t always stand firm.
When we set aside time to pray with others on a regular basis something very special happens. We grow together, we start to understand each other better and real trust grows within that group. The trust and understanding of one another makes the space a safe space where we can share the deepest things within us but it also makes the space one where we trust each other to challenge one another, to not let each other get carried away, to call each other out when we might be moving into unhelpful thoughts or actions. It also becomes a space where we learn how God speaks, where through our regular praying together we come to know when God is speaking through prophetic words, images, scriptures and even just knowing the change in our gut when we’ve found the peace that Paul speaks about in verse 7.
When we commit to praying regularly with others I think we create the space that Paul speaks of in Philippians 4 happens. I think in that small group, as Sue said in the testimony we can create a space where ‘The Lord is near’ where we can bring not just generic situations before God but every situation and where through receiving from God in prayer we can experience the peace of God which passes all understanding.
One of the great charisms of Methodism is that brothers and sisters in Christ have held each other accountable for their faith. In the early days of Methodism this was done in what we could see as quite scary ways where a small group leader would ask those present Wesley’s questions for the band including ‘What known sins have you committed since our last meeting? What temptations have you met with? How were you delivered? Not always easy questions to face but without doubt ones that held you accountable! In more recent years we’ve swung the other way and edge back to faith being private where we don’t challenge each other. I believe if we are meeting regularly with a small group to pray this is also the place where we can be held accountable for our faith but with more gentle questions like How easy or hard are you finding it to pray, how has God spoken to you through scripture, have you been able to speak about your faith to others recently. More gentle yes but still questions which challenge and help each of us to deepen our faith and to acknowledge where God is in our lives.
So why should we pray regularly with others and why is it good to find a small group of people to build a prayer triplet, group, accountability space with? Firstly because with others we can better hear and discern what God is saying to us, Secondly because in a small group we can develop trust in which we can share deeply with each other, Thirdly because it can be a place where we can be challenged and held accountable for our faith through which we grow closer to God and serve God more. I hope that these three reasons along with the testimony from Sue, Sue and Maureen encourage you to want to get praying with a small group.
But how, you might be wondering how you can do this. I want to suggest three things which would help you to get praying in a small group and to be blessed in this way.
Firstly, ask others to do it with you! I am sure that this morning many people are thinking this would be really good, I’d not sure about this but I’d like to have a go. Most of those people will be thinking if someone asks me I’ll say yes … which is great as long as someone asks someone! If everyone waits for everyone else it’ll never happen! So think about who 2 or 3 others might be that you’d like to pray with and ask them, see if they’ll give it a go with you. I want to do something I don’t often do which is to say to the men in the room when it comes to forming prayer groups/triplets we are not good at asking each other – so an extra challenge to the men … ask someone! If you can’t think of anyone ask talk to me and I’ll link you up with others who can’t think of anyone to ask!
Secondly, commit to it and ask others for help! It can be a bit scary to get going, there is no magic way to do it. The blessing comes from having a go, not making it too complicated and keeping going probably for a least a year meeting at least monthly if not fortnightly or weekly. It’s over time that the relationships develop and you find the real depth with God. One of the best ways to learn as a new group can be with a mentor and there are loads of folk within Trinity who I know would be delighted to mentor a new group, to be alongside you as you find your rhythm. If you find a group of people and you want a mentor ask me and I’ll help you find one.
Thirdly, find a pattern or structure for your times together which works for you. Interestingly Sue, Sue and Maureen said to me they don’t really have a structure they use they just pray. I’d like to challenge them on that because I think their structure is coffee, natter and pray and that’s a great pattern! In the coffee and nattering what comes out are the things they need to bring to God when they get to pray, that time prepares them for their time of prayer, for that time when they meet with the Holy Spirit who as Sue says is always waiting for them. A structure is essential to getting to pray and not just ending up chatting, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. If you would value something more structured I cannot commend highly enough to you the Methodist Way of Life. The MWOL is a set of commits which a small group make to each other and a set of accountability questions which help you to share with each other how you are doing at keeping the commitments. You can use the connexional commitments and questions or you can use the our calling framework to write you own. The framework really helps your commitments to be balanced in the different areas of the Christian life. This is a really new and helpful resource and later this year will be some more resources to help small groups use it. I believe this has real potential to change peoples faith and it is deeply Methodist in a very positive way. These are just two structures you can use, they are in no means compulsory but having a structure to your time together is really helpful when praying with others. As Daryl said last week when we’re not sure what to pray or how to be focussed on God someone else’s words or a structure can really help us be drawn into God’s presence.
I believe having people alongside us in our faith is really important, people who can pray with us, challenge us and encourage us. I believe churches who have small prayer groups at its heart alongside house groups and worship really grow with God and see peoples faith raised up by God. As we emerge from COVID I believe an increasing number of small prayer groups/triplets within Trinity could make a real difference to what God will do here.
Praying ourselves is so so important and alongside that praying with others can really help us to go deeper with God. So I encourage everyone to think about how they could start praying with, to ask those people and ask others for help. So that together we see God more and more at work amongst us in our lives individually and as God’s people in this place. Amen.