Ethos Education

Gravity: What difference does prayer make?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Knowledge of what prayer is and what it is for, as understood by Christians.
  • Awareness of different models and methods of prayer.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon ways of describing different things.
  • Reflect upon one specific analogy for prayer.
  • Understand the Christian expectation that God does hear and answer prayers.
  • Analyse key Bible passages to determine what Christians believe about the relationship between faith, God’s will and answered prayer.
  • Analyse a Bible passage to identify the relationship between prayer and activity.
  • Synthesise learning by answering letters to a fictitious advice column.

STARTER:

Ask for suggestions to complete the following statements:

  • Voting is like…
  • Marriage is like…
  • Supporting a football team is like…
  • A blind date is like…
  • RE lessons are like…

You might want to give some examples to get people started. Here’s one: Friendship is like wetting your pants. Everyone can see it, but only you feel the warmth.

After giving the students a few minutes to complete their statements, invite them to share their best answers. Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be discovering what Christians believe prayer is like, starting with a film clip that provides one finish to the statement ‘Prayer is like…’

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from the film Gravity (Warner Bros, 2013, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that a team of NASA astronauts have been caught in a shower of space debris while working on machinery outside of their shuttle. One astronaut, Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) has been cut loose separated from the others and is no longer tethered to the spacecraft. Ask the students to look out for something in the clip that could be taken as a picture of what prayer might be like.

  • Start time: 0.12.36 (beginning of chapter 2 of the DVD)
  • End time: 0.18.56
  • Clip length: 6 minutes and 20 seconds

The clip starts with Dr Stone panicking as she spins off into space. The first proper line is Kowalski (George Clooney) saying, ‘Dr Stone, do you copy? Do you copy?’ The clip ends after Kowalski says, ‘You weren’t so bad yourself.’ Please note that there is some swearing in this clip. If you want to avoid the swearing, you could play a very short clip, starting at 0.18.02 (first line: ‘Houston in the blind, this is Kowalski’) and finishing at 0.18.22 (last line: ‘…they just might save your life’).

Ask the students whether they think that the scenario from the film clip is a good description of prayer – Kowalski and Stone are talking blindly into the static, hoping that someone might be listening and that if they are they might be able to help them. You might want to remind the students of the actual lines from the film, which are as follows:

Stone: ‘They can’t hear us’.

Kowalski: ‘We don’t know that, that’s why we keep talking. If someone is listening they might just save your life.’

After discussing whether prayer is like one half of a radio conversation where you don’t even know if anyone else is listening, ask the students whether they think a Christian would accept that as a valid simile for prayer.

Explain to the class that a story from the Old Testament provides a good illustration of the confidence that God’s people have in God’s ability to hear and answer prayer. Read 1 Kings 18:16-39. Ask the students what the difference was between the prayers of the prophets of Baal and the prayers of Elijah. Point out that Elijah’s mockery in verse 27 shows the confidence he had that their prayers would not be answered, whereas his would. This is a long way from praying even though you’re not sure that anyone is listening to your prayers. Elijah not only believed someone was listening, he also believed that his prayer would be answered.

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 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.

Ask the students to read Acts 4:23-31. Explain that Peter and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, have been warned by the Sanhedrin to stop telling people that Jesus has risen from the dead. Their response was to say that they cannot help but to tell people what they have seen and heard. Ask the students, working in pairs or small groups, to identify the specific elements of the prayer that Jesus’ followers pray in verses 24-30.

  • v24-28: Acknowledging God’s power and authority
  • v29: Asking God to enable them to keep doing what he wants them to do
  • v30: Asking God to perform miraculous signs

Draw out that verse 29 demonstrates that this group of Christians were set on actively doing the very thing that got them in trouble. They don’t pray for God to find another way to get his message to people, and they don’t pray for the authorities to go easy on them. They are committed to being part of the process of having their prayers 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 belief about prayer.

YOU WILL NEED:

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