Recently, I had the awesome opportunity to offer some training and speaking in a dear friend’s small town in Kansas. After five days away, I sat on the plane ready for home. Plugging into music, a favorite worship song came on just as the plane engines started to roar. I can’t quite explain why exactly, but for some reason at this very moment I teared up as I was overwhelmed with love for my savior. Not long after we got into the air the plane began to bounce and shake. My palms started to sweat and fears arose as the pilot came over the intercom with the announcement that rough air was expected for the duration of this 3 1/2 hour flight. My prayers turned from adoration to desperation. I asked God to protect me, to get me through, and for a safe landing. I pleaded for help and begged for peace. Thankful for wifi on the plane, I reached out to both my husband and a friend and asked them if they would also pray for me. The turbulence didn’t let up the whole trip, and in the brief interludes it lessened, the pilot would tell us more “bad” turbulence was on the way. I think I held my breath the entire flight. Upon landing I learned that we had actually flown over tornadoes and that was the source of the whole issue. At this point my prayers turned to gratitude, extreme and deep gratitude, for safety.
All I know is that conversations with God are what got me through 3 1/2 hours of struggle. It got me thinking about the way my students respond when the phrase, “Let’s pray,” is uttered. Some want to be the ones to share, others hide, and some shrug with utter indifference. More often than not I hear several get nervous and say, “I don’t know how.” What they are really saying is, “What if I am wrong in this?”
After this flight I am inspired to help my youth understand a little more about prayer:
It’s About Relationship:
I don’t have vulnerable conversations with people I don’t know or trust. Why would a student want to share everything with a God they may hear about but don’t actually know very well? If they don’t understand him, then let’s challenge them to get to know him. In recently reading The Jesus-Centered Life by Rick Lawrence I was struck by the idea of “shoulds.” He discusses how many of us have been told we “should” love Jesus, but struggle to know his love. Students think they should love God too, but they have no idea what a relationship with him looks like. I love this quote: “Jesus wants to capture our hearts, not force our obedience.” Let’s spend time helping students understand this; then prayer becomes an instant response, not another “should.”
It’s About Honesty:
My deep prayers as the plane was bouncing through the sky boiled down to panicked whispers that involved me just saying, “Jesus, please.” I was not the fodder for an inspirational story in which the person facing turmoil leads the plane in worship. Instead, I was trying to get the internet connected on my phone so I could text my husband. I wanted him to know I loved him if I fell out of the sky. My faith in who Jesus is was strong; my faith in the tin can in the sky – not so much. I was desperate and raw with the Lord. If we are in a loving relationship with someone, we trust they can handle our doubts, bad days, and tantrums. We need to let students know the God of the universe is big enough to handle anything and intimate enough to care.
It’s About Conversation:
Sounds over-simplified, but our students need to know that even the memorized prayers we say are part of a conversation with God. It’s not a formula or about figuring out the perfect methodology. It’s about a back and forth with the Lord. We have to help them talk and listen to the Lord. Our hearts change when we are willing to listen. When the plane engine thundered in take-off, I was struck by the thought of just how powerful God is and that he loves me so totally. Yet, not much later I was babbling on and on forgetting that worship of him. My conversations with him were about being thankful, honest, desperate, and confessing when I messed up. Since I wanted to spend time with him, it was natural; I understood he wanted to hear me and respond. I needed peace, I needed to know it was going to be alright. I had to stop long enough to hear. Let’s teach our kids how to pray, how to have conversations with God out of understanding how to talk and listen.
There are so many books on “how to pray.” I think too often we over-complicate the issue. Our students just need to know these simple words from Jeremiah 29:13: “Seek the Lord with your whole heart and you will find Him.” He’s waiting for us, with our stutters, cries, and everything we have. He just wants us to know him better, since he has always known us, and prayer is one huge pathway to make this happen.
Thanks for loving students,
Leneita has been involved in youth or family ministry for over 24 years serving in rural, suburban and urban settings, camps, small and large churches and non-profits. She has authored or co-authored several youth ministry books, including Everybody’s Urban Understanding the Survival Mode of the Next Generation among others. Leneita is the ministry and training coordinator for BowDown Church, co-founded a coaching and training organization called Frontline Urban Resources (everybodysurban.org) and lives with her amazing husband John and four children in Florida.
– See more at: http://youthministry.com/my-students-cant-pray/#sthash.tU5VJrwh.dpuf