Raising Your Students’ PRAY Game
How do I know God hears me when I talk to him?
Why do I bow my head when I pray?
How do I know what I prayed for wouldn’t have happened anyway?
These are some of the many questions I’ve received over the years when I teach students about prayer. For many students, prayer is a mystery. They live in a world of reciprocated relational interaction. When they receive texts, they respond (unless the texts are from their youth pastor). When someone says something snarky in class, they roll their eyes. When their coaches are pleased with their efforts, the coaches give them high fives. So communicating with God can be tough—tough to understand and tough to do, especially when students are uncertain about it.
I’d like to offer one idea that has helped my students understand why we pray and then three tips for teaching students how to pray.
Relationships Require Communication
When students ask questions about the purpose of prayer, I help them to see that great relationships require great communication skills. I often ask them why some people are their good friends and others are their best friends. Most of the time, students respond to this question by saying, “I spend more time talking with my best friends.” This idea helps students begin to understand that communication is necessary for any relationship—this includes their relationship with the Lord. This concept can be a starting place for them to begin to value prayer. In most cases, we communicate to God through prayer, and he communicates to us through his Word. The important points are that God wants to speak to us (how cool is that!), and when we pray he hears us! These are essential components of great relationships.
Three Ways to Help Them Pray
1. Get creative.
Students learn in many different ways, and they also express themselves in many different ways. Some students express themselves visually, while others do audibly—some are contemplative, while others are hands on. Because of these different ways of expression, it may be helpful to expose students to a variety of ways to connect with the Lord. In the past, I’ve set up prayer stations for students. These have consisted of at least eight or nine different prayer experiences. At one prayer station, students prayed while they held a rock, and then they dropped it into a bucket of water to symbolize “letting go.” At another station, students wrote prayers for their community on a large piece of paper laid out on a table. We also
provided space for leaders to pray for students one on one in order to demonstrate the importance of praying for one another.
The goal is to create space for students to pray. These opportunities will open the door to help students see that they can pray and that there are creative (and cool) ways to connect with God. While it’s important to model vocal prayer (public and private), when you get creative, it shows teens that connection with God doesn’t have to happen a specific way.
2. Provide opportunities for students to pray.
One of the ways you can help students feel comfortable praying is to give them a chance to pray. They might tell you they stink at it, but that’s probably a reflection of how little they pray. These opportunities for prayer don’t have to be scary or embarrassing. If you meet a student for dinner, ask him or her to pray for the meal. Invite a student to close a small group in prayer.
In our weekly gatherings, we invite one student per week to be our emcee. The emcee comes up front before worship and invites everyone to stand. He or she prays for the night, and then the emcee reads the Scripture we’ll be studying. This gives students a chance to be courageous and pray in front of their peers, and it also helps them gain confidence in their own abilities to pray. Prayer takes practice, so be sure to give every student (even the shy ones) a chance to do so.
3. Set reminders.
Students often have habits shaped by various cues. When someone sends them a snap, they pick up their phones. When their alarms go off in the morning, they attempt to wake up. Often students simply forget to pray because they don’t see it as an important part of their daily schedule. Many students have smartphones they can use to remind them. Teach students to set reminders on their phones for times they know they can pray. If they have an iPhone, have them tell Siri, “Set a daily reminder at 9:30 p.m. to pray.” There’s even an app called Echo that’s designed to remind students to pray for various things throughout their day. The goal here is to help students develop a habit of prayer by using the technology they have at their disposal.
My prayer is that God will use this post to help you remind your students why they should pray and to give you tools to teach them how to pray!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.