The recipe for a healthy small group bible study has many ingredients. The main ingredient is… bible study! But honestly, you can study the bible without getting up early, getting all dressed up, driving down town, etc. So there needs to be more to small group bible study than just an academic rigor.
One of the key ingredients that spices up the recipe is prayer requests and praise reports.
Through the years I have noticed how the subject matter of prayer requests have mutated. When I was in school, most prayer requests had to do with the various stresses associated with getting through school. Later, the prayer requests became more relational and career oriented as we make our way into life after college. Then we get married! Now the prayer requests seem to be centered around financial struggles. And then comes the babies! Now parenting takes center stage! Lots of prayer requests on that topic. Finally the kids grow up and find their way. Now the prayer requests enter their mature ripened stage – health! Infirmity after infirmity!
There seems to be an unwritten rule – a tradition – that prayer requests are done first, followed by praise reports. OK – whatever the season of life, the prayer requests move along at a steady cadence. Then comes praise reports.
Oh sure – there’s the usual broad things like “God is good. All the time” but somehow that fails to inspire me after a few weeks. Then there’s the bragging cleverly camouflaged as a praise report. It goes something like “Praise the Lord for His blessings on my son/daughter who was just accepted at (name of highfalutin university)”.
I remember one time I was serving in a substitute capacity leading the “assembly” time? What’s that? Well, another tradition is that several small groups will gather, have coffee and donuts, sing a hymn or two, a few announcements are made, then prayer and praise reports. After the assembly, the crowd disperses to their individual small groups. I believe the unspoken truth is that we’re aware that folks arrive late and being late for assembly will only result in you missing out on the chocolate covered donuts and you may have to settle for the left over decaffeinated coffee.
Well, things were going according to plan. I got to the prayer requests – there were several. Then I called for praise reports. SILENCE. I’m sure it was probably only 15 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity! Trying to maintain my composure as the Master of Ceremony, I decided that some levity might break the silence. So I asked “Did God take the week off?”
Laughter broke out and we got through it. Or so I thought. Afterwards I was accosted by some elders who did not think my levity was appropriate. I didn’t take it personally since I knew them well enough to know that their concept of God was that of some kind of cosmic killjoy.
More seriously, isn’t there something wrong with us when it comes to praise reports? I’m not talking about the vagueness or bragging. I’m talking about our shallowness when it comes to spiritual situational awareness.
Are we ungrateful? Do we take God for granted? Do we think God exists to serve us?
I’m not that cynical (yet) – but I challenge you to become more aware of God’s blessings in our lives and offer a meaningful praise report at the next small group bible study.
That’s what I think. I’m interested in your thoughts. There’s lots of ways to hit me up so let me hear from you.
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