We tell it our students all the time: prayer is a conversation with God.
So why do we do such a lousy job of modeling those conversations at times?
First of all, a summary is not a prayer. If you want to close off your talk with prayer, that’s awesome. Seriously, I’m all for that since it can create a moment of deep connection with God where teens can make life-altering decisions.
But it had better be an actual prayer, a conversation with God, and not a summary of your talk disguised as prayer. If you don’t know what I mean, it goes something like this:
“Dear God, thank you for teaching us today that you bless those who love and keep your law. As we saw in Psalm 1, we need to delight in your word and meditate on it day and night. And if we do that, we will become like trees planted by streams of water…”
And so on and so forth. That’s not a prayer, that’s a summary of the talk you just gave. Because you wouldn’t talk like that in a ‘real’ conversation, would you? God was present during your talk; there’s no need for a recap. Praying like this completely counters our teachings to teens that prayer is a conversation, that it’s relational.
Here’s another example of a supposed prayer that’s really something else:
“I want you all to close your eyes. Let’s pray. God, thank you for bringing us here today. We want to respond to your call to bring our burdens to the cross. If there’s anyone here right now who wants to lay his or her burdens at the cross, come forward now. There are volunteers here who are happy to pray with you.”
Again, that’s not a prayer, that’s an altar call. Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with doing an altar call, on the contrary, and I get that you want to start an altar call with prayer. I also understand that it can be best if everyone closes their eyes, but…we need to be careful in what we ‘label’ or announce as prayer.
If we teach that prayer is talking to God, then that’s what we need to model. We need to show that relational conversation and not a summary, or a call to action to our listeners. Both have their place and function, but don’t present them as prayer.
Maybe you’re wondering if this isn’t a bit strict and why it matters so much. Sure, in the bigger scheme of things this is not a big deal. It’s not like it’s an actual sin 🙂 It matters because many students struggle with incorporating prayer into their daily lives. Modeling showy, formal, and awkward prayers set a bad example to them of what prayer could look like.
Can you think of any other examples of ‘false’ prayer? Or do you not see a problem with this at all?