How do I talk to God?
This is a simple but critical question students, and adults, ask all the time. As a student ministry leader, I didn’t want one student to leave our ministry without knowing the answer to this question because they had learned it, used it, experienced it. I bet it’s the same for you. There are so many books on this (and I encourage you to check them out) but here just a few ideas that we use to help our students experience prayer.
What follows are three ideas from our youth group, they’re not new or revolutionary but it they really us help us maintain an atmosphere of prayer.
- The Prayer Chair.
A prayer chair is a simple wooden chair, that is used by a small group for intentional prayer. The chair is put in the middle of the group and anyone, leader or student, may sit in the chair and ask for prayer. The request needs to be personal or directly connected to the person in the chair, not ‘my friend’s Aunt’s sister’s dog’ kind of request. Once the request is given, the group prays for the person. We have used Waterfall Prayer, which is everyone praying out loud all at once. Popcorn Prayer, which are prayers popping up from different people one at a time. Or, one Leader or student prays.
After the prayer, the person puts their name tag on the chair as a reminder. (Yes, we use name tags every week.) For the weeks that follow, their name is a reminder to check in on the issue and see how God is at work. The chair stays with the group as they move up through ministry. The chair pictured here was actually gifted from a senior class to a freshmen class so that they could build on the prayers before them. Those freshmen are now seniors, this chair holds eight years of prayers!
- Prayer Circles.
Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker changed my prayer world. The idea of circling a person, a place, or even an idea challenged me to put physical steps around my words. It helps me create holy space. Hula Hoops work great to help visualize this. At retreats, the worship team circles the room and draws a spiritual line around the space for God’s anointing and protection. At camp, we circle the space for worship to draw a spiritual line around the learning and lives we are entrusted with for the week. When I speak in big church, I walk a circle around the worship center drawing a spiritual line around the hearts of those that will come – asking God to help them hear what they need to hear whether I say it or not.
On trips, and in team meetings especially, we circle up and pray. Leaders circle up and pray every week by linking our arms and standing together. It’s a symbol of team, linked in Christ, standing together for our students. On mission trips the entire team will link up for community, connection, and strength. It’s a reminder that we are all one in Christ. On trips, the first day in the circle is pretty quick and quiet, but by the end of the week we could pray all day as students and leaders pray out loud over everything.
Another part of circle prayer that is amazing to me is the laying on of hands. In a world where touch is questioned and often not given, we can lay on hands in prayer showing care and connection to the person. If you’ve ever stood in a circle and had the laying of hands on you, then you know the incredible power and deep feelings of community this brings.
As with all prayer, pray expectantly. Look for the answers and celebrate them, no matter the answer. Depend on them.
- Prayer Stations.
We all have different ways that we connect to God. At my first National Youth Workers Convention years ago, I was able to walk a labyrinth and experience a prayer room. This rocked my world! I loved the guided labyrinth and the physical responses to God in prayer in the prayer room that I hadn’t ever experienced before. I enjoyed the personal creative ways that I could rest and listen as I worked with my hands, touched water, looked at art, or tore cloth. I knew that if this worked in me differently, it would connect for students as well. From the beginning, I’ve incorporated full experiential nights into ministry. We need to touch, taste, smell, feel, and hear in different ways as we discover more of God.
I’ve always loved seeing how students use art to express their hearts in ways their words can’t seem to. It’s a window into what’s there. If art and music aren’t your thing, remember that you lead students that might need this outlet to connect to God in greater ways.
My son connects to everything through art and music. When he hit middle school, I could see that he was struggling to do everything verbally – what he needed to be able to do is share through his hands. His art spoke volumes…and so did many other students.
Having art supplies, journals, prints of art, and a great playlist are fairly easy to put together yet so often we default to the simple message and questions. Creating experiential moments takes time yet Brene Brown said once that creativity is the way that what is in our heads moves into our hearts. It’s also the other way around, it helps us move what is in our hearts into our heads.
As we walk with students in ministry, this is our hope right? We pray that the movement of knowledge into lives of faith and the movement of heart-felt experiences into lives of trust will be a part of our student’s spiritual journey.
There are so many resources on prayer stations; the Book of Uncommon Prayer, Imaginative Prayer, Experiential Prayer, and more. Use them. They take work to set up, some planning and personal preparation but the effort is worth it. The more you practice it, the more relaxed students will be in it. The more open they become. It’s also teaching them ways to connect with God that they can use long after they leave our ministries.
Pray with eyes wide open. Pray in response. Pray expectantly.
Do you pray expectantly? What or who do you need to circle in prayer?
When your students graduate, do they know the value of prayer and incorporate this practice into their lives?
There’s no wrong way to pray, there’s no perfect way to pray – the point is – to pray.