Teen Helps Build Prayer Life
How do we move beyond talking about prayer to actually doing it regularly?
It happened several years ago at summer camp during a counsellor Bible study. About ten of us were sitting around a fire talking about a crisis in Africa for a good 20 minutes when one of the leaders started cussing. He was really worked up about us being “all talk, no action.” He dropped the “F-bomb” several times and at the end said: “You know what? Tomorrow when we come to the Bible study not one of you will have done anything about Africa. Most of you won’t remember any of the details. But every single one of you will remember that I cussed you all out.”
Our prayer life is another area that can easily be all talk, no action. We read how-to books about prayer and attend seminars. We feel good about having read the book or gone to the seminar.
But does our prayer life change much afterward? We might know more about prayer but, unless this leads us to actually talking more to the Father, we have, in fact, done nothing. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to read a book teaching us how to pray. It’s inspirational. But such books usually describe the other person’s experience praying and moving forward in his relationship with God – not ours. Unless we take this knowledge and talk to God, it’s actually giving us an illusion of having acted to resolve our lack of prayer. In the end, the inspiration might get us praying for a week but often it has little lasting impact.
How can we begin to build an exciting prayer life that doesn’t quickly run down? Perhaps more vision is the key.
Later … I’m talking to the Lord
If I call several teenage friends of mine on the phone, their parents may say “Sorry but he [or she] is praying right now.”
These are Mennonite, Pentecostal and Missionary Alliance teens. Other friends will tell their parents: “Just take a message. I’m not coming to the phone right now. I’m praying.” What would make youth turn down a phone call from a friend? For these friends, it’s their understanding and vision for prayer.
If given a choice to speak to Jesus or with the highest ranking world leader today or the most popular celebrity, my friends wouldn’t hesitate. They’d pick Jesus. The more we know God, the more we will want to talk to Him. In a way it’s a barometer of our relationship with God. If we are pursuing intimacy with God, we’ll have a prayer life that’s on fire – really exciting! We’ll be watching the clock at work or school, waiting to get home for some focused prayer time with the Lord.
So how do you start to get to know God through prayer?
Race to God in prayer
There are many types of prayer and ways to start. But let’s look at the importance of beginning slowly, building in variety, using Scripture and seeking to have fun in God’s presence.
… don’t decide to pray for an hour every day for the rest of your life.
Begin slowly. Start by putting aside ten minutes a day for prayer, then add five or ten minutes each week until you reach the goal you choose. In your initial enthusiasm, don’t decide to pray for an hour every day for the rest of your life. That’s not realistic. Set realistic goals that stretch you, but goals that leave you craving more of God’s presence. It takes discipline, and that takes practice.
Variety makes prayer time more interesting. It’s the same with all our relationships. If our prayer involves only a “shopping list” (“Please help Ryan find a job. Mom needs healing. I need a mentor.”), then prayer quickly becomes dull. When you’re asking God’s help for others, don’t merely name the problem. Ask God for input about the issue or ask Him to point out the most important concern.
Pray the psalms. This is an easy way to pray! Begin with Psalm 23, 91 or 100. Start by reading the first verse aloud. If it stirs any thought in you, pray that to God. For example, Psalm 23 starts “The Lord is my shepherd.” You might pray: “Lord, lead me today and keep me in your will. Make me willing to follow you, like a sheep.” Pray for a short period or for a long time – whatever God puts on your heart. Then move on to the next verse.
If you aren’t stirred by anything in a verse, that’s OK. Move on to the next. It helps if you read slowly so the words can sink in. You can pray for hours this way – praying the Scripture back to the Lord. And it’s fun!
In my ideal day I start by worshipping and praising God for who He is, then reading the Bible, followed by listening for His voice in complete silence – for a few minutes or up to half an hour. Then I go through my Christian shopping list. Try this and you may find you’ll love talking to God and completely opening up to Him.
How to keep focused
If you find your mind drifting off, here are some tips to keep focused.
Pray out loud, even if only very quietly.
Don’t get too comfortable for obvious reasons. Some people pace back and forth slowly as they pray. In Jewish tradition, those who pray often rock back and forth from their waist with their hands out at their sides. I like this image a lot and often pray swaying gently and holding my hands upward at waist level as if receiving a gift. It helps me focus on the Lord and keeps me awake even if I’m tired.
Find a private, quiet place to pray. Avoid a busy kitchen or a place where others are walking around. Jesus talked about praying in a closet for good reason: there aren’t many things going on in a closet – not a TV in sight. If you have a phone in the room, unplug it. Get rid of as many distractions as possible. Put away any interesting magazines – their pictures will sidetrack you fast.
But it’s just too hard!
OK, so you’re still having problems getting down to pray? Ask a close friend to hold you accountable and call you each day to ask: “Have you spent time with God today? How long? Did you crowd Him into grocery shopping or did you spend real time with Him?”
Or here’s something else I've done. A friend of mine had a key to our church and several of us met there at 6:30 a.m. almost every day to pray until 8 o’clock when we had to leave for school. There were three to 12 of us teens and young adults holding each other accountable.
Here’s how we organized it. When we arrived, someone would put on a CD of soft worship music – but not necessarily too mellow. As individuals we would seek God’s presence alone. We weren’t gathered together but scattered all over the sanctuary and church building for personal prayer time. It’s like going to the gym: if you have a friend to go with, it’s easy. But if he stops going because of vacation or whatever, you generally stop too because it’s a lot more difficult to maintain the discipline.
Getting ready for “Amen”
Christian prayer has the power to rearrange what will happen today or govern circumstances that will happen tomorrow. We need to start believing this not only with our heads but also with our hearts.
She’s alive today because she recognized God’s voice and obeyed it.
On the night of September 10, 2001, a group of Christians living in New York City were meeting to pray. One worked in the World Trade Center. They started praying and felt God wanted them to do a prayer walk. He brought them to the Twin Towers – the last night the buildings were standing, but they didn’t know it.
The group prayed there for a long time, then went home thinking nothing more of it. Next morning, the one who worked there felt God was telling her not to go in that day. But she had an important meeting so started arguing with the Lord. However, she knew His voice and decided to stay home. She’s alive today because she recognized God’s voice and obeyed it. We too could be so much more alive if we learned to recognize God’s voice more, and obeyed it.
Remember the campfire and my counsellor friends sitting around it?
Three years have passed since we shared all those words about Africa. I still remember word for word my friend cussing us out for talking too much and doing little. It’s time we stopped talking so much with each other and started talking more to God.
Let God’s love restore our souls.
Craig Macartney is 19 and lives in Ottawa. He worships at Dominion Outreach Centre.
Originally published in Faith Today, May/June 2009.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2009 Christianity.ca.