By Rick Lawrence
Vibrant Faith Executive Director
Researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion found that the overwhelming majority of teenagers (and their adult parents who were also surveyed) believe in God, but know little about basic theological and faith distinctions. Lead researcher Dr. Christian Smith tried to pinpoint this ignorance by describing the collective responses—he said most teenagers and adults believe God is like a “divine butler,” someone whose job is to be at our beck and call to give us what we want when we want it. And when we don’t need Him anymore, we’d like Him to go back into the kitchen where he belongs.
Unwittingly, we may actually be feeding this debased view of God by the way we teach young people and adults to pray. To most in our congregations, prayer is simply the “cover charge” we have to pay to get into God’s candy bar. We’ve (unconsciously) taught that “the harder we pray, the higher God jumps.”
Time Magazine asked Meagan Gillan, spokesperson for the Presidential Prayer Team, what the group would do if the candidate from the opposing party were elected. She replied, “If that’s the case, we’ll just have to pray even harder.” This is a fair representation of what many teenagers and adults believe about prayer—it’s a discipline we must muster and master to get God to do what we want Him to do. That’s akin to reminding my wife that I deserve a back rub because I made the sacrifice to talk to her for a while. That won’t fly at home—mine or God’s.
Prayer, as modeled by Jesus, is nothing like an arduous task. It’s more like an honest back-and-forth conversation over coffee with a close friend…
We model a diminished view of prayer when we pray only at certain times, with certain words, in certain places, in a certain tone of voice. As a result, people learn that prayer is primarily rote, coercive, and administrative. Let’s model new ways to pray that are primarily relational…
- Fill your small-group gatherings, retreats, programs, and Bible studies with surprise “prayer pit stops” that focus more on listening than talking.
- Stop in the middle of your talk or gathering and have people take a moment to simply tell God what’s going on in their hearts.
- Plan prayer activities that teach your people to offer something to God, not just take something from Him.
- Teach those in your ministry to ask Jesus what He wants for someone before they simply start praying. So often we “pray without knowledge” because we don’t stop to ask what’s on Jesus’ heart for someone first—we assume we already know.
- Since our prayer times are almost always focused on our own needs, teach those in your ministry that intercession on behalf of others is a courageous and humble gift.
- Every now and then purposely transition from talking to your people right into talking to God—don’t preface your prayer by saying, “Let’s pray” or “I’m going to pray now.” Just talk to Him. This might feel jolting at first—but the idea is to translate your normal conversational skills, habits, and practices into modeling prayer more naturally.
Transformation and creativity in this one area—how we model and teach prayer—will start to work against the “divine butler” mentality that’s so entrenched in today’s kids and adults.
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. His new book is The Suicide Solution: Finding Your Way Out of the Darkness. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily. He created and hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus https://soundcloud.com/pay-attention-to-jesus