“Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” Hebrews 10:22-25 (NASB).
The Hebrews passage exhorts us first to “draw near to God.” This is an amazing thought, that God desires for us to have a warm, loving relationship with Him, not simply a judicial relationship of being found “not guilty.” While the idea of a relationship encompasses more than prayer, it certainly includes prayer and a prayerful attitude and spirit. There are three types of prayer that are important to a small group.
The first is the “drawing-near prayer.” This can extend over a short period of time, even a few minutes, to a more extended time frame. For a weekly Bible study, this is the “pause” from the busyness of the day to invite God to meet with you as you look into His Word. Even briefly, it encompasses those elements that make us teachable—acknowledging God, confessing sin, and laying aside our cares and agendas. It may include singing. It is relational, rather than the asking and praying for specific personal requests.
When a whole evening is given to prayer, this will likely be more extended and will include, either by song or Scripture, the broader elements of worship. Plan carefully to include the “drawing-near” aspect of the small group during your weekly times of Bible study. A receptive heart is necessary if one is to learn and apply the truths of God’s Word. Remember, God desires this as much, if not more, for the relationship as for the discipline and knowledge that it brings. He enjoys our company. Do we enjoy His?
The second type of prayer is the “application prayer.” This is appropriate as the concluding element of the actual Bible study. Rather than abruptly ending the study and shifting gears to prayer requests, this involves talking with God about what was just learned from His Word and personalizing it into one’s individual life. It will also let those in the group know how to continue to pray for others throughout the week in the spiritual dimension of their lives.
The third type of prayer is called the “personal-needs prayer.” It needs little introduction or explanation as it is the most common type of praying done by people in small groups. Usually, but not necessarily, this involves taking prayer requests for health, friends, and activities of the week and then praying for them. Sometimes for the sake of time efficiency, there is little discussion of the prayer requests—simply a listing of them, followed immediately by a time of prayer.
At other times, more discussion may be desired (although problem solving should be minimized). In these cases, some have chosen to serve the refreshments while they share prayer requests, and then wrap up the evening with a short time of prayer. The needs of the members of the group with regard to time commitments will often dictate the format.
Be open to occasionally using your small group meeting for an extended season of prayer. This could be what used to be called “a half-night of prayer,” or in more recent times is referred to as a “concert of prayer”—three to perhaps four hours of prayer. If you want to allow more time, an entire day may be given to prayer. The format can be as varied as the person leading the prayer event, but it usually follows something close to an ACTS format—Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.
The format can be free flowing, that is, times of singing, Scripture reading, and prayer (both individual and public) interspersed throughout. Fasting, for those who so desire, can be accomplished by individuals in any of the formats if it is helpful in focusing one’s attention. In the longer seasons of prayer, breaks can either be scheduled, or individuals may simply take breaks whenever necessary.