Small group Bible study: prayer

What is prayer? To whom does one pray? Does prayer work? How do I know?

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20)

Gather some friends together and utilize this small group outline as structure and a starting point for a small group study and discussion (also great for individual study, or with a partner).

Click on a week, below, to see an outline for the weekly group meeting.

Week 1 — What is Prayer?


“May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.... May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.” (St. Theresa’s Prayer)

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep:
May God guard me through the night and wake me with the morning light.
Amen.” (Children's Bedtime Prayer, Traditional)

“Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD.” (Zechariah 8:22)

“Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.’ So He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.’” (Luke 11:1-4)

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

“And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:22)

“Whenever I (Swedenborg) have been reading the Lord's prayer, I have plainly perceived an elevation toward the Lord which was like an attraction, and at the same time my ideas were open, and from this there was effected a communication with some societies in heaven; and I noticed that there was an influx from the Lord into every detail of the prayer, thus into every idea of my thought that was from the meaning of the things in the prayer. The influx was effected with inexpressible variety, that is, not the same at one time as another; hence also it was made evident how infinite are the things contained in the prayer, and that the Lord is present in every one of them.” (Secrets of Heaven 6476)

“[Prayer is] talking to God and at the same time an inner view of the things that are being prayed for. … [There is] a certain opening of man’s internals toward God.” (Secrets of Heaven 2535)

Discussion Questions

  • What are your experiences with prayer? Childhood? Present? Positive? Negative? Are you inclined towards prayer? Unsure?
  • Have you ever prayed? Aloud? In your heart? In writing?
  • Have you felt a sense of a prayer being answered? Have you felt a prayer was not answered?
  • Is prayer a part of life for anyone you know? Consider the readings and examples of prayer, what is your response to these ideas?


Notice the presence or absence of prayer in your life, culture and surroundings. How is prayer used in the media and everyday conversation? Are the influencing forces around you supportive/healthy/nurturing of a prayer life or discouraging/ doubtful/ mocking? Remember that you are not your surroundings or circumstances, and consider the life of prayer you would like to create regardless of these.

Week 2 — To Whom Are We to Pray?


“All the ends of the world Shall remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations Shall worship before You.” (Psalm 22:27)

“Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name. I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And I will glorify Your name forevermore. For great is Your mercy toward me, And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.” (Psalm 86:11-13)

“As for me, I will call upon God, And the LORD shall save me. Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, And He shall hear my voice. (Psalm 55:16-17)

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:5-6)

“And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:22)

"Even at this day, everyone who, while reading the Word, approaches the Lord alone, and prays to Him is enlightened in the Word." (Doctrine of the Lord 2, emphasis added)

Discussion Questions

  • How are our prayers to be directed? How do you think of the Lord when you pray?
  • What is the relationship with prayer and belief?
  • Do you continue to pray even when you have doubts about the Divine?


This week put the focus in your prayer on the Creator. Try with all your might to visualize a creator that knows you, knows your struggles, and is right there with you each step of the way. If words come, offer them in prayer, and if not, just put your focus on the intimate presence of the creator right there with you ready to lift you up in times of struggle and rejoice with you in times of joy.

Week 3 — Prayers of Thanksgiving and Gratitude


“Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.” (John 11:41)

“Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.” (Psalm 100)

"You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power: For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created." (Revelation 4:11)

“Blessing is expressed by the mouth by means of truths, while thanksgiving comes from the heart out of good.” (Apocalypse Explained 466)

“The Lord does, it is true, demand humility, worship, thanksgiving, and much else from a person, which seem like repayment, so that His gifts do not seem to be free. But the Lord does not demand those things for His own sake, for the Divine derives no glory at all from a person's humility, worship, or thanksgiving. It is utterly inconceivable that any self-love should exist within the Divine, causing Him to require such actions for His own sake. Rather, they are required for a person's own sake, for if someone possesses humility he is able to accept good from the Lord, since in that case he has been parted from self-love and its evils which stand in the way of his accepting it. Therefore the Lord desires a state of humility in a person for that person's sake, because the Lord can flow in with heavenly good when that state exists in him.” (Secrets of Heaven 5957)

“Saying, ‘We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty’, symbolizes the acknowledgment that all being, living, and ability are from the Lord.” (Apocalypse Explained 689)

“Angels say that not only everything good and true is from the Lord but everything of life as well.... This being the belief of the angels, they refuse all thanks for the good that they do and are indignant and withdraw if anyone attributes good to them.” (Heaven and Hell 9)

Discussion Questions

  • When you pray do you spend more time in asking for help or in saying thanks? Is gratitude a part of your daily habit?
  • In what settings do you find it difficult to be grateful?


Smile! Laugh! Rejoice! This week seek out any and all opportunities to thank God for life, for the blessings around you. If this is a struggle for you, let God know that as well. And pray for a grateful heart abundant with thanksgiving.

Week 4 — Prayer in Repentance


“It is for us to pray not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks, to go forward with a great desire forever beating at the door of our hearts as we travel toward our distant goal.” (Helen Keller)

“Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended.” (Luke 3:21)

‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’.” (Matthew 26:39)

“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

“Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your loving-kindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You.

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering, The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.” (Psalm 51)

“O LORD my God, I cried out to You, And You have healed me. O LORD, You have brought my soul up from the grave; You have kept me alive.” (Psalm 30:2,3)

"It is evident that the Divine Providence operates with every man in a thousand hidden ways; and that its unceasing care is to cleanse him because its end is to save him; and that nothing more is incumbent on man than to remove evils in the external man. The rest the Lord provides, if His aid is earnestly implored." (Divine Providence 296, emphasis added)

Discussion Questions

  • What is the connection between prayer and spiritual work?
  • Do you pray in times of trouble?
  • When you have done something you know is ‘wrong’ are you willing to approach the Lord?


Practice this most essential form of prayer as often as you can. When you notice yourself inclined toward some act that you know is not from God, Pray for help to resist it. If you have already acted, pray for forgiveness and strength to resist the next time. It is important to make your prayers specific, name the specific struggle and invite the Lord into your journey.

Week 5 — Praying for Others


“Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:38)

“But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail.” (Luke 22:32)

“He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. … If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:5,7)

“If they are wholly celestial and spiritual things about which he prays, something like a Revelation is present within his prayer.” (Secrets of Heaven 2535)

"To ask from the faith of charity is to ask not from self but from the Lord, for whatever any one asks not from self but from the Lord he receives." (Apocalypse Explained 411:15)

Discussion Questions

  • Do you pray for other people? Do these prayers ‘work’?
  • What do you do when a prayer is not answered (as you thought it would be)?


This week put your focus on others, consider their path, their struggles, their hopes. And put your heart in prayer for them, with them, that the Divine might alleviate their suffering, offer them blessing, and maybe even use you in this divine work.

Week 6 — Listening in Prayer


“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)

“The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (Habakuk 2:20)

“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3)

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)

“And ye shall keep silence.” (Secrets of Heaven 8176)

“When you are in this faith, you are in peace, for you then fear nothing, and no solicitude about things to come disquiets you. You come into this state in proportion as you comes into love to the Lord. (Secrets of Heaven 8455)

Discussion Questions

  • When you pray do you leave time for God’s response? Do you begin by listening or talking?
  • Is prayer speech to God or speech with God?


Be still. When you have poured your heart out to the Creator, be still, wait, listen for a response. Whether a response comes in a clear idea, or a sense of calm, wait for it. Use breathing and meditation and cultivate a discipline of patience. Do not skip this important element. Practice any of the prayers from previous weeks but be sure to remain still/quiet and to listen for God’s response.

Week 7 — Daily Prayer


“Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1)

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD.” (Psalm 19:14)

“Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55: 6-7)

"Truths with a person are what pray, and a person is continually in such prayers when he lives according to the truths." (Apocalypse Explained 493:3)

“It is common in all divine worship, that a person should first will, desire and pray and the Lord then answer, inform and do; otherwise the person does not receive anything Divine." (Apocalypse Revealed 376)

“The Lord gives (a person) to ask, and what to ask, and the Lord therefore knows this beforehand, but still the Lord wills that a person should ask first to the end that it may be as from himself, and thus be appropriated to the person.” (Apocalypse Revealed 376)

“When a person is in genuine worship, then the Lord flows into the goods and truths which are with him, and raises them to Himself, and with them the person, in so far and in such a manner as he is in them. This elevation does not appear to the person unless he is in the genuine affection of truth and good, and in the knowledge, acknowledgment, and faith that everything good comes from above, from the Lord.” (Secrets of Heaven 10299)

Discussion Questions

  • What does prayer look like? A sprint or a marathon?
  • What does prayer as ‘speech with God’ mean to you?
  • What are prayers of the heart that do not reach the mouth/mind/words?
  • What are your lingering doubts/questions about prayer? If the Lord knows your heart, why pray?


This week focus on your breath and having a prayerful heart. If words come to you as prayers, go with them, and when words fail, spend time focusing on the Lord and inviting Him into your life without even a verbal iteration.

Full issue

Daily Inspiration

"The Lord's Church is spread throughout the whole world, and yet is one; for when life constitutes the Church, and not doctrine separated from life, there is one Church."

Arcana Coelestia 8152