- Knowledge of what prayer is and what it is for, as understood by Christians.
- Awareness of Jesus’ example and teaching about prayer.
- Consideration of the relationship between prayer and faith.
- Awareness of the right attitude of praying people.
- Reflect upon the relative merits of different requests.
- Consider the comments of a professional footballer concerning his routine of praying before football matches.
- Evaluate the relevance of selfishness in prayer.
- Analyse a section from Mark 11 (and other Bible passages) to identify Jesus’ views on the subject of prayer.
- Understand the significance of God’s will in human prayers.
- Provide advice-column answers to questions about prayer.
Put the students into small groups and give each group a copy of the Request cards, which you will need to have cut out in advance of the lesson. Ask the students to discuss whether or not the request on each card is a selfish one, and whether or not it is a reasonable one. You might want to spend a moment or two discussing the difference between the two concepts, to establish that requests can be both selfish and reasonable (‘please let me live’), or unselfish and unreasonable (‘Please give all of your money away to overseas aid charities’).
- Please let me live.
- Please give me all of your money.
- Please give all of your money away to poor people.
- Please pay for my university tuition fees.
- Please pay for my lunch.
- Please pay for my lunch, and I’ll pay for yours tomorrow.
- Please lend me some money for the bus.
- Please let me carry your bags for you.
- Please let me be your friend.
- Please forgive me.
Discuss any answers which divided the students. You may want to raise the question of whether there is any difference depending on who the request is being made to (for example, ‘please pay for my university tuition fees’ is addressed to taxpayers in general or to the parents of the requester).
Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about prayer, and in particular considering what kind of things Christians believe that they should pray for.
Give out copies of the article United’s Hernandez on a sting and a prayer from the Daily Mirror website. You can find the article at http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/manchester-uniteds-latest-goalscoring-sensation-3335191
Read through the article with the students and ask them if they were surprised by Hernandez’s comments about his career and his faith.
Ask the students to comment on what Hernandez says he prays about before matches. Were they surprised that he prayed for the players to avoid injuries, rather than to ask God to help his team win, or to help him to score goals? Were they surprised that he prays for both teams, not just himself and his team-mates?
Point out Hernandez’s comment about his prayer being ‘an important routine’, but ‘not a superstition’. What do the students think is the difference between the two?
Ask the students, working in pairs or small groups, to look up Mark 11:12-14 and 20-26 and answer the following questions:
- Why are the disciples surprised that Jesus’ words about the fig tree have come true?
- How does Jesus explain what has happened?
- What things does Jesus seem to suggest are important if somebody wants God to answer their prayers?
Once the students have had time to answer the questions, let them feed their answers back to the whole class. It is probably worth pointing out at this stage that the Bible does not use the phrase ‘curse’ in the same way that it may be commonly understood today. The New Bible Commentary (IVP, 1994) says the following in its account of Mark 11:
It is important to realise that in the Bible ‘blessing’ and ‘cursing’ do not have the same meaning as today. They are God’s solemn judgements, his pronouncements of the results of either pleasing or displeasing him; he does not act without reason. The Bible knows nothing of magical curses. (p968)
Discuss with the students whether they think that there is any limit on Jesus’ statement that ‘whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours’. It would be helpful to remind them of the example of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, when he longed to not have to go through with God’s plan for him to be crucified, but prayed ‘Yet not what I will, but what you will’.
Read Romans 8:26-27 to the class:
‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.’
(You might need to explain that in the Bible the word ‘saints’ describes all believers in Jesus – i.e. Christians – not just a few miracle-working superstars.)
Christians believe that God is more than just a giant vending machine in the sky, churning out answers to prayer if the right buttons are pressed, and always giving people whatever they ask for. Christians believe that prayer is just as much about the person who prays discovering what God wants them to pray for – this is what the passage means when it talks about praying ‘in accordance with God’s will.’ The students might ask what the point of praying is, if God only gives the things that people ask for if they are things that he already wants to give. C.S. Lewis once described prayer as not being about him trying to change God’s mind, but about God changing his mind – helping him to see more clearly what he really needed, and therefore what he ought to be asking God to do for him. You could remind the students of the last verse of the passage from Mark, which talks about forgiving other people, which should also be seen as an indication that the attitude of the person praying in relation to other people is as important as how strongly they believe that their prayer will be answered.
SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:
Give out copies of the Dear Geraldine worksheet, and ask students to write answers to the three questions about prayer on the sheet. Their answers should demonstrate their understanding of Christian beliefs about prayer.
The three questions on the worksheet are as follows:
Forever and ever, Amen?
I’m really sorry to bother you, but I’m having a bit of a problem with the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve said it every night since I was a wee nipper and it’s getting so samey. Could we change it around a bit to make it more interesting? Does prayer have to be so stuffy or could I pray just like I was having a good chinwag with Aunty Vera? What tips do you have to spice up praying to God? Does it always have to be so dull?
Faith up to it
I heard that God isn’t in the business of answering prayers offered in the wrong attitude – we need faith. But isn’t it also true that this so called faith could be just us presuming that God will do anything that we want Him to do? I don’t think I’ve got a great deal of this faith thing so does that mean I can’t pray properly?
Someone once said to me: ‘Don’t pray a prayer unless you are prepared to be a part of the answer to that prayer.’ Do you agree with this? Isn’t God powerful enough to just answer my requests and be done with it? Or if I go out and make my prayers come true I don’t need to pray them to God at all do I?
YOU WILL NEED: