[ym360 Note: This is one in a series of short posts ym360 will produce over the next several weeks on teaching your students spiritual disciplines. We'll post one or two a week for the next month or so. Hope you enjoy!]
I am convinced that nothing in Christianity is so rarely attained as a praying heart.
Charles G. Finney
It's been my experience working in youth ministry that prayer may be the most-overlooked element of spiritual development. I don't mean at all the act of praying. Heck, we do that all the time with our students. I mean that we overlook the teaching of a comprehensive approach to prayer. Sure we pray with our students on occasion, to end a small group meeting, or Wednesday night youth service. But, when was the last time you intentionally taught your students about prayer with the aim of developing in them the discipline of prayer? Think for a moment about the answer to these questions . . .
Could your students in any way articulate what the Bible says about prayer?
Could your students define the purpose of prayer? How God responds to our prayers? What Jesus' role in prayer is? What the Spirit's role in prayer is?
Do your students know how to pray?
Before you think this might be a silly question, let's not forget that Jesus' disciples made a very specific request from Him ("Lord, teach us to pray" (Lk. 11:1)), to which Jesus responded with a very specific answer. And while the "Lord's Prayer" is not a rigid form we are to follow, it is the model Christ gave His church. Do your students know how to pray as Christ taught His disciples to pray?
Are your students actively practicing the discipline of prayer?
Throughout the Old Testament, there are examples of God's people reaching out to Him in prayer. David apparently started his day off with prayer to God (psalm 88:13). On numerous occasions, we see in Scripture pictures of Jesus seeking time in prayer by Himself. We see instances where the apostles prayed together. And we learn that Paul and Peter had meaningful times of prayer in solitude. (Acts 16:13, Acts 10:9) Do your students spend time in meaningful prayer on their own, uninitiated by you?
The answers to these questions above should serve as a compass for how you might consider plotting your next moves. If your students don't have a foundational understanding of prayer and its purposes, if they don't have a grasp on how to approach God in prayer, and if they are not actively pursuing prayer in their own life, you might want to consider making room to address this area in your students' spiritual lives. The question then becomes, "how"? Well, we can use these questions above as a guideline for beginning to teach your students about prayer.
First Things First: You must value the discipline of prayer
You can't teach something you don't value yourself. Well, I guess you can . . . But it won't be very effective. For you to truly help students develop the discipline of prayer, or any discipline for that matter, it takes more than a few talks from the front of the room. If you don't truly value the importance of prayer in your own life, it will be very hard for you to see through the development of a solid prayer life in your students. It's really that simple.
Lay The Foundation
Prayer is an experiential aspect of our faith-lives. It is the language of our relationship with God. However, there is a knowledge base that comes from Scripture that forms the foundation of the experiential side of prayer. It is the "why" of the discussion. In order to help develop this discipline in your students' lives, you must teach them what Scripture says about prayer and its place of importance in our relationship with God.
Teach The Model And Its Application
Teach students how to pray. Teach them what Jesus says about prayer. Show them examples of Jesus and others praying . . . But then, give them the opportunity to have some meaningful times in prayer, applying the truths you have taught them. Do this where you can follow up with them and get feedback, provide encouragement, and offer any redirection, if necessary.
Follow Up (With Students AND Parents)
This is such an overlooked element of our youth ministries. You are a co-laborer in developing your students' spiritual lives. If you're lucky, you speak into a few hours a week of your students' lives. Partner with your parents to help follow-up with your students, inquiring about their prayer life, encouraging any successes, and holding them accountable where necessary. Developing the discipline of prayer won't happen overnight. But with a concerted effort on your part, and through partnering with parents, you can help instill in your students the value of a meaningful prayer life.