When I think back to my relationship with prayer as a high school student, one specific memory comes to mind. Sitting in math class before a test I had not studied enough for, I prayed and asked God to help me pass the test. I am sure many of you have a similar memory from your middle or high school years. As a teenager, my prayer life would have been best described as transactional: Lord, help me pass this test. Lord, help my grandmother feel better. As I work with students now, I long for them to have a fuller understanding of the gift of prayer than I did at their age.
This fuller understanding of prayer begins with Scripture. I am grateful for the way Jesus models this important practice for us in and through his Word. He makes prayer a priority. He retreats from His disciples, as well as from large crowds, to spend time in prayer (Luke 5:16). Most importantly, His prayers were rooted in the knowledge of and trust in God’s promises. When teaching and talking about prayer with students, this is the best place to begin. When students have a greater understanding of God’s character, they have a greater understanding of who they are praying to.
I think back to my math class: sitting at my desk nervous about my upcoming test. Upon receiving my grade, I realized it was not one that my mom and dad were going to hang up on the refrigerator. I remember the small voice in my head saying, but I prayed about this! As a high schooler, I was left to wrestle with the question of if God was still good even when my prayers were seemingly unanswered.
Sitting in that math classroom, my idea of prayer lacked a greater understanding of who God is. He is a God that cares deeply about his people, and our problems do matter to him. But God is not a genie, granting wishes that we believe would make life easier or better. Unfortunately, this is the view that most of our students have when it comes to prayer. When a prayer is not answered in the way they would hope, they may begin to question God’s character as well.
As youth workers, parents, and those that care about the Christian formation of teenagers, may we first help them understand the God to whom they pray. The faithful (1 Cor. 10:13), jealous (Deut. 4:24) patient (2 Pet. 3:9), gracious (Ps. 116:5), creating (Gen. 1:1), forgiving (Mic. 7:18), loving (1 John 4:8) God! Once teenagers discover who they are praying to, we will see it shape how they are praying. Understanding that God is trustworthy and good allows them to pray for his will and not their own will. Those words in the Lord’s Prayer: thy kingdom come, thy will be done will become a part of their everyday rhythm.
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