If I could get in a time machine and go back to teenaged Greg I'd tell him one thing...learn how to pray.
Sadly, it took me about four decades to begin to truly discover the power of prayer. Once I did, it felt like for the majority of my life I'd been throwing dirt clods at Satan only to discover there was a bazooka in the closet.
Now that I'm learning the power of prayer I can scream, "Say hello to my little friend" as I blast away at Satan's strongholds in my life, church, community and nation! I can worship God and praise him for who he is and what he has done! I can intercede at Jesus' side for both believers and unbelievers alike!
Oh how I wish I would have learned the art and science of prayer as a teenager! Instead, I followed the model of many of my leaders who used prayer more like holy water to sanctify their white board plans.
Instead it is a secret weapon to be aimed at the enemy of our souls. It is a largely untapped pipeline for both earthly and spiritual provisions straight from heaven's limitless reservoirs to us!
So how do we teach our teens how to pray? Here are five ideas:
1. Pray often. Pray well. Pray now.
Make prayer part of the way you live and breathe. Pray with your teenagers. Pray for your teenagers. Pray in private and in public. Spend time pouring your heart out to God in prayer with teenagers. Let them overhear and participate in your intercession. Let them hear you pray so that they, just like the first disciples of Jesus, proclaim, "teach us to pray!"
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2. Maximize desperate times.
There's nothing like desperation to amp up our prayers of intercession, protection and supplication. If a teenager comes upon a desperate time (break up, parents divorce, bullied or stabbed in the back, etc.) use that time to teach them to pray. Get them journalling their prayers to God. Point them to the Psalms and show them how to cry out their prayers of "How long O Lord?" or "Why?" to the Father. And teach them how to pray through the frustration to faith...just like David did again and again throughout the Psalms.
3. Do a series on prayer.
Sometimes teenagers don't pray because they don't know how to do it. Purchase or develop a good series on prayer that will show them how to pray with power. At Lead THE Cause we teach teenagers to pray by using the Lord's prayer as a guideline. We use the acrostic PRAY...Praise, Request, Admit, Yield:
Praise "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name." These eight words embody who God is (Our Father), how sovereign he is (in heaven) and how holy he is (hallowed by your Name.) Needless to say there's a lot of potential truth to unpack in this singular sentence that will help teenagers know how to pray to and praise God.
Request "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is done in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread." The first request we bring to God is not our Santa Claus wish list...or even our own personal needs (although these are important to God!) No, the first request is for HIS kingdom to come and HIS will to be done. We teach our teenagers to pray for revival in the youth group and their schools, for God's kingdom to advance one Gospel conversation at a time until it saturates our campuses and communities and world. Then, of course, we teach them to ask for their "daily bread" of the ongoing provisions we need and want.
Admit "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us." This is where we teach teenagers to confess their sins to God, claiming the promise of 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." This trains our teenagers to refuse to linger in the mud when they fall and to get cleaned up through confession as they relentlessly pursue their relationship with God.
Yield "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one." This equips our teenagers to yield themselves to the Holy Spirit as they put on the full armor of God to wage war against Satan. This part of prayer keeps our teenagers alert to the reality of spiritual warfare and the temptations that the world, the flesh and the devil throw their way everyday.
I use the PRAY acrostic with my kids to teach them to pray holisitically and give them a simple outline to use when they pray. It comes straight from the Lord's prayer (and that prayer is kind of hard to beat!)
4. Program prayer into your meetings.
What if you used the worship time of your weekly meeting to make prayer part of your actual program?
Or, what if you used the last ten minutes of your youth group meeting to allow teenagers to pray?
Or what if the first or last half of your small groups allowed teenagers to pray with and for each other and their unreached friends?
You may be surprised how your teenagers are longing to pray down deep inside. They may just not know it yet. Programmed times of prayer can help this deep, divine desire to surface in powerful ways.
At the Dare 2 Share conferences we program prayer into our rundown and the results have been amazing. There's something about a room full of teenagers praying at the same time. It brings us back to that elemental root in all of us. After all, at the end of the day, it's just a bunch of kids talking to their Daddy...their Daddy who happens to rule the universe!
5. Take them out to share the Gospel.
"After they prayed the place where they were meeting was shaken and they went out and spoke the Word of God boldly." Acts 4:31
There's nothing like evangelism to shake things up when it comes to prayer.The prospect of going out and engaging others in Gospel conversations creates holy tension that can burst out in the form of worry or prayer. But if we point teenagers upwardly to God as we are taking them outwardly to engage others with the Gospel it can transform them inwardly in powerful ways.
When Jesus unleashed his disciples on an evangelistic mission (Matthew 10), he told them not to depend on their provisions but to depend on the Spirit. I'm sure that the prospect of going town to town to preach the message of the Gospel to potentially antagonistic crowds caused them to pray like never before!
The same is true of your teenagers! Take them out to share the Gospel, challenge them to begin a texting Gospel conversation with their friends or mobilize them to go on an evangelistic mission trip and you will see an opportunity to get them praying right away. Why? Because they're probably very nervous! And outreaches like this create "desperate times" that can trigger teenagers to embrace the "drastic measure" of calling out to God for boldness and strength to proclaim his message.
These are my five ideas to teach teens to pray. What are some other ideas?