Ethos Education

A Long Way Down: What’s the difference between prayer and creating a wish-list?

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Learning Objectives:

  • 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.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Devise their own list of three wishes, and reflect upon the variety of wishes represented by the class.
  • Reflect upon whether making wishes is a good or bad thing.
  • Contrast the concept of wish-lists with the Christian practice of 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.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a short comparison of the practice of making wishes with the Christian practice of prayer.

STARTER:

Ask the students to imagine that they have been given three wishes. What would they wish for? Give them a minute or so to write down their three wishes, then invite some of the students to share their wishes with the class. Once everyone who wants to has offered up their lists for consideration, lead a brief discussion on who had the best set of three wishes. You might like to prepare a list of three wishes of your own to offer as an example before the students compile their lists (all homework being done and handed in on time; and students being well-behaved and motivated in lessons may or more not be appropriate additions to your list).

Explain to the students that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about Christian beliefs concerning prayer. Is asking God for things in prayer any different to compiling a wish-list of things that people would like to happen to them?

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from the film A Long Way Down (Lionsgate, 2014, certificate 15). Click here to buy the DVD online. Explain that Martin (Pierce Brosnan), Maureen (Toni Collette), Jess (Imogen Poots) and JJ (Aaron Paul) are four people who met when they all decided to commit suicide by throwing themselves off the same tall building on the same night. They made a pact to stay alive, and are now taking a holiday together. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the objections that are raised to the game they play in the restaurant.

  • Start time:       0.49.22
  • End time:         0.50.57
  • Clip length:      1 minute and 35 seconds

The clip starts with Martin drumming on the table and saying, ‘Okay. God gives you three wishes…’ It ends when JJ says, ‘Okay, but this is a bad game.’

Which of the characters do the students think had the best set of wishes? What did Maureen say was the reason that she ‘didn’t do wishes’? Do you agree with her? Was JJ right in dismissing this as ‘a bad game’?

Remind the students of Maureen’s objection to the game, that, ‘God is not a tombola machine, Martin. He doesn’t just give wishes.’ Do the students agree with Maureen? How would they describe God’s response to prayer requests from his worshippers?

Explain that Christians would be likely to agree with Maureen’s assessment of God, yet they believe that God wants them to pray, and to bring requests to him in prayer.

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’. (p 968).

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 (NIV) 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 tombola, or a giant vending machine, 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:

As a final exercise, ask the students to write a short piece comparing the practice of making wishes with the Christian practice of making requests to God in prayer. Their answers should tackle the following questions (although they shouldn’t feel limited to only answering these questions):

  • What difference does each practice make to daily life?
  • How does each practice help or hinder the people who do them?
  • What makes each practice effective or ineffective?

YOU WILL NEED:

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