If there is a spiritual struggle I’ve heard colleagues and coworkers raise again and again, it’s the struggle to maintain a disciplined prayer life. Perhaps it’s the busyness of our modern lives; perhaps it’s because this is an often-unseen aspect of our Christian walk in the fishbowl of professional ministry. It can be all too easy to fall into the habit of offering perfunctory prayers at prescribed times and hoping those we serve don’t catch on.
In particular, if you’re a youth worker, what’s the thing you hope for most when you pray in front of your teens? Is it that they won’t see how out of practice you are at prayer? Maybe your prayer life is well-practiced, but you find yourself repeating similar praises and requests because you’re simply not sure what else to say. Maybe you’re a prayer warrior par-excellence. In either case, it’s healthy to take a moment and assess how we model and present prayer to Christ’s people.
I’ve been serving in the public ministry for twenty years. At this point, I’m supposed to be an expert at these types of things. Recently, I’ve had some experiences that have forced me to consider how I’m modeling prayer to my young charges and not simply rest on my laurels as a guy who has been doing plenty of prayers for a long time. For example, I’ve started being more intentional about directing “prayer requests” away from simply petitioning God to also requesting “praise reports” to emphasize the praise aspect of prayer.
There are plenty of acronyms we can use to organize our prayer lives. (A.C.T.S., P.R.A.Y., and P.R.A.I.S.E. all come to mind.) I’ve used these helpful tools to teach students to pray. Moving into deeper prayer, Martin Chemnitz wrote a fine treatise on how the Lord’s Prayer is a starting prayer for jumping into a fuller prayer life, as the petitions contained within it are really jumping-off points to engage all the concerns and praises we might offer to our heavenly king. Although these mechanisms may be helpful for spiritual discipline and as outlines to rely upon when called to public prayer, I think there may be something more essential to teach when we model prayer (not to mention strive to improve our own prayer lives.)
Prayer Is a Gift for God’s People
We have been invited into intimate communication with the One who spoke the universe into being. Giving us the very tools He used to make the oceans gush and the stars sparkle in the night sky, God invites us into a relationship that no other creature on Earth can enjoy. The Messiah who cried out from the cross that “they” would be forgiven also enlivens us with His Spirit and entrusts us with keeping those words alive as we pray for the forgiveness of those who would be our enemies. Our Lord speaks to us through His Word and we are given unfettered access to His heavenly throne to respond in kind.
It is no heavenly imposition when we’re called upon to pray corporately, let alone in private! It is a gift and an honor. To treat it as anything less—especially to treat it a chore that must be accomplished—dishonors the calling we have to be a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2). We must be intentional about communicating this reality to our students—not only in how we talk to them, but in how we talk to God in front of them. We must let them hear the awe with which we approach the throne of grace and at the same time experience the affection and familiarity with which God listens as a father to his dear children. Above all else, prayer is the joyful reunion of Creator and creature, Father and child, Redeemer and redeemed. To teach our young charges this pulls back the veil to the throne room of the Lamb and allows us to partake in the peace and the hope found in the most holy of places. May God grant that our prayers would the means to lead others to tread upon holy ground!
Help students learn to reach out to their Heavenly Father.