I crept closer to the circle of about 20 adolescent boys to listen in on their conversation. They were standing in a circle, hands clasped. They were praying. As I listened to these 14-, 15- and 16-year-old boys pouring their hearts out to Jesus, tears filled my eyes. The notion that they would be praying at all was something to celebrate. That they would do so with others like themselves was even better. But to listen to the intense, focused prayers that they offered was truly inspiring.
Jesus created an environment punctuated by prayerful dependence. I have often mused over the fact that Jesus, fully God and fully human, would put such a premium on prayer. His desire to be fully connected to the Father should be a powerful reminder of our need to, as Paul said, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
One of the most remarkable insights on Jesus’ priority of prayer is found in Mark 1:35. Here, after a day of preaching, driving out demons, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, then performing miracles on behalf of the whole town (verse 33), Jesus must have been exhausted. After a day like that, he had every right to sleep in. Instead, we find Jesus getting up “very early in the morning, while it was still dark” to go to a solitary place to pray. The Gospels have numerous references to Jesus’ praying.
What others have said
Much has been said and written about prayer. Evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) wrote: “Some people think God does not like to be troubled with constant coming and asking. The only way to trouble God is not to come at all.” Further, Moody said: “We are not told that Jesus ever taught his disciples how to preach, but he taught them how to pray. He wanted them to have power with God; then he knew they would have power with man.”
Corrie ten Boom, who offered refuge to Jews in Holland during World War II, said the following: “As a camel kneels before his master to have him remove his burden at the end of the day, so kneel each night and let the Master take your burden.” Ten Boom continued: “If you have some time on your hands, spend part of it on your knees.”
Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), one of Britain’s most famous preachers, wrote: “The true end of prayer is to get our wills harmonized with his, not to bend his with ours.” C.S. Lewis wrote: “If we were perfected, prayer would not be a duty, it would be delight. Some day, praise God, it will be.”
How important is prayer?
How much emphasis does your youth group, your congregation or your family place on prayer? How important is it to you? How important is it to seek an audience with the all-powerful, almighty God? What does it mean to us that, under the new covenant, we have instantaneous access to the throne room of the universe?
We can say with confidence: a youth group or congregation that places a premium on prayerful dependence will enhance the likelihood of growth for the congregation or youth group. A key suggestion with respect to this topic is to enlist concerned adults and students who will pray specifically and consistently for the needs of youth ministry. One way to do this is through the formation of what are called prayer triplets. In a prayer triplet, you identify two other people who will gather 20 minutes a week to pray specifically for spiritually lost friends and one another’s growth.
Another idea is to conduct a concert of prayer, where a facilitator leads a group through a series of focused prayers. Some have chosen this format to do nothing but pray in either a congregational setting or at a youth activity. Others sprinkle appropriate worship and praise music that corresponds to the focus of the prayer. Some congregations with few youths may wish to discuss whether they truly are interested in growing youth ministry. If the answer is yes, the next positive step would be to bathe the issue in prayer.
Regardless of format or approach, prayer means spending time with God: talking with him, listening for his response, and sharing with others who are interested in communing with God. Being intentional in prayer is one of the most important hallmarks of an environment that is likely to enjoy tremendous spiritual growth. It is also an important way to fulfill the Great Commandment. Talking to and with God is a tremendous way to show him that you love him with your whole heart, soul and mind.