Session 8: The Power of Prayer

Resources for participants

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

8A:

  • Have you ever prayed or gone to a religious service? What was it like?
  • If you pray: Why do you pray? What’s your usual way of praying?
  • If you don’t pray: What holds you back?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

8B:

  • Do you think that prayer can make a difference to people’s lives?
  • Do you know other people who pray? Do you know why or how they pray?
  • If God is all powerful, why do you think he sometimes seems to ignore our prayers?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

8C:

  • Why do you think many people find it hard to pray?
  • What do you think about the idea that God is listening to us and wants to answer our prayers?
  • What do you think about the idea of praying with other people?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

 

READINGS FROM THE YOUCAT FOR THIS SESSION

If you are using the YouCat with your Sycamore group, please click here for general advice about the YouCat and how to use the readings. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

  • #469 to #489 – what is prayer? [12 pages]

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the YouCat and not to page numbers. The number in [square brackets] at the end tells you roughly how long this passage is in terms of the pages you need to read (excluding picture pages).

 

LONGER READINGS FROM THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

If you have more time, and if you want to go deeper into the topic of this session, you can follow up by exploring the longer Catechism of the Catholic Church. See the standard online version here, and a digital “flip-book” edition here. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the Catechism and not to page numbers. Click on the links themselves to read the paragraphs in the online version.

 

KEY IDEAS FROM THE FILM

8A – What is prayer?

A traditional definition of prayer goes like this: Prayer is “raising up the mind and the heart to God”. We need to stretch out to God, to look up and to look beyond. This is part of prayer. But you could also say that prayer is “opening the mind and the heart to God”, because he is not just “up there”, he is present with us here, whether we are praying or not.

There are so many different ways of praying. Prayer can be informal and spontaneous: I often pray on the bus or walking to the shops. Prayer can be formal and solemn: if you go, for example, to a beautiful Choral Evensong in an Anglican Cathedral.

Prayer can be something very private, very personal. It’s a relationship, a conversation. Many people pray in the quiet of their bedroom when they get up in the morning or just before they go to sleep.

And prayer can be a powerful experience of the church and of community.

I guess the default prayer for most of us is to ask for things. We want God’s help, and we are very good at telling him exactly what we need. But there is much more. It’s also important to worship him, to praise him, to thank him, to say sorry to him. And it’s equally important, sometimes, to say nothing: just to sit in the stillness of prayer; listening, thinking, wondering.

If you listen carefully you’ll hear that nearly every Christian prayer finishes with the words “in the name of Jesus” or “through Christ our Lord” or something similar. We never pray alone. Through our faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. He unites us with Jesus, the Saviour, who brings our prayer to God the Father.

That’s the secret and the power of Christian prayer. It’s the friendship we have with Jesus Christ. If we open our hearts to God in prayer, we discover a peace that can never be found elsewhere.

It doesn’t mean that prayer is always easy. Sometimes I have to force myself to say my prayers: I’m so tired or distracted or spiritually dry. I love the saying of the French writer Georges Bernanos: “The desire for prayer is itself a prayer”.

8B – Does prayer make a difference?

So here is a question: Does prayer make a difference? And here is my answer: “Sometimes, but not always…”

Sometimes, when we pray, we feel very close to God. There is an experience of peace and joy and consolation. Sometimes, when we pray, we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a very concrete way. And sometimes, when we pray for something, it actually happens, in quite a remarkable way. It feels like a small miracle. Jesus wants us to ask for things. He told us that God is a loving Father who longs to give us what we need.

So sometimes, prayer definitely makes a difference. But not always. At other times, when we pray, we can feel very empty and alone. We can be full of doubts or distractions or disappointment or anger. Or we’re just tired.

Sometimes we need to learn that God is beyond us. We can’t put him in a box. There is darkness and mystery and silence. God says in the bible: My ways are not your ways; my thoughts are not your thoughts. His plans are bigger than we can understand.

The difficulties help us to go deeper, to be faithful. They teach us to be patient and humble. We can ask the Holy Spirit to pray within us, because his prayer is more powerful than our own.

8C – How to pray

So if you want to pray, what do you actually do? Well, there are a thousand options, and that’s part of the adventure of prayer. You can talk to God as a friend. You can read the bible. You can pray the formal prayers of the Christian tradition. You can sit in silence. You can weep. You can sing. You can pray alone or with friends or at your local church.

All that matters at the beginning is that you begin. And in fact one of my favourite sayings about prayer is this: the secret of prayer is to pray. You just have to start; to take a first step.

And another saying I often share with people is this: pray as you can, not as you can’t. In other words, find a way of praying that is helpful for you, that works. There is no pressure. Prayer is not a competition.

But if you don’t know where to start, let me give you two suggestions. First, find a quiet space, maybe in your room at the beginning or end of the day, and simply talk to God in your own words. You can speak to him as you would to a close friend or a loving parent. You can talk about whatever is on your heart. You don’t need to be afraid. And then if you have time, you can read a passage of the bible, or sit in silence, or use one of the prayers of the Christian tradition.

My second suggestion, after personal prayer, is for you to go to your local church and join in their Sunday worship. I know you might feel shy, and it might seem very new. But it will help you to have a much bigger experience of prayer: of the Christian community coming together in praise and worship and song.

I really encourage you to take a step in prayer. It’s not just for saints or for special people. It’s for ordinary people. And it could make such a difference to your life. When you pray, it’s like opening a door. You give God permission to come into your life, and he can reveal himself to you more and more. He loves you, and he longs to lead you closer to him and to give you his peace.