Prayer can be intimidating to teens. They often worry about what to say, how long they can pray, how they will sound, etc. And for many, prayer may seem a bit awkward at first because it feels like one way communication. Another challenge is making the routine stick. How can we cultivate a hunger for teens to pray without ceasing? Developing a prayer routine should begin with small steps that doesn’t have to look and feel the same for everyone. Some teens are more vocal, while others are more reflective. The goal is to get teens to talk to God regularly about their dreams, their fears, their friends, their families, their burden for this world, and to foster a dependence and expectation upon Him alone to answer those prayers.
Why not try out a new prayer starter each month with your youth group? Set aside a few minutes during your weekly meeting to practice the prayer starter. Help them keep track of how they are doing by providing a notebook for each student to write down their reflections about each activity. If you are a parent, try a different starter during family devotion. When you find a few that work for your teen, make a weekly schedule.
Set a time. Some teens like routine. Setting a specific prayer time each day where they can be alone without interruption may be all that is needed to establish regularity.
Set a timer. Begin praying in small increments … one minute the first day, two minutes the next, five minutes, etc. As students become more and more comfortable with prayer, time won’t be a factor. When leading this in a large group setting, stick to the timer. As students get into it, some may realize that they weren’t ready to stop and will be anxious to get back into prayer. Others will be glad because they have run out of things to say. Both scenarios help students learn about the nuances of prayer.
Pray a Scripture. Some students may need help figuring out what to say. There are many prayers found throughout the Bible, especially in the book of Psalms. Encourage them to choose a verse of Psalms to begin their conversation with God. This strategy can also be used in the incremental prayer described above (set a timer). When doing it in youth group, choose a short Psalm and have them pray each verse, adding their own expressions for one minute, then two minutes for the next, then three minutes and so forth.
Read the Word. A daily bible reading plan is a good way to help initiate a prayer routine. The free Bible App (youversion.com) has many different plans that will even send a daily reminder. Encourage students to respond in prayer to what they have read in the word each day.
ACTS Model. This is a well-known prayer model that anyone can use. The amount of time spent on each section varies and it is most effective in this order. Begin by praising and worshipping God for who He is. Confess any sins revealed by His holy presence. Give thanks for His love and mercies, benefits, gifts. Pray for specific needs.
Interactive Devotional (Book or App). Sometimes the best way to get started, and subsequently “hooked” on prayer is to by making it part of an overall activity. I’ve found that this works with younger kids as well as teens. Build a library of teen devotional books that students can borrow and return or walk them through some material from the Skit Guys on Youtube then lead them through a contemplative process that requires writing or oral responses. Allow them to work at their own pace so that they become comfortable doing this on their own.
Listen to Music. Teens love listening to music, but the right music can also lead them into deep reflection and prayer. Reading the lyrics can also be effective. Introduce music that is confessional, biblically inspired, and leads both the mind and heart to worship God. Teach them how to allow the words to penetrate their soul. Provide examples of Christian artists and/or songs with good theology. Teens can easily set up a free iTunes playlist or Pandora listening station to use during their scheduled prayer time.
Start a Prayer Journal. Some teens would be more comfortable writing out their prayers. Encourage students to read their prayers out to God after they have written them down.
Meditate. Solitude is one of the spiritual disciplines. Quietly sitting and waiting for God to respond to breaks up the feeling like they are only in a one-way relationship. Inspire teens to practice alone time just listening to God speak to them. Help them discern His voice.
Take a Walk. Sometimes changing the environment clears the mind and frees the spirit to worship God. A nature walk may help the mind slow down and focus. A walk through the neighborhood may illuminate the heart. Encourage teens to also try different postures in prayer — walking, kneeling, sitting, standing, laying prostrate, etc. until they find a position that allows them to engage with God more freely.
Join a Prayer Group. Prayer groups can be at school, church, or just a group of friends getting together regularly. The primary activity should be prayer.
Scan the newspapers. A few minutes of watching the news or reading a newspaper may spark a teen’s awareness of not only their need for God, but also the world’s need for God. Encourage them to also think about their school and community and pray for needs there.
Scan Friends’ Facebook. They might encounter encouragement from their friends’ posts. They might encounter others in need. They should pray as they feel led.
Read About Prayer. Studying prayer or reading about how others have overcome hurdles toward consistency in prayer may be all the inspiration one needs. Again, leaders can facilitate teens’ interaction by recommending a book a month, building a library or sending out short stories or clips about prayer regularly. Pray that each student finds a rhythm that works.
—Aileen Reid, Co-Director of Youth Ministries