Teaching Students to Pray

Christian educators have the great privilege of teaching students to pray in the classroom. It is heartbreaking when I hear high-school students who have grown up attending Christian schools tell me, “Ummm… I don’t really know how to pray.” We have around 180 opportunities to explain, model, and encourage our students in prayer during a school-year. Since God is a real Person who hears and loves us, it is imperative that we develop our students’ ability and desire to pray. Here is a simple outline of how to start.

First, offer a strong definition of prayer. Give students a target.

John Bunyan, the famed author of Pilgrim’s Progress, offered one of the best definitions in I Will Pray in the Spirit (1662). He said,

“Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.”

Note that prayer is 1) sincere (you mean it), 2) sensible (you understand it), 3) affectionate/passionate (attached to the emotions), 4) Trinitarian (to God through Christ by the Spirit), 5) scriptural (attached directly to God’s Word as written), 6) for the church (not only self-focused), and 7) submitting (desiring God’s will in all things).

During a 9-week span, it would not be difficult to focus on one of these items for a week at a time and then review them. Many students have been taught that prayer is “simply talking to God,” and, while that is true, we must explain how we should go about talking with God.

Second, model prayer for the students.

It is one thing to talk about something, but another to demonstrate it. Think about the difference between explaining a slam-dunk to a student and having someone demonstrate it. It is important for them to see what prayer looks like in real life.

It might be wise to take a moment to explain one element of Bunyan’s definition and then to show it. For example, you could tell them, “It is important that we don’t pray out of a dead ritual or school tradition. In the Bible, God says that He hates it when we do religious things, but don’t really care about Him. That is why our prayers need to be sincere. So, as I pray, I am going to be real with God and ask Him to help us focus and learn today so that we can understand a little bit more about how great He is through [math/science/reading/etc.]…” At at point, you would model a short and clear prayer to show the students how to do this.

Third, encourage students to pray and encourage them when they pray.

Don’t let your students be spectators only. If they are believers, they are not just students—they are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Give them opportunities to speak to God in your class. Show them that prayer is not an adults-only activity. And when they do pray, make sure to build them up. Thank them. Make biblical connections to what they prayed. Help them develop a scriptural framework. Overall, try to create a pro-prayer culture in your class.

So how does this discussion on prayer relate to biblical integration? Here are a few answers:

  • If we really believe in the God of the Bible, we will pray to Him.
  • If what we learn about God in our classes (that He is involved, present, active, powerful, caring, wise, etc.) is true, we should pray to Him.
  • Christianity is not just knowing about God, but knowing Him personally. So speaking to Him in prayer is important for our relationship.
  • If we never speak to God, it may show that we think He is not listening, not important enough to talk with, or not real.
  • Most importantly, God listens and responds to our prayers. Therefore, biblical integrators should be seeking God regularly in prayer.
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Old Hymn Sings Integration

At my school, the teachers get together weekly to pray. Earlier this week, we gathered and praised God by singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” before a time of group prayer. We focused on God’s constant presence and work in and for us. Along with the overarching message of the song, a theme of biblical integration struck me. Look at the words of verse two:

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Here we can see a word-picture that illustrates general revelation. We can see some of God’s characteristics by seeing his world. Seasons and stars testify to what He is like. However, verse three takes us to a different aspect of his faithfulness.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

In this section, we see God’s special revelation. Not only is God great and creative (as we see in nature), He is also active in rescuing us. He made Himself known to us by becoming one of us. His Spirit is with his people uniquely. We have hope because He has given it to us. And we see it illustrated clearly in the Bible. 

The message is “manifold” in the world (general), but made clear in the Word (special).

In your classroom, I encourage you to work hard to bring general and special revelation together as often as possible. Be a living picture of the structure of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Use the general revelation in the world to show your students that God is great, powerful, and wise. Use the special revelation to show that He is also good, kind, and just. Biblical integration is, in large part, showing these two types of revelation together in your class.

For more about bringing together general and special revelation, check out Every Bush is Burning.

The Power is in the Person

The Bible is valuable because it is the Word of God. It is his breathed-out words for our good (2 Tim 3:16-17). What makes the Bible powerful is the powerful Person who spoke it out. We love to read the words of the Bible, not because they are wonderful words on their own, but because they are God’s words. The same is true for prayer. Prayer is not magic. There is no intrinsic power in praying. We know this because, when people pray to false gods or idols, their prayers are not answered. Prayer is wonderful because there is a real God who hears and responds.

In The Efficacy of Prayer, a short essay by CS Lewis, there is a great point about this. He says that the question, “Does prayer work?” is the wrong question. Why? Because prayer doesn’t (in and of itself) work. God works when He chooses to answer prayer. The power is not in the prayer, but in the Person.

So what does this all have to do with Christian education or biblical integration? Well, it is a good practice to pray in class. And when we do pray, or call students to pray, we must point them to the truth—prayer is not important in and of itself… God is. We don’t pray to pray. We pray to speak with God. We aren’t engaged in a ritual of speaking our wishes or hopes into the air. We must teach our students that prayer is important and powerful because God is. Here are a few good questions to start your thinking:

  • What is our posture when we approach the living God?
  • What is our language when we speak with the King of all?
  • What expresses our belief that God hears and cares about what we say?
  • What about our prayers reinforces the truth that God is with us?
  • What about our prayer shows our confidence in Jesus as our mediator?

Satan would likely love it if we help raise a generation of people who pray often, but don’t pray rightly. He would love it if they learned to love prayer, but never learned to love God. He would love it if they declare the value of prayer, but live lives that deny the value of God. Let’s not get things backwards.

In your class, keep this in mind: People who believe in a living God will pray and know the power of prayer, but those who practice prayer may not really know God at all. Teach them the power of God and then they will grasp the value of prayer.