5 Prayer Paradigm Shifts for Shaping Your Child’s Prayer Life

“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.

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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”.

 

In One Ear and Out the Other: Stuff All Parents Say

I have no doubt that I exasperated my mother and father at times as a teenager and even as a young adult. I know this because I can recall particularly my mother saying to me the phrase I’m sure every parent says at one time or another, “It just goes in one ear and out the other”. Which as we all know is just a frustrated way of saying, “you don’t listen to a word I say”. Whether it be advice, instruction, whatever, you haven’t had to parent if you have never felt like your words are completely ignored by your children.

The one that my mother used to always say to me that she felt I never heard was, “do first things first”. I was extremely gifted in the art of procrastination. No one had to teach me how to procrastinate because I was a natural. My gift got in the way of me reaching my potential academically, and my grades suffered. This went on through all of High School and most of college

One day frustrated with the hole that I had started to dig for myself after being granted a tremendous second chance I finally decided to put into practice the thing my mother had been telling me for years, do first things first. I would actually begin to prioritize and order things so that I would be successful, and successful I was.

The reason I tell this story is not to laud praise onto my parents or even myself for finally raising the bar of academic mediocrity and failure that had dogged me for years. The purpose is to encourage any of you parents that find yourselves as exasperated as my mother and father must have been. I want to encourage you with this simple fact that I shared with my mother when she asked what I did differently to turn things around. I finally put first things first. In other words contrary to their belief, their words of advice, instruction, wisdom and encouragement did not go in one ear and out the other. I heard every word. It just took a while before I decided to put it into practice.

You may have reached the point where you hear yourself repeating the same thing over and over to your children and thus feel like a broken record. Don’t lose heart and keep repeating these things that they are too hardheaded or stubborn to do, but don’t believe for one second that they don’t hear you. I’m sure if your honest with yourself you can think back on the things your parents use to tell you all the time much to their exasperation because you too, like your teenager, took forever to apply it. Just as you remembered what your parents said and delayed to apply it, more than likely they will too.

3 Remedies for the Common Fear of Teens

Working with teenagers and trying to convince or recruit other people to invest in the lives of teenagers has made me very aware of a problem that is nearing epidemic proportions. There is a lot of ephebiphobia going around and it is rampant. For those not up on their vocabulary words ephebiphobia is the irrational fear and loathing of teenagers. It is also recognized as the “inaccurate exaggerated and sensational characterization of young people”.
You need only talk to any youth pastor, youth worker middle or high school teacher, or parent of an adolescent to discover how widespread ephebiphobia is. I’m treated with near saintlike status when people discover that I’ve worked with pre and early teens for nearly 15 years. “Oh bless you!,” is often the reply I get. “Man, it really takes a special person to work with teenagers,” is another one I hear. The loathing aspect of ephebiphobia is caught in this oft given quip, “I think all kids should be burried (or locked in a closet or shipped off to a deserted island) when they’re twelve and unearthed (or let out or returned to civilization) when they’re 18 (or 25).
I get it. There is a lot of people who just find teenagers difficult, hard to manage, wild and out of control, but is that the norm? If it is the norm should we just be resigned to it being the way things are, and regard them with perpetual suspicision, avoidance, and the lowest possible expectations? As a youth pastor it really bothers me (read REALLY BOTHERS!!!!) that so many people are so negative about teenagers. Allow me to give a few insights that may serve as a rememdy for those who suffer from ephebiphobia?

1. You Were a Teenager Once: It may have been a while but don’t forget what it was like to be a teenager. The teenage/adolescent experience can be summarized by one word… change. Birth to two years old is the only stage of life and development that has more change than the adolescent years. Change is difficult enough as it is for most fully formed adults. It is literally like turning your life upside down as an adolescent. Physical, mental, emotional, social, change change change. Have a little sympathy, no, a little empathy. Everyone expects them to be fully formed adults which by definition they are in the process of becoming but incomplete. When they demonstrate their immaturity (or put another being in process) people resort to treating them like children which again by definition they are not anymore. How frustrating it must be for them if it is for those of us who interact with them?

2. Role of Teenagers in Society: People often feel sorry for today’s youth upon observing today’s social landscape, and all the pressures they face. You’ll often hear the “experts” talk with great tribudation about all the exposure and temptation that the current generation faces that is unparalleled to the previous generations. Could the reason teenagers today face so much temptation and pressure is not because the world is wilder and crazier than ever, but because the world sees adolescents primarily as consumers? Name a product that isn’t primarily targeted at teenagers? Name a product that isn’t marketed by showing how youthful it is? I’m sure you can think of something but it may take a minute. There used to be a day when adolescents and early teens were primarily seen as contributors to society. It wasn’t that long ago that the adolescent stage of life in America was seen as a time to prepare young people for a lifetime of contributing to society and the world. They were pushed and encouraged to cultivate and create. Now that stage of life is treated primarily as a time to prepare them for a lifetime of being customers and consuming things. On opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum you have students who go looking for trouble because they want what they can’t have, or because they have so much they are bored. More and greater things need to be expected of them because they thirst for a life of meaning and significance. All human beings are created to be cultivators and creators and not simply consumers of stuff.

3. Need For an Investment: I recently recruited a new member to my volunteer team. One of the main motivations for getting involved was her unfulfilled desire for someone aside from just her parents to show an interest in her as a developing young woman. The reason why I and others are good with teenagers has nothing to with how cool or hip or knowledgable of youth culture we are. We are good and successful because we care. We care enough to show an interest and make an investment in their lives from our own. I don’t know of a teenager who won’t respond positively to that, or I’ve yet to come across one. Two of the most effective youth ministry volunteers I’ve ever seen were both 50-plus years old, which totally goes against conventional wisdom, but totally makes sense if you ever saw how they loved on and invested in a teenager. They weren’t cool nor hip because and didn’t need to be. They just came alongside of teenagers and provided another safe and constant harbor in the ever changing sea of adolescence. Which allowed for those students to stop being tossed around by the currents of life and just be.

Are You Raising A Pharisee?: Modeling Justification

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 5.1

I recently listened to a sermon by Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian where he talked about justification by faith. In his own brilliant way he explained in an easy to understand manner how justification by faith works. My huge takeaway was that most lifelong Christians really should begin to repent of the ways they try to justify themselves. In other words many of us start conducting our lives in a way that says, “even though Jesus through his perfect life, his death, and his resurrection has become my justification, I am going to eventually justify myself by being a good Christian. By reading my Bible, Christian service, giving, church attendance, local church involvement, moral obedience, evangelism, ministry involvement, etc, I will eventually earn my peace with God through my deeds and behavior.”

He used the illustration of a job resume. That when we apply for a job we are looking for more than a source of income. We are seeking the acceptance and approval of the person making the job hire. Our resume is more than just a listing of our previous job experiences and qualifications. It is the deeds that we use to justify ourselves even applying for the position in the first place. Being hired is more than just getting the job over and above the other applicants, it equates to being accepted and approved of.

This got me thinking a lot and one of my thoughts relates to how we parent in this respect. How are we modeling justification? Sure we may teach our children John 3.16 and that God’s love for us is unconditional and that there is nothing we can do to cause God to love us less or more, but how are we modeling justification? This is a crucial question for all of us to be in the habit of asking, especially if we tend to be people pleasers, or pursuers of the approval of others. If our drive to attend church, obey God’s moral conduct code, and practice spiritual disciplines is centered on pleasing God then you are modeling a faith in your deeds not in Christ. If your pursuit to please and gain the approval of others runs your life then others have become the god you seek to be justified before and have peace with.

Warning signs that you might be modeling a justification in something other than Christ can be seen in how much you value any of the following.

  • Success
  • Promotions
  • Image and Appearance
  • Where you are seen and who you are seen with
  • How clean your house or car is
  • How busy you are
  • Your social calendar
  • Fitting in
  • Finding others who are just like you
  • Having it all together
  • Being on time

Notice that any number of those things are in and of themselves good things or values neutral (not bad), however, if we demonstrate an inordinate amount of importance on those things with the displeasure and disapproval of others or God as the consequence to be feared then it has become your justification. I know in my own life the things I tend to confess are the very things that I secretly fear God will or should hold against me. Without or them or because of them I’m endangering my status of being accepted and approved of by God. Now having a daughter I’m curious and concerned about how I will model an understanding of justification before God through my lifestyle as opposed to what I say.

Justification by faith is modeled correctly when you are freed to simply be in the presence of God and of others without the constant worry and fear of keeping the peace with them. By faith we know that we can never lose the peace with God because of Jesus. By faith we know that while uncomfortable losing the peace with others isn’t the end of the world nor defines us because they are not God.

Death is Not Natural: Stuff Pastor Prado Said

At the first church I worked at one of the other pastors on Staff was a man by the name of Jorge Prado. A native of Brazil he was the pastor of the Spanish Speaking Congregation at our church. Jorge is one of those rare kind of people that has seen everything and so when he talks you listen, because he is likely to tell you a great story or drop a nugget of wisdom on you. After a funeral at the church for a longtime elderly member he dropped a boulder of wisdom on me that I’ll never forget. “My friend,” that is how Jorge would address you, “death is so difficult for us to deal with because death is not natural. It was never a part of what God intended.”

Consider the story of scripture; there is no death in Genesis 1-2. Death is not a part of God’s original design for the earth and creation. It is not part of the good that God wove into the human experience. Death doesn’t enter into the human experience until Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In other words as Jorge said, “People die everyday yet we can not handle it because it was never meant to happen, and therefore God never wired our hearts to be able to deal with death and dying.”

In the past four months I’ve had the opportunity to come alongside two students and one friend, all three of them girls, who had unexpectedly lost their father to death. The cause of death was different in each case, but it is fair to say in each case that no one saw death coming. All three dads were under sixty, all three daughters were between the ages of 15 and 25. With all three I had the opportunity to come alongside them within 12 hours or less of it happening; one the morning after, one two or so hours after he was pronounced dead, and one I was one of the people who delivered her the news of her father’s death. What do you say to someone who has just lost someone? What do you say to a girl who just lost her father? I remember what Jorge said.

I tell them, as I told my students last night, that there is no formula for grief. That is the “so what” to the why of death not being natural. Because death is not natural, and because we are not wired for death as being part of our human experience even though it is very much a part of our human reality, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief wouldn’t be grief if there were a step-by-step formulaic way of doing it. That kind of loss creates an inward lost-ness that there is no way to navigate, you must simply walk through it. Walking through death is not like walking across the street; there is no other side to get to. Well, that’s not completely true, but those of us who believe know that none of us know exactly when the other side will arrive (Revelation 21.1-4). So in the interim you must simply grieve.

Don’t let anyone make you feel as though you are not grieving properly. Grieve in the manner in which you are grieving. If you are in such shock that you can’t muster any response and stare into the abyss with silent numbness then be still. If you are filled with such pain and misery that it causes you to fall apart with tears until you have none left, then flood the room. If you are instead flooded with happy memories of good times that cause you to laugh with joy, then fill the halls with your laughter (or chuckle quietly to yourself if you don’t laugh loudly like me). If you are ravaged with questions that have no easy answers because you just need to vent, then find a safe audience (which by the way includes God). If you are angry, then give your anger a voice (just be cautious about giving it an activity). All of those feelings come at you during grief, and in no particular order.  They come in no natural expected order because death, though normal to the human experience is not natural.

Life Isn’t Fair: Stuff My Mom Said

Over time my sisters and I figured out that it was pretty much pointless to complain about something being unfair to our mother. Rest assured her response was always the same, “Well, life isn’t fair.” We used to hate it when she said that but I’m glad she did, because she is right.

Scripture testifies to the unfairness of life we just so often miss it or are not taught it. This is why I believe so many Christians struggle to understand and live with difficult circumstances in our lives without experiencing a crisis of faith, doubt, or resentment towards God.

Mistakenly we often attribute difficulty in life to God and his will, instead of attributing difficulty in life to where scripture places the blame; the Fall. The Fall is the reason we experience pain, death, sickness, and loss. The Fall has turned a good world and good existence for all of creation into a not so good existence. From a Biblical perspective good isn’t simply pleasure and happiness, good is flourishing. As it pertains to creation flourishing as God intends is meant to be universal. The result of Adam and Eve eating from the tree so that they (so they were led to believe) could be on par with God cannot be overstated. Flourishing totally depends on all of creation being in proper relationship with God and one another. The curses given in Genesis 3 in a way is God allowing for parts, not all, of flourishing to depend on creation being in proper relationship with us, as though we are gods.

The first problem is that there is too many of us (Thus the importance of our Trinitarian theology emphasizing three in one. One only need look to Roman and Greek mythology to see the chaos that ensues from there being more than one God, each of whom has different desires and view of the world than the others). The second problem is that none of us are God nor possess his power to create something out of nothing, to bring life from death, to bring about and maintain complete order from complete chaos.

In other words, bad things aren’t simply brought into our lives by God so that he can teach us something or bring about some good that does little more than maintain a ying and yang balance to the world. Bad things simply happen! They happen because the world is fallen, broken, and things don’t go the way they ought to go. Our cries of life not being fair is little more than us crying out to anyone who will lend us ear that a piece of our life isn’t happening the way it ought, that instead of experiencing flourishing we are experiencing suffering.

Make no mistake, it is not God’s fault, it is our fault. Not in the sense that there was something very specific that we did that directly resulted in this bit of suffering. Rather it is in the sense that humanity was to blame, is to blame, and will be to blame for life not being fair until… Christ returns to put everything right, to judge and to rule, and to make everything new. Furthermore he is not obligated to step in and end our suffering, any part of it, before Christ returns. Sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn’t, but he is not obligated to. Nor can we some how earn the right for God to end our momentary suffering. Yes, even physical death for the redeemed is only a momentary suffering. We can pray to God and ask, but he can always say no like he did to Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane/Mount of Olives (Matthew 26.39, and Like 22.39-46).

Speaking of Jesus praying that God remove the cup of his wrath for the sins of mankind, and not pour it out on him, to the point that he was in such agony that even the appearance and strengthening from an angel of God didn’t divert him from praying more earnestly to the point that he was sweating blood. Thank God and praise his name that he wasn’t concerned with being fair in that moment. Cause if God were about what is fair he would have surely answered Jesus’ request with a resounding yes, and we would all be doomed to suffer forever beyond any suffering we will experience her on earth.

God is not obligated to fix every situation, to heal every sickness, to make sure we flourish or prosper every moment of every day of our lives. His goodness doesn’t depend on him stepping in every time, or even some of the time, because Jesus already stepped in when it mattered most. God raised him from the dead and he ascended to heaven where he is able to be present to us amidst flourishing and suffering and all the in between, and present us before God unstained (Hebrews 8.4 and 9.24)

For me this has meant learning to live with suffering, with life not being fair. I understand that suffering is simply a part of life until Christ makes all things new (Revelation 21.4-5).  That suffering difficulty and trials are not an indictment declaring that I have become unjustified, because Christ is my justification. I cannot undo Christ’s justification for me to my detriment or to my benefit. I simply use my faith to embrace a life that says he is my justification (Romans 5.1). Suffering is simply a reminder that Genesis 3 is true and is real.

Someone will surely say, “What about Romans 5.3 that says, ‘suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope’?” To which I would say Paul never says that God brings about or produces suffering to produce all those things in us. For Paul suffering is just a part of life, but God in his sovereignty and great power is stronger than suffering, and can accomplish what he wills even in suffering. Even in life not being fair.

Do you struggle with life not being fair?

How Long Should We Shield Teens From Evil? (Reflections on Teaching the OT)

This past Sunday I taught on Genesis 4 the story of Cain and Abel. After giving them a minute to read the chapter in its entirety before discussing it, I gave them an opportunity to share their thoughts. One of the observations that some of my students made was how violent of a story it was and how they were somewhat disturbed by the violent nature of this scriptural account. My response to their disturbance was little more than, “you ain’t seen nothing yet”. That may seem like a dismissive response but seriously, it’s going to get really gruesome and disturbing as we move along in our journey through the Old Testament. Next week we’ll be on The Flood, which if you think about the implications there would have been hundreds if not thousands of rotting corpses of men and beast floating in the flood waters and lying on the ground when the flood waters subsided. By the time we get to Judges I may have to send a waiver form to parents to notify them of the content we’ll be covering (okay not really but you get the picture). All that to say it has spawned a question that I have been pondering this afternoon over a nice cup of coffee Reese’s Cups and message prep.

 

In our effort to shield our teens’ eyes and minds have we over sterilized them to the gruesome nature of the Old Testament? Is there a downside to trying keep our teens away completely from things that we have a moral objection to unless it’s presented in a highly stylized fictional and fantastical manner?

 

The dilemma I’m weighing is while I don’t want my students being desensitized to evil and wickedness I do think that at some point if you really understand the nature of men as scripture presents it you won’t be shocked by their evil and wickedness. Saddened and grieved? Absolutely. Shocked? I’m not certain that is a healthy response for an adult to have to the evil and wickedness of men. Obviously pre-teens and early adolescents aren’t adults yet, but they are getting closer to that destination than they are to being children. So how do we transition kids from the innocence of their childhood to the sober realizations of adulthood? My concern is that Christian students will grow into the kind of adults that avoid evil at costs even if it means never confronting evil in a manner that seeks to bring light life and healing to the darkest and most depraved corners of our society culture and world.