Here is a scene that is all too common in youth ministry, and quite frankly, in adult ministry as well. As a bible study of time of fellowship comes to an end, the leader asks if there is anyone who would like to pray to close out the evening. It is at this moment that everyone in the room instantaneously forgot if they put shoes on, so they have to look down to check. Everyone squirms in their seats, waiting for the seeming eternity to pass before the leader, or that one student who always does it, sighs and then says, “I guess I’ll pray.”
Why is it like pulling teeth to get people to pray publicly? Why do people react as though you’ve asked them offer up a speech on the dynamics of nuclear physics when you ask them to talk to God in front of other people? Why is praying in front of other people such a scary proposition.
Some may say that it’s because they’re afraid to speak in public. That would be a more plausible answer if they hadn’t just spent the past half hour talking to the group about their favorite tv show or what they did last weekend.
Another common, and more believable, response is that they don’t know how or what to say. Praying should be one of those things that come naturally to Christians, but it does help if we have someone show us how, and better yet, model for us what it looks like to pray.
First of all, let me say that prayer is an expected thing in the life of the believer. We are commanded to pray. Jesus, when teaching his disciples to pray said, “When you pray…” (Matthew 6:5). He didn’t say “if you pray,” but “when.” We are expected to offer up regular praise, thanksgiving, confession of sin, and petitions to God. And prayer is expected in the life of the church. When the early church was established in Acts 2, after Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, we are told that the believers devoted themselves “to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42). Prayer is meant to be a part of the church, and that doesn’t mean just from the pastors or teachers. Everyone should have a part in the ministry of prayer.
So, if prayer is expected, then how do we do it, and how do we teach our children to do it? I think it’s important to remember that there is not a specific and exact way in which we should pray. When Jesus was teaching his disciples what we call today “The Lord’s Prayer,” he wasn’t giving them exact instructions on what they should pray but giving them an outline to follow. Our prayers should contain elements found in the Lord’s Prayer, such as acknowledging who God is, his provision for us, asking forgiveness of sins, and others, but they don’t have to be the exact words. Prayer should come from our own hearts and should be an expression of our relationship with God. It may seem awkward at first, like that first conversation you had with someone and you didn’t know quite what to say. But as you spend more time praying and talking to God, the more comfortable and easier it becomes. We need to remember that prayer is a real conversation. It is a real communication with a real God with real answers.
Once we have become more comfortable doing it privately, it can become easier to do it in front of our families. This is great practice for when you might be called on to pray in church or at a group bible study. It also shows your family the importance of prayer. Children need to see their parents praying, and not just before meals. Parents, pray for and with your children. You may pray for them privately, but they need to hear you pray for them. They need to know that you are praying specific prayers over them. Let them see you pray as part of your daily devotion time. They will learn from watching you the value of prayer. You should also encourage them to pray. Help them if they need it, but allow them to speak from the heart. And talk with your children about the times that the Lord has answered prayers. They need to see that God is listening and that he responds.
Learn to pray as a family so you can pray as a church family. Just as a home is healthier when it spends time on its knees together, a healthy church is evidenced by its prayer life. People need to gather together and pray for one another. And not just praying for the latest ailments, but praying for God’s kingdom to be advanced through them and through the church. And the next time someone asks if there’s anyone who wants to pray, don’t look at your shoes. Look at all that God has done for you and realize what a privilege it is that we get to talk to the Creator of the universe, and raise your hand and say, “I’d love to pray.”
Pastor Brian Bell