by Dr. Becky Luman
My Sunday School class of nine and ten year-olds is in the midst of a five week unit on prayer. We have dissected, discussed, and prayed the Lord’s Prayer, talked about praying honestly using the experiences of Job and explored making urgent requests in prayer by discussing the encounter of the Canaanite woman with Jesus. (No – Jesus was NOT “trash talking” in his reference to “dogs” in that conversation. That’s a timely topic with 5th graders.)
Last Sunday was a summary time to gather what we have learned about talking with our awesome God. Listen in on our conversation as Ember, Kitty, Destiny, Hayleigh, Andrew, Camden and I explore some of the mysterious adventure of speaking to God Almighty.
We can pray ANY TIME. Suggestions included when we get up, when we go to bed, when we are grateful, when we have a test and can’t remember the answer, when we are tempted to join friends in doing the wrong thing. How amazing that God wants to listen to us ANY TIME and that being infinite, He can hear each of us personally even if everyone else in the world is also talking with Him.
We can pray ANYWHERE. Not much discussion on this self-evident topic. These pre-teens didn’t have questions about talking to God outside church in ordinary daily situations. I’m glad that they consider God an approachable Friend wherever they are.
We can pray about ANYTHING. God is interested in whatever interests us. Several kids wanted to pray about being able to get up and be alert to eat breakfast before riding the school bus. One mother was in the hospital with an illness that defied diagnosis. We prayed together about these requests.
We can pray in ANY MOOD. Kids filled in the blanks for a rhyming sequence of human emotions: Sad, Mad, Bad, Glad. God wants to hear our voices in whatever mood we may be in at the moment. We don’t have to wait until we are calm to speak with God. We talked about appropriate prayers for occasions of unhappiness, anger with others, when we have sinned, when we are joyful.
I left the classroom excited myself about what a marvelous privilege is prayer. How incredible that our Creator God who sustains the Universe and guides the destiny of nations desires to hear our voice and to engage us in personal conversation! Why was I so jaded and accustomed to prayer when, indeed, it is an almost unbelievable opportunity and adventure?
DIFFICULTY IN PRAYER. Possibly the answer to that question is that adults who have walked for years in the spiritual life, have had a significant number of ambivalent and painful experiences in prayer. Sometimes there is more “mystery” than “adventure” in our prayer life. What about times of united fasting and prayer for healings that did not take place-at least in any discernable way? What about prayers for guidance that did not yield specific instructions? What about persistent “thorns in the flesh” that do not seem to be remedied? What about troubled relationships that are unresolved in spite of years of prayer?
A CHALLENGING AND BENEFICIAL EXPLORATION OF PRAYER. A person who asks and explores questions like these is Philip Yancey in his book Prayer: Does It Make any Difference? (Zondervan, 2006). The book is divided into these five sections: Keeping Company with God, Unraveling the Mysteries, The Language of Prayer, Prayer Dilemmas, and The Practice of Prayer. Some intriguing chapters within these sections include View from Above, Wrestling Match, Does Prayer Change God?, Tongue-Tied, and Unanswered Prayer: Living with the Mystery.
As in all of his books, Yancey asks honest questions and investigates a variety of possible answers. Every Yancey book has a rich plentitude of quotations and experiences from ordinary and extraordinary people, both ancient and contemporary that bear upon the topic. His biblical depth, rich content, combined with an honest personal tone, inspire me each time I read one of my library of Yancey books. (Yes, he is one of my favorites.)
Pastors will find preaching material here. Small groups would profit from reading and discussing the ideas. This book can be read a chapter at a time for personal devotions. I would recommend this book for seekers as well as spiritual veterans.
Prayer is a delightful topic to introduce to 5th graders and also a challenging, life-long quest for intimacy with God. We can never exhaust the depths and challenges of this simple, yet mysterious dialogue with the Divine.