Prayer has in some senses become a bit of a cultural phenomenon. When disaster strikes, young people in their masses take to social media to share that they are #prayingfor whatever it may be, from Australian fires to the coronavirus in China and – just this weekend – the family of NBA player Kobe Bryant.
But recent research has found that posting #prayingfor may not be as meaningless as it may seem. What can posting a tweet really do? Well, a study by Premier Christian News of over 2,000 adults in Britain found that one-in-five 18 to 24-year-olds took the time to pray following a social media campaign. Young adults are being drawn to prayer through their social media feeds.
Naturally, drawing children and young people to prayer should be one of our many priorities as those who work alongside them, but how do we do it? Bethan Lawler from Youth for Christ shares some of her thoughts.
As I was praying and considering the many creative ways we can invite young people to pray, including the use of social media, I was hit with the question: “What does the Bible say?” It was this that left me with a profound sense that I was not to look out at culture to find the answer, but look in at Scripture.
I am all for the many different ways we can help young people to pray, even hashtags. I believe we should give multiple, creative opportunities for young people explore prayer, but the Bible is timeless and the ultimate authority on how we humans are created to live as beings of worship before God.
For me, one passage stood out: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your strength,” it is written in Deuteronomy 6:5-9. “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” While I know these verses aren’t directly about prayer, it draws on the importance of how we view prayer.
I recently conducted a survey among various young people I work with and asked them to describe what prayer is. One young person responded a word that struck me. It was beautifully precise: connection.
If we see prayer as connection, a constant awareness and longing for the Lord, we get the outworking of this passage. We are to be the kind of people who are so consumed with love for God and the word of God that it flows out of every aspect of our being. And then we impress this upon our children. This is how we teach our young people to engage in prayer. We show that prayer is an endless connection with this living God who is all our hearts desire.
I have spoken to a number of young people on the subject of prayer, non-Christians and Christians alike, and I find a familiar pattern emerging whenever they describe how they pray. In its most basic form, they pray to ask for something and expect God to do something in response to their prayers.
I believe that we need to help our young people understand that he is the answer to the majority of our prayers.
For example, one non-Christian girl explained that in primary school she was bullied and would sit alone in the playground praying that God would make it stop. But it didn’t. So she stopped praying. I realised she had missed the point entirely. If she had understood who God was, she would have realised that God himself was enough for her. Just him, in the midst of the bullying. And he was there…but she wasn’t looking for him so she didn’t see the answer. Her picture of prayer was a transaction – I will ask and, if he exists, I will get a change of circumstance.
In my own personal experience, deeper and more effective prayer comes by revelation of the Spirit through the Word. If we really want to help young people engage more in prayer, then, honestly, we must pray that the great revealer of mysteries would reveal to them by his Spirit a deeper understanding of what prayer is and give them a desire to do it (Luke 11:13).
And lastly, prayer is a disarming subject. I have yet to meet anyone who refused prayer when offered. We need to offer it to children and young people, personally believing that it is the most powerful and effective tool to change situations, hearts and the world.
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