“Read your Bible and pray,” are the two essential disciplines of the Christian life. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my observation has been that because those two activities are universally assumed every Christian does, they are too often the two things very little time is spent training and teaching people how to do. The result is that many people do them just to check it off the list, and others just stop doing them all together.
For as long as I have been a youth pastor I have made prayer a priority; both the practice of it and teaching students how to do it. I’ve had the privilege of hearing students pray and share what is weighing on their heart. Most students when I get them have been given one of two strategies for praying, or order of operations; P.R.A.Y. praise, repent, another, yourself, and A.C.T.S adoration, confession, thanks, and supplication. I was given the same formula for praying as a student and to be honest as an adult I struggled with it for a while because it was just too formulaic.
A few years ago, reading Richard Foster’s book Prayer, I read a statement that began altering the way I prayed. He simply said something to the effect that prayer is not meant to be a tool by which we shape or bend God to our will, but it is meant to be one of the primary ways God shapes and changes us. The flaw in the way that I exercised the acronym prayer style is that it became a boring routine of going before God’s throne and thanking God for making my life comfortable and happy, repenting of how I may have not earned or squandered away being entitled to a comfy happy life, asking for people I like (and maybe a few I didn’t) to have comfy happy lives (centered in Christ of course), and requesting the same for myself. Even when I dared to permit God to bring a little displeasure and discomfort into my life in my subconscious I was thinking that I would make out big in the long run.
I suspect I’m not the only one who has loathed their prayer life and felt that something was off. Listening to the prayers of students pretty much convinces me of that. My conclusion is that they need better prayers modeled before them. Here is five paradigm shifts for shaping your children’s prayer life. If any of these resonate with you then try making those shifts in your own prayer life. Most importantly don’t be afraid to model it before your kids by praying with them.
- Praise God for who he is v. Praise God for what he’s done: I remember trying to make this shift, and discovering that I had been shifted into silence. I was at a loss for words. This is where scripture comes in handy. So many of the scripture writers, especially Old Testament prophets, lauded God continually for who he is. They covered every aspect of his character, not just his love, his power, and his majesty. They understood that the name of the Lord is to be praised. Too often we portray that the actions of the Lord is to be praised.
- Asking for signs of God’s kingdom coming and will being done v. Praying for God to simply fix your problems and problems of others: Many of us including myself have been taught that when Jesus returns he will take Christians up to heaven and destroy the earth. On the contrary Revelation 21 paints a picture of heaven coming down to earth, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Isaiah prophesied that when God put everything back to rights heaven and earth would be like new (Isaiah 65.17-25). All that to say that Jesus doesn’t come to destroy his creation he comes to “make all things new” (Revelation 21.5).
- Repent of your state of being v. Repenting of your state of doing: Not that we shouldn’t repent of very specific deeds that we know are disobedient acts against God, but if all we deal with is our behavior we’ve never really gotten to the root of the issue. Our behavior is only a symptom of what is going on in our heart (John 15.18-19). Even our good deeds are often guided by false motives. We often do good things not simply from a grateful heart but from a heart seeking to (1) justify ourselves before God when Jesus only can do and has done that for us, or (2) we don’t trust God and want to be in control of our life so we behave to keep him at a safe distance.
- Acknowledge that every thing belongs to God v. Asking for things: Psalm 24 is a good place to start where we are reminded that “The earth is the Lord’s and everything it”. It goes on to say what we will receive from God his presence (“blessing”), vindication and righteousness. It ends in a crescendo of praising and honoring the name of the Lord who is the “King of Glory”. If our happiness and joy in life was more anchored in those three things, which God gives graciously and generously, we would discover true happiness and joy that can’t be snuffed out completely by circumstances of life this side of God’s kingdom being ushered in (think paradigm #2 above). Instead we envy the kingdom of other people the glory of which is subject to death and decay.
- Acknowledge/recite truth regarding God, mankind, creation and nature v. Sharing what you think about stuff: My prayer life often resembled more of a journal. A running commentary of my day, my encounters, and my thoughts. Not that it is a bad practice because it exposed my heart, but it needed to be tempered alongside the truth regarding all those things. In this case I believe it is a “both and” as opposed to “either or”.