This week, on both sides of the Rooted blog, we want to take a close look at what it looks like to pray for our students and children. Today, on the youth ministry side of the blog, we offer a “prayer rubric” from the Apostle Paul; and over on Rooted Parent, we make the case for praying scripture over our children. In the days ahead, we will model those different variations in prayer, using scripture as our jumping off point. We want to pray these prayers together as a community – wherever the Rooted blog can be read, from Colorado to Indonesia – for the young people in our care. Join us this week, Rooted in Prayer for your students!
Thursday mornings are the new favorite part of my week. After walking a group of 9th grade girls to school after our small group, I make the short walk back up the hill to my car. I have begun to use this brief, weekly moment of solitude to pray for the students I have just sent off to school. Doing so has shown me how quickly I can neglect to pray for my students and how I often allow the demands of everyday life to distract me with “more important” tasks.
Yet, the Lord has convicted me that regularly praying for students is a vital yet often overlooked part of ministry: a practice that allows both us and our students to experience the Lord more intimately.
But maybe you are like me and feel overwhelmed at the thought of praying for every student and their specific needs. After sitting with them week to week and hearing their fears, anxieties, and hurts, where do we begin to lift them up to the Lord? To be sure, this task is not entirely up to us. We have the assurance that the Spirit is interceding for our students and presenting their needs to the Father, even when we fail to do so (Romans 8:26, John 17). We serve a God who prays for His people on their behalf, yet who graciously invites us into deeper communion with Him through prayer. What good news for us and the students we long to pray for!
Enter St. Paul and his helpful rubric for prayer. In his letters, we are given a beautiful example of what it looks like to pray for those in our flock. Paul’s epistles reveal three specific categories of his rich prayer life: thanksgiving, petition, and personal requests. Paul’s prayers offer us a simple yet powerful framework for transforming how we pray for our students. Not only that, they remind us of the importance of asking our students to partner with us in prayer.
While I can quickly become discouraged by a seeming lack of tangible fruit in students’ lives, Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving remind me that the Lord is always at work, inviting me to consider what I see Him doing in the midst of His people. Paul’s letters are alive with praise for the Lord’s work in the early Church. Consider his thanksgiving for the church in Thessalonica:
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, […] remembering before our God and Father the work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ [… ] We also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 2:13).
Paul encourages me to thank God for glimpses of His Spirit at work: the shy student who made a comment in Bible Study last night, the parent who emailed to tell me that their student enjoyed the Sunday school lesson, or simply the fact that a once unknowable God has elected to make Himself known through His Word. May we too, with Paul, marvel at the miracle of a student being receptive to the living Word of God—the very Word that is at work in them through the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s letters reveal that he longed for others to increase in knowledge and love of Christ, demonstrating the importance of praying for our students’ spiritual growth. His petitionary prayers serve as a useful template for how we can lift our students to the Lord, just as he does in Ephesians 4:
“… That [Christ] may grant you to be strengthened with power through his spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length, and height and depth, and to know that love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (vs. 16-19).”
When praying for our students feels burdensome, we can begin with praying, as Paul did, for them to know the richness of their Father’s love. Asking the Lord to grant our students spiritual strength is an invitation to minister to our students through prayer, even when we are unable to do so effectively in person.
Paul’s ministry was tough, to say the least. He faced persecution, despair, false teaching, and the presence of a constant “thorn in his side” (2 Corinthians 12). Paul needed prayer—just as we do!
Though I often encourage my students to share intimate prayer requests in small group, Paul convicts me that I often fail to do so myself. While youth ministers do need to be cautious about boundaries with students, asking to pray for us allows them to know that their youth minster is just as much in need of the Lord’s mercy as they. When I ask my students to pray for me as I approach a tough week at work or when I feel spiritually dry, I invite them into the vulnerable yet rich experience of praying for their fellow sister in Christ. Even more, it is an invitation to experience intimacy with the Lord through prayer.
In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul asks:
“Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men” (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).
Along with any personal requests we might have, what better prayer to ask from our students than for opportunities to share the gospel! When we invite our students to pray for us, we remind them of the importance of prayer in strengthening the Body of Christ.
Looking at the ways in which Paul prayed for his flock transforms praying for students into less of a duty and more of a delight. When I feel discouraged, I can offer a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s constant, though often unseen, work in students’ hearts. When I feel overwhelmed with how to even begin praying for suffering students, I can pray for their growth in knowledge of God’s love for them. And when I myself need prayer, I can ask that my students would join me in engaging with the Spirit through prayer.
Perhaps it’s worth asking your youth team: are we taking the time to lift up students to their True Shepherd, offering thanksgiving for the fruit we see Him producing? Are we undermining the value of prayer by believing the lie that the only thing we can do for a hurting student is to “just” pray? And are we inviting them into a deeper relationship with the Lord by asking them to pray for us?
May the Lord show us more of Himself through lifting up our students to our Heavenly Father: the One who is always interceding for His people; the One who has reconciled sinners back to Himself so that we can experience deeper communion with Him in prayer.
Join us on Rooted this week as each day we further unpack what it looks like to pray regularly for our students!