Discipling Students in Prayer Through the Lord’s Prayer 

Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

Matthew 6:5-15

The most predictable time of awkward silence at our church’s youth ministry follows the question, “Does anybody want to pray for us?” Eyes break contact. Shuffling in seats increases. All of a sudden, the chatter is gone. 

Even for teenagers who grew up in families and churches filled with prayer, praying out loud in a group or even praying in the privacy of their rooms can seem daunting. For most, all they know about prayer is that it should be directed to God and end with, “amen.” 

However awkward our prayer times with teenagers may be, we also have a powerful opportunity. Small groups, Bible studies, shared meals, and more represent moments for youth ministers and parents to teach the place of prayer in the Christian life. 

Every Christian must be taught to pray, as evidenced when Jesus himself gathered a crowd and modeled prayer in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches at least five things we can share with the teenagers in our churches and homes to help them grow in relating to God.

The Intimacy of the Father 

How we conceive of the God who receives our prayers will radically shape the way we speak to him in prayer. In other words, the “who” will shape the “how” and the “what.” This is why in Jesus’ model prayer he directs his prayer to God as Father, “Our Father who is in Heaven, hallowed be your name.” 

Jesus is helping us to see that God knows and loves us intimately as his children. He is a good Father; he delights to hear us and give to us. 

Jesus’ framework also communicates something about us. Praying to God as our Father means we recognize that we are children of God. And as Russell Moore pointed out in his Rooted plenary talk in 2021, whose you are defines who you are. 

As children of God, we receive a relationship that cannot be lost or altered. This relationship comes with all of the benefits and love of being called a child. God gives us this identity and secures it on our behalf. 

Teaching our students the depth of this opening line of the Lord’s Prayer is important because it shapes how they will approach God altogether. The character of the One to whom they are praying and their relationship to him will affect their expectation of prayer. Jesus is saying, God is a good Father who welcomes us as children. If teenagers see themselves as God’s children, they can expect all his blessings and goodness toward them. 

With this vision of who God is and how he relates to us, our teenagers (and we ourselves) can pray the rest of the prayer with confidence.

The Hope of His Kingdom 

Our students perceive that they are so close to taking over the reigns of their lives. They can foresee a time in the not-so-distant future when they will make all their own decisions. The world tells them they will then be able to create their own happiness. 

By contrast, teaching our students to pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” calls them to recognize God’s total claim over everything in their lives and in this world. For some students, this prayer feels liberating, offering freedom from the pressure to perform or control their own destiny. For others, Jesus’ words feel immensely threatening, since he calls for God’s power and will to reign over our own desires. 

Regardless of whether our students want to hold on to their power or feel crushed by the pressure to exercise their power, we pray that this petition will form them into people who submit to their rightful king. Because this prayer flows from acknowledging God as Father, teenagers can be confident they serve a good King—One who will lead this world and their own lives into flourishing they could never achieve for themselves. 

The Provision of His Love 

For many students, God’s care over the small details of their life feels like a fantasy. They cannot imagine that God cares about their lives all the way down to their daily needs (emotional, physical, and interpersonal). Believing this lie, their prayers can skirt surface and feel ineffectual.

In teaching us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” God in the flesh is telling us—yes! Ask God! Go to him with your day-to-day worries! In fact, Jesus emphasizes this point so much he returns to it in Matthew 7:7-11. There again, Jesus calls us to confidently ask in the disposition of children asking a good father. 

This petition shows teenagers they do not need to beg God, nor manipulate him, nor neglect to pray for fear God doesn’t care. Instead, they have a unique access to the God of the universe, and he delights to provide for his children. As our students grow in this confidence, we help them to relocate prayer from awkward silence at youth group or a rote recitation before a ball game to an intimate daily practice. As they see that nothing is out of the bounds of the Father’s provision, they will find the throne of grace more approachable. 

The Forgiveness He Offers

There may be some students who neglect prayer not out of discomfort or lack of care but out of guilt. Because of things people have done to them, or things they have done in sin, they assume that God could not possibly want them as his children. Teenagers may perceive too many hurts, sins, rejections, and rebellions standing in the way of a relationship with God in prayer. They assume God does not want to hear from them or will scoff at their requests because of their failures.   

The only sinless person who ever lived, Jesus Christ, seemingly anticipates this feeling by teaching us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” 

By the blood of the cross, Jesus has paid the punishment we deserve for our debt of sin. We have access to God as our Father and confidence to come before his throne to seek forgiveness, our daily bread, and his kingdom to reign, all because of the willing sacrifice of his Son. 

The Deliverance He Accomplishes 

The work of the cross not only purchases deliverance from sin but also a deliverance from all the machinations of evil in our hearts, the world, and from Satan. In our youth groups, there are students who feel weak, hopeless, and ashamed because of their continued failure to fight sin. This prayer locates the strength they need in the work of God on their behalf. Jesus teaches us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” 

Prayer is the number one resource God has given us and our teenagers to rely on him to fight sin. We must certainly encourage our students to fight sin’s continued power and presence in their lives—but the assurance that those steps might be effective in the struggle has to be located outside of their own efforts. Just as they cannot procure salvation for themselves, they also cannot deliver themselves from evil. Jesus’ prayer shows them the path to deliverance by turning to their good Father for saving. 

Teach Them to Pray Then Like This 

There is so much more we can say to teenagers about the Lord’s prayer. Each one of these petitions has grand, communal, and cosmic implications beyond the personal ones outlined here. But the message at the core of the Lord’s Prayer is clear and covers every aspect of our students lives: for their hearts, for their daily needs, for forgiveness, for deliverance from sin, they have a good, heavenly Father who delights to care for them.

Prayer is the language of trust in our good God, and its power is derived from the Savior who teaches us to pray. It is in our union with him through his kingdom-inaugurating, need-providing, debt-forgiving, evil-delivering sacrifice on the cross that we have such access to pray in his name. Teach your students to pray with the Lord’s prayer, and you will teach them the heart of the Christian message. 

Join us November 2-4 for Rooted 2023 in Nashville, where we’ll explore the Sermon on the Mount together. How can we find true human flourishing? The world we disciple our teenagers in today does not merely offer them an alternative way to live, but an alternative account of where true human flourishing is found. This competing vision encompasses all that we believe about ourselves, our bodies, justice, security, suffering, and meaning. In the most famous sermon in human history and the longest recorded teaching from Jesus’ ministry, our Lord gives us a wholistic vision of how we can live in a way that leads to our flourishing in every aspect of our lives. At the core, his teaching shows us that such flourishing is only found through faith in the God who created us and in Jesus Christ who is redeeming us. As we walk through the Sermon on the Mount together, our prayer is that the teachings of Jesus will invert and subvert the teachings of this world and compel our hearts to live in light of the Kingdom of God in faith.

Skyler is an associate pastor over family discipleship at Grace Bible Church in Oxford, Mississippi, as well as the associate program director at The Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics. Skyler earned an M.Div. from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL. He's now working toward his Ph.D. in theology at the University of Aberdeen. His wife, Brianna, is originally from Memphis, TN, and they have two children: Beatrice and Lewis. Skyler has served on the Rooted Steering Committee since 2021.

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