When we're going through something, people often tell us to pray about it, but what exactly does that mean? What should we say when we pray, and how should we say it? What does a good prayer life look like? Should we only go to God in hard times? In good times? Even if we get all these questions answered, it can be hard to make prayer a habit. And even if we do get into the habit, sometimes prayer can feel like speaking into a lifeless void, and it can be hard to stay faithful in prayer when you don’t feel like you’re truly connecting with God.
Even prominent religious figures like Mother Teresa with faith “untouchable” have openly admitted their prayer struggles. If you can relate to any of these issues, it’s likely that your kids can too. They may be wrestling with empty prayer, or even having trouble knowing how to pray at all. So, let’s encourage each other and explore why we should pray, and how we can honor God with our prayers.
Why should we pray?
Understanding why we pray can pave the way into learning how to pray. If we’re praying out of hopelessness, we may pour our hearts out without giving it much thought. If we’re praying for others, we may pray more methodically and intentionally. Becoming aware of the reason behind our actions allows us to understand our faith in a deeper way, and gives us greater insight into knowing who God is.
So, what’s the point of prayer?1. Healing. “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” —Psalm 119:50
For sickness, a broken heart, or even just a bad day, God is here for us. We are all fundamentally broken with a sinful nature, and we could never overcome our nature without God’s provision in our lives. Invite your teen to ask God for this provision and to restore what’s been broken.2. Repentance. “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord. And you forgave the guilt of my sin.’” —Psalm 32:5
This step in our faith can be a huge point of connection in rededicating our lives to God. We’re bound to screw up again and again, but our teens don’t have to lose hope by knowing this. It's ok to mess up because God wants the real version of us: the version that's humble enough to go before Him and ask for forgiveness when we fail. Repentance shouldn't be seen as a negative thing, it should be seen as a natural thing. It’s a gift from God that frees us to be authentically ourselves, not a painful act of condemnation. So, encourage your teen to pray for God’s forgiveness in their shortcomings and remind them that He will always be there to forgive, no matter what.3. Connection. “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” —Jeremiah 29:12-13
We connect with others by spending time with them and getting to know them through conversation. Similarly, prayer allows us to talk with God and grow in our relationship with Him, just like we would with a close friend. Is your teen having a bad day? Having a good day? Encourage them to tell God about it. We don’t have to have an agenda in prayer. It can simply be a personal time of reflection, wonder, and relationship with God.4. Praise. “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!”—Psalm 117:2
Sometimes we just need to spend time thanking and giving praise to God for His love and faithfulness to us. He is the ultimate source of goodness in the world, and He allows us to be part of that goodness. There will always be a reason to praise Him! Did your teen pass a test they were stressing over? Encourage them to find a minute in their day to praise God for the wisdom and focus to complete that stressful task. Did they have a refreshing hangout with a friend after feeling isolated for some time? Praise God. It’s all about showing our teens how to use the seemingly small moments of our lives as opportunities to connect with God.5. Faithfulness. “For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones.” —Psalms 37:28
At times, we just feel hopeless and unsure about God and the meaning of life. But when we pray, even in our lowest moments, we can show our faithfulness to God and that our faith isn’t dependent on our situation or emotions. Even when we’re doubting whether God is really there, we can pray and acknowledge that this low season is only temporary. If your teen struggles with these things, remind them that it’s ok to doubt, and it’s ok to have seasons of hopelessness and confusion because both you and God are there no matter what they face. In these times of questions and seemingly lost hope, encourage your teen to be still, pray, and listen.
What does the Bible say about prayer?
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” —Romans 12:12
Prayer is a very personal thing. So, when it comes to our kids’ prayer lives, our instruction can’t be forced. We can only help guide and encourage them as they tread these waters with God. And one way we can do this is by exploring together how we can honor God through our prayers and what the Bible says about prayer.
When King Nebuchadnezzar demanded the wise men of Babylon to interpret his dreams or be killed, God gave Daniel the answers he needed in order to save them. After God came through for Daniel, he poured his heart out in thankfulness to God, and God was blessed by this.
“Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said: ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever to whom belong wisdom and might.” —Daniel 3:19-20
Not only does God bless us, but we have the ability to bless Him through our praise and obedience. So, when we pray in praise, we are giving glory where glory is due and acknowledging His goodness in everything. Encourage your teen to think of ways God has shown up in their lives and thank God for blessing them in that way. And as we’ve briefly touched on, prayer is meant to be a personal thing, so give your teen the freedom to pursue that in their own time. Jesus said,
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” –Matthew 6:6-8
Luckily, we don’t have to say extraordinary things or shout to the heavens to get God’s attention. We already have it. So, when we pray, we can focus on going to Him with humility and truthfulness. It can be easy to fall into “Christianese” prayer that uses just the right words that feel holier than how we normally would talk. But, God doesn’t dwell on appearances; He is concerned with our hearts and the words that express our true selves. Besides, as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:6-8, God knows what we need before we even say a word, so we may as well be as real as we can be.
Prayer can often become a means to get something from God. But God is not a vending machine. When we say “amen” at the end of our prayers, we are saying “so be it.” This means we are giving our words to God and trusting His authority and actions. Whatever His will is, we let it be so. Now, this can be hard and is often why many people leave their faith. They see that God didn’t grant them the answer they were looking for, or that He didn’t seem to have answered their prayer at all. But God’s silence doesn’t mean He doesn’t hear us. He knows just what we need (though we often think we know best) and He only acts out of love. It’s our job to trust His divine judgment.
- Is prayer important to you? Why or why not?
- If you’re comfortable sharing, what are your reasons for praying?
- What is your biggest frustration when it comes to prayer?
- Why doesn’t God do everything we ask him to?
- Do you ever feel like God isn’t answering your prayers? When has there been a time you felt like He did answer you?