Notes for Groups

A-Z of Prayer Course

6 weeks

You can read each week of the course (in pdf format) by clicking the links below:

Wk1 AZPrayerCourse

Wk2 AZPrayerCourse

Wk3 AZPrayerCourse

Wk4 AZPrayerCourse

Wk5 AZPrayerCourse

Wk6 AZPrayerCourse

 

Alternatively you can view the whole course (ie. all 6 weeks) below.

 

A-Z of Prayer Course

6 weeks

Week 1 of 6

Before You Start

This 6-week course will take us on a whistle-stop journey through the world of prayer. We’ll be guided by Matthew’s simple book, A-Z of Prayer. You will get most out of this course if you’ve read the relevant chapters before-hand. However those who haven’t will still be able to engage with the material.

Each weekly session is designed to take 70 minutes (ie. 1 hour and 10 minutes), so do make time for this. This allows 10 minutes for discussion on each section, which is not long. So the leader should be mindful of this in leading, prayerfully considering when it’s right to move on, or whether it’s important to stay a little longer on a particular section.

Week 1 – Introducing Prayer

We change the world through prayer and action. Both are important. But it all starts with prayer. That’s why Matthew often says that nothing of lasting significance happens without prayer.  

This is the first week of the 6-week A-Z of Prayer Course. Today we will introduce the topic of prayer.

Preparation 

Before you meet, read chapters A and B of A-Z of Prayer and, if you have time, any of the Foreword, Preface and Introduction.

Begin (15 mins)

The leader should ensure that everyone is welcomed. Go round the group and make sure everybody knows each other’s names. Then go round the group again and ask people to share a fascinating fact about themselves. Now go round one final time, and ask everyone to share a word or phrase that comes to mind, when they think about prayer. 

Talk about this course. The leader should make it clear that we don’t have to have read the relevant sections in A-Z of Prayer to be able to engage with this prayer course, but that it helps. The most important thing is that we pray, and use the course (and the book) to go deeper in prayer. 

Start by reading Luke 11:1, and then pray for everyone, that together our prayer would be that of the first disciples: ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ and that God would answer that prayer.

Introduction (20 mins)

Talk in pairs or threes, sharing your hopes for this course. Then try to answer the question ‘what is prayer?’ Do you best to describe it and define it in as few words as possible.

Now get people back into one group. There’s no final definition of prayer, but Matthew’s book is based on the definition of ‘conversations with God.’ It’s conversing, which is mainly verbal but can also be non-verbal. It’s ‘with’ God, so it’s two-way. Discuss this definition.

In the Preface Matthew says that ‘In the Western Church, and particularly in the UK where I live, the Lord is calling his church to return to its foundations and do a few things well – one of which is prayer.’ What do you make of this?

Discussion (20 mins)

1. A is for Adoration

Read Matthew 6:9 and talk about how Jesus tells us to start our prayers by adoring God. We’re to give him our love, because he first loved us, by creating us, providing for us, and then by sending Jesus Christ to die, rise and ascend for us. Do you pray adoration prays? If so, how? Talk about what you do or say, and what happens when adoration is difficult. How can we encourage each other to pray in this way?

2. B is for Belief

The Bible says that faith (belief) is important when it comes to prayer (note: faith and belief are from the same root word). Read Mark 11:24 and talk about praying from a place of belief. In his book Matthew defines faith simply as ‘belief that God will.’ Is this helpful? Testimony builds faith, so spend a few minutes sharing stories of answered prayer. Sometimes when we pray we approach God with much faith, but there are other times that we and others have little or none. Read Matthew 17:20-21 and talk about how much faith is needed for God to work.

Pray (15 mins)

End by spending some time in worship and prayer. Encourage everyone to participate, praying from the heart. Encourage everybody to say something during the prayer-time, even if it’s just a short sentence. If you’ve not already done so, spend the first few minutes giving God adoration, and telling him what you appreciate about him. You might like to sing a song. Give him your love. Then turn into small groups and share a few things you’d like prayer for. If you feel you haven’t much faith for the situations, be brave and pray anyway. Trust that God will use the little faith you have, and do something wonderful. End by encouraging people to share next time what you’ve been discovering about prayer.

 

Week 2 of 6

Week 2 – Learning to Pray

This week we’ll look at some of the basic elements to prayer.

Preparation 

Before you meet, read chapters C, D, E, F and G of A-Z of Prayer.

Begin (10 mins)

Ensure that everyone is welcomed and encourage them to keep pursuing the adventure of prayer. You might like to ask how their reading about prayer, and especially their practice of prayer, is going.

Start with the leader reading Matthew 6:5 and reminding everyone that Jesus said ‘when’ you pray, not ‘if’ you pray, which means he assumed prayer is something that all disciples do. Then pray for everybody, that the Spirit of Jesus would continue to be our teacher as we learn to pray.

Discussion (50 mins – ie. about 10 minutes on each)

1. C is for Confession

Talk in small groups about saying ‘sorry.’ Why do some find it so difficult? What about saying sorry to God – is that difficult? Read 1 John 1:8-2:2. Is there a truth to believe? Is there an action to put into pratice? Is there there something to praise God for? What help would you give anyone in the group who doesn’t feel forgiven for something they’ve done wrong? 

2. D is for Devotion

Read Luke 10:38-42. What was Martha doing? And what about Mary? Talk about which you most identify with and why. Devotional prayer is about being Martha-like, and giving time to being in the presence of Jesus, listening to him, drawing close, resting and enjoying his company. It would be good for one or two people to share how they do this. Before moving to the next letter, pause and ask for the Spirit’s help to make time for this in the coming weeks.

3. E is for Extemporary

Extemporary prayer is about chatting with God with unprepared words. It’s the language of friendship. It’s the language of someone who doesn’t mind if the words used aren’t fully polished or professional. Read Psalm 116:2, which is one of many bible verses about people ‘calling on the Lord.’ Talk in the group about your experiences of doing this, not using pre-prepared words, but conversing from the heart. What advice would you give to someone who finds this hard? 

4. F is for Fasting

Do the short study at the end of the Chapter F, from Acts 13, which is:

Read Acts 13:1-3. This describes the dynamic church in Antioch. What according to v2, was the church doing when they gathered? What, according to v2, did the Holy Spirit do in response? What does v3 say the disciples then did? What do we learn about fasting from this passage? Talk about your experience of fasting to date and how you might begin to exercise this form of prayer.

5. G is for Gratitude

Who’s the most grateful person you know? What are they like? Read 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and share how we can do this. Why should we be thankful people? What do you make of Matthew’s suggestion that ‘a life touched by grace should be a life marked by gratitude’? Talk about how we can cultivate gratitude and encourage it in each other.

Pray (10 mins)

End this session by praying some prayers of confession and then thanksgiving. Make some space for both. Don’t rush the confession prayers. Leaders could encourage people to pray phrases from Psalm 51. Then move to thanksgiving, using a mixture of bible prayers (eg from Psalms 100 or 138) and extemporary prayers. End by asking the Lord to help each one learn more about prayer and get to know God more deeply in the coming days.

 

Week 3 of 6

Week 3 – Going Further in Prayer

This week we’ll go further in prayer.

Preparation 

Before you meet, read chapters H, I, J, K and L of A-Z of Prayer.

Begin (10 mins)

Ensure that everyone is welcomed. Give just a few minutes to one or two questions or reflections people have had, as they’ve journeyed in prayer since the last session.

After this read Romans 8:28, and give thanks to the Holy Spirit that he helps us in our weakness, helping us to pray, and interceding for us. Ask for his help and guidance as we seek to go further in prayer in this session.

Discussion (50 mins – ie. about 10 minutes on each)

1. H is for Honesty

Read Psalm 5:3. David talks about laying his requests before God in prayer. What do you make of this simple picture of being honest before God, and exposing our prayers to God? Talk about how you do this. Talk about things like needs, desires and disappointments, as well as achievements, joys and thanksgivings. Then read then prayer of Jabez, in 1 Chronicles 4:10. Note that God answers his honest prayer. What does this prayer tell us not only about Jabez, but about God?

2. I is for Intercession

Talk about the picture of an intercessor ‘standing in the gap’ between God and a person or situation, and ask one person to share how transformation came as God used them as they prayed in this way. Read Romans 8:34 which describes Jesus doing this for us now in heaven. Talk about this, and the honour of joining with Jesus in intercession. So what kind of things can we intercede for? On p.69 Matthew describes a number of ways we can intercede, writing: ‘We can speak our prayers. Shout our prayers. Sing our prayers. Draw our prayers. Write down our prayers. Symbolise our prayers. Walk out our prayers. And much more.’ Are there some new ways of intercession you can explore in the coming days? 

3. J is for Joyful

Read Philippians 1:4 and talk about joy being our default setting for prayer. Joy is a state-of being rather than an emotion (see p.75) and comes from knowing Christ, so spend a few moments pausing and simply giving thanks that the Spirit of Jesus puts joy in our hearts. And ask that God would increase his joy in each of us, so we may exude his joy and pray more joyful prayers.

4. K is for Kenosis

Begin this letter by reading aloud p.79 and the first paragraph of p.80, to remind everyone what kenosis is. Read Philippians 2:5-8 and talk about Jesus being our model and how he calls us to live and pray from a place of being emptied of ourselves. How should this affect our prayers?

5. L is for Liturgy

When we pray liturgical prayers, we’re using the written-down, well-formed prayers of others. Talk about liturgical prayers in the bible (maybe like Phil 2:6-11 that you’ve just read), as well as the liturgy you use now, and at your church. Then discuss some benefits and pitfalls of using liturgical prayers. 

Pray (10 mins)

End in prayer. First spend a few moments, asking the Lord to empty you of yourself. Then, in accordance with Ephesians 5:18 ask him to fill everyone afresh with the Holy Spirit. End by breaking into smaller groups (eg. of three people) and intercede for one or two issues in the world. Don’t spend long talking, simply go into prayer, with each one praying for one situation which requires transformation. Stand in the gap and pray, and say a good Amen (‘I agree’) to each other’s prayers.

 

Week 4 of 6

Week 4 – Conversing in Prayer

This week we’ll spend time considering conversing with God in prayer.

Preparation 

Before you meet, read chapters M, N, O, P and Q of A-Z of Prayer.

Begin (10 mins)

Ensure that everyone is welcomed. Spend a few moments talking about being stretched in prayer. In the same way that we stretch a muscle for it to get stronger, so the Lord wants to do this with our praying. However that can feel like hard work – rather like when we work out a muscle and it aches afterwards! So ask one or two to share how they are being stretched in prayer.

After this read Ephesians 3:20-21 and thank God he is the God of ‘immeasurably more’ and pray that each of us would grow through this session. 

Discussion (50 mins – ie. about 10 minutes on each)

1. M is for Morning

Last week we read Psalm 5:3 and saw how each day David would ‘lay (his) requests before’ God in prayer. What time of day did he do this? Why do you think was? What are the benefits of giving time to prayer first thing? How can we encourage each other to pray in this way (as well as being prayerful in the day)?

2. N is for Night

Read the last phrase of Psalm 127:2 and note the alternative translation (in the NIV) which reads: ‘for while they sleep he provides for those he loves.’ This tells us that God is at work in us as we sleep at night. Talk about this, perhaps with someone sharing an experience of God meeting with them recently at nighttime. Then talk about praying and worshipping in the night. What do you make of the idea that our spirit may well be praying, whilst we’re asleep?

3. O is for Opportunity

Read Colossians 4:2-4. St Paul wants a door of opportunity to open, so what does he ask the Colossians to do? Share a few examples of doors of opportunity opening, through prayer. As well as praying for doors to open, allowing people to encounter Christ, we can pray for God to open doors into all sorts of people and situations in the world. Ask everyone to consider a closed door that they’d like God to open (ready to bring before the Lord in the time of prayer at the end).

4. P is for Prophetic

Prophetic prayer is about hearing from God as we prayer.  We hear as we prayerfully read Scripture and also through words, prophecies and dreams. In the light of Acts 2:17-18 and 1 Corinthians 14:1, what should we be desiring, and what should be our expectation of prophetic prayer? Ask someone to share a story of how the Lord spoke to them helpfully in prayer, with a resulting good outcome.

5. Q is for Quiet

Praying quiet prayers is not about talking to God in our minds; it’s about not consciously speaking at all yet nevertheless communicating with the Lord. You might like to talk briefly about how God does this to us in lots of ways. Read Isaiah 30:15 and Psalm 46:10 and talk about how we can be quiet before God and yet still be communicating with him. Why do think some find quietness so uncomfortable? Recognise that some in the group might find this difficult. See if there’s someone who can speak about how they’ve grown in this practice of quiet prayer.

Pray (10 mins)

End by thanking God for the gift of prayer – that we can talk with him, and he with us. Then pick those things listed at the end of Opportunity, and turn them into prayers. Then break into pairs (so you’re in a small and safe group to practice) and then spend some time intentionally listening to God for the other person. Before you pray, gently lay a hand on them (making sure they’re content for you to do so) and then ask the Lord what he wants to say through you to them. The word should ‘strengthen, encourage and comfort’ (1 Cor 14:3). When something comes, give the Lord the benefit of the doubt. End by encouraging each other to keep listening and, if silent prayer is a new form of prayer, to try to make time in the coming week to explore it.

 

Week 5 of 6

Week 5 – Becoming Prayerful People

This week we’ll be looking at more aspects of prayer, especially focussing on becoming more prayerful throughout the day.

Preparation 

Before you meet, read chapters R, S, T, U and V of A-Z of Prayer.

Begin (10 mins)

Ensure that everyone is welcomed. Ask if anyone has been listening more in prayer, since last time. Also ask whether anyone has made time for Quiet Prayer and if so, to share their experience.

After this read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and ask the Lord to teach us what it means to be praticing what it says – ie. to be continually praying, rejoicing and giving thanks. 

Discussion (50 mins – ie. about 10 minutes on each)

1. R is for Relentless

Read Luke 18:1-8. Luke explains why Jesus tells this story (in v1). Talk about persistent, relentless praying. Ask if anyone has a story of answered prayer, after praying for a long time. Go into groups of three, and briefly share one thing each of you is praying about on a long-term basis. Pray a short prayer for each other, standing together for these things. Encourage each other to keep going! 

2. S is for Sad

Sad prayers are often called prayers of lament. Some cultures are much better and more open about praying sad prayers than others. Why might this be? Look at the chorus to Psalms 42 and 43 (ie. 42:6,11; 43:5). Read it out loud. Encourage the group that it’s ok to pray prayers like this. God wants us to tell him not just about the good times and the bad. Read the final paragraph on p.144 of A-Z of Prayer (about the cross) and remind everyone that Jesus’s death shows that God understands our pain and hears our sad prayers.

3. T is for Tongues

Tongues is a God-given, unlearned prayer language. Read Acts 10:44-48 to discover how the first non-Jewish people became followers of Jesus. Like at Pentecost (in Acts 2), as God poured his Spirit into them, so praise came out. Talk about this, and how tongues is a language of love and adoration. For those who have questions about this gift, discuss whether many of these were answered in the chapter in the book. Reassure anyone who does not pray in tongues that they’re not a second-class believer. Encourage everyone to do what 1 Corinthians 14:1 says – which is to ‘eagerly desire’ all the gifts of the Spirit – including tongues, but especially prophecy.

4. U is for Unanswered

God hears all our prayers and always responds, but not always in the way we ask. That’s why it can be rightly said there’s no such thing as unanswered prayer. Yet we all know that it often feels like some of our prayers go unanswered. For some of us this is profoundly painful. Now read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 which describes a distressing situation – a ‘thorn in the flesh’ – which God did not take away from Paul, despite him praying three times. What does that tell us about prayer? How do we ensure, when our prayers seem unanswered, that our hearts don’t get bitter towards God? Talk about the place of trust and how we can help each other to do this.

5. V is for Vision

Visionary prayers are big-picture prayers – praying not so much for detailed things, but broader matters, in our lives, families, churches, towns, regions and nations. Ask one or two to share when they last prayed a prayer like this. Sometimes God gives vision in prayer, for us to pray into and then respond to in acts of service. Share a few examples of characters in the bible to whom this happened. End this section by reading 1 Peter 2:9 and talking about the authority God has given us to pray, as his ‘chosen’, ‘royal’, ‘holy’ and ‘priestly’ people.

Pray (10 mins)

Now turn to prayer. Give thanks for the authority we’ve been given in Christ. If someone has struggled with one or more aspects of prayer in this session, encourage them to receive prayer. Gently lay hands on them. Ask the Spirit to come. Encourage them to trust God. Stand with them and alongside them. If anyone would like to speak in tongues, ask the Holy Spirit to release this gift in them and out of them. Most of all, ensure everyone is encouraged to keep going. Prayer is a lifestyle to be practiced daily. For those who find it hard to be prayerful in the day: ask the Lord to help them to begin to talk with God in the midst of their day, and for it to become an increasingly natural part of their spirituality.

 

Week 6 of 6

Week 6 – Going On in Prayer

In this final session of this 6-week course on prayer, we’ll look at the final 4 chapters of A-Z of Prayer, and take stock of what we’ve been discovering.

Preparation 

Before you meet, read chapters W, X, Y, and Z of A-Z of Prayer.

Begin (10 mins)

Ensure that everyone is welcomed. Ask if anyone has any encouraging stories/testimonies to share about their experience of prayer during the course.

After this read Revelation 8:4 and give thanks that God loves our prayers, receiving them in heaven like sweet-smelling incense. Pray that this session will be helpful and that we’ll increasingly become a people of prayer.

Discussion (50 mins – ie. about 10 minutes on each)

1. W is for Warfare

One of the main ways that we fight against evil, is through prayer. Read Ephesians 6:10-20. Rather than spending much time discussing the nature of evil, instead focus on the armour God gives us to fight, and especially on prayer. Remind everyone that we’re given this armour when we come to Christ, but we need to put it on wear it every day. Do we do this? Then look at vv18-20 and talk about how prayer is a form of spiritual fighting. Is this a new idea for some? What is people’s experience of this? Remind everyone that we’re all called to be prayer warriors!

2. X is for eXamen

This is a form of prayer used by some at the end of the day, to aid reflection, contemplation and spiritual growth. Read Psalm 63:6 and talk about how you pray at the end of the day. Has anyone used, or began using  the examen? As we seek to become more and more people committed to prayer, hear some of the prayer practices that people in the group have used, either in the past or even recently as part of this course. Encourage each other to try something new.

3. Y is for Yearning

The Bible describes people yearning in prayer, for all sorts of things and situations. Read Romans 8:26 and talk about the ‘groanings’ of the Spirit. Has anyone ever felt something like this – a deep burden to pray and call out to God? As we seek to be people who walk in the Spirit we should be open to God stirring our hearts and souls to pray with passion and fervour, like David in Ps 61:1. Some are especially called to this, as they seek God, wait for him, and cry out for his kingdom to come. 

4. Z is for Zero

Read Colossians 4:2 and talk briefly about what it means for Christ-follower’s to be ‘devoted to prayer’ and why this is important. This contrasts sharply with someone who prays zero prayers. Living a prayerless life is the very opposite of what God desires for anyone, for each person is made for relationship with God, a relationship nurtured in prayer. Yet sometimes we find it difficult to pray and we don’t consciously pray much. How can we help each other at such times? In this final chapter Matthew refers to some of the negative consequences of a prayerless life and, in contrast, the benefits of being people of prayer. Ask group-members to bring to mind one person known to them, who they’d love to see getting to know Jesus in prayer as they start following him.

Pray (10 mins)

Now get into groups of three and tell the others about the person they’d love to see start following Christ. Pray for this person, that they’ll become thirsty for meaning and hope, and begin calling to God in prayer, that soon they’d encounter Christ and discover the joy of following him and of daily conversations with God. 

End by standing together, in one big group. Take a few moments to go round, encouraging everyone to offer a short prayer of thanks for something they’ve discovered about prayer and about the God of prayer, during this course. Then have an open time of prayer, asking people to pray that we’d go on and mature as people of prayer, as the Lord leads us on this great adventure of prayer.