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The Youth Leader and Prayer

We can get so busy we forget to pray.1 Youth leaders are a practical bunch and we love to come up with results (some of us can fill the entire day working on, thinking of and doing things for youth ministry). But in our practicality, when we have a goal to reach, or a problem to solve we react immediately and do all we can to resolve it before we even turn to God in prayer.

These past few months I have been looking at how God’s people approached him and I see a different pattern:

Consider Nehemiah. There is a lot of focus on how practical he was. Through his leadership the Israelites rebuilt the wall surrounding their land in 52 days giving them protection from their enemies. But what was his response when he first encountered the situation?

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah 1:4

How about Daniel? He also had this type of response. And the challenge he faced was a document that strictly penalized prayer. His opponents went together and brought it before the king and convinced him to sign it. Here’s what happened next:

“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” Daniel 6:10

 

In both these men’s lives and countless others, when they faced a situation, small or big, prayer was not a last option but rather the first thing that came to mind.

And then there’s the Lord Jesus who in the days of his ministry lived a life soaked in prayer. The only instance I have found of a specific request for Jesus to teach something can be found in Luke 11:1

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”

 

It is from Jesus that we get the best insights on prayer. Even in his short reply to the request of his disciples there is a lot to be learned about prayer. As you read through the rest of this article my hope is that you see the value of prayer to the point where you are too busy that you just have to pray. Let me just focus on just the first thing he says:

“And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father…” Luke 11:2

 

Taking this one word to heart can transform not only how you pray but your life as well. What is so amazing about that one word? Joshua Harris states it like this:

“What we call God reveals how we think about him. And how we think about him shapes how we relate to him. And how we relate to him determines how we interpret his work in us and his purpose for us… Living in the present reality of God as Father will radically change your view of the Christian life.”

Here are three things this implies:

Dependence. Relating to God as our Father teaches us to depend on Him. That is what I see in the lives of Nehemiah and the rest. They did not become self-sufficient as they walked with God, they grew more dependent on him. Jesus himself is the example for this and says in  John 5:19:  ”Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.”

Guidance. Calling God our Father does something else as well. In your ministry you could be at the opposite end of the spectrum. Within my own Christian community, aside from prayer times in the middle of the week, there are dawn prayer events and overnight prayer meetings. And it amazes me how many young people are involved in these. One source of this is of course the example of their leaders. I am in no way discouraging the zeal to pray but calling God our Father helps safeguard us in our zeal. Jesus himself says:

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”Matthew 6:7-8

When we call God our Father it helps us to see that more than being a requirement, prayer is about a relationship with God.

A third thing about calling God our Father is to consider the emotional aspect of it. Jesus again is our best example. When Jesus prayed, he regularly addressed his Father as abba. It is similar to our word papa, an intimate word for father. And we know the word abba (Paul uses it in Romans and Galatians) because the early disciples never translated it when they translated almost every other word. Abba is still the word used in our translations of the Bible to this day. They were so amazed — no one had ever spoken to God so intimately before that they just had to use that word.3

When we relate with the God who made the universe it is sometimes easier to see him more as king than as father. But God like any earthly father, longs to share with us in our laughter and our tears. He wants to be our Father in our greatest achievements and our lowest moments. The things that you love most and the things that you long but only glimpse in your earthly father find their best expression in the God who is our Dad. May we like the disciples never get over what a concept that is!

We can get so busy in the ministry. My hope with this short article is that as you get busy in the youth ministry, you will get so busy that you just have to pray. May you call on the God who is your Father more and more. May your relationship with him develop not only to change you but those you minister to as well. May your young people be like those followers of Jesus observing him in prayer. May they see in you one who is enjoying time with the Father and may they draw near to him.

Notes:

  1. This is inspired by the title of Bill Hybel’s book on prayer though it is called “Too Busy Not To Pray
  2. Joshua Harris writes this in his book Dug Down Deep, p172-173
  3. This concept comes from Paul E. Miller’s book, A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World
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