Sometimes when we pray we quickly run out of words to say. We find it difficult to express how we really feel. Or our thoughts drift to other things. Prayer can be hard work.
Fortunately, the Bible provides a wealth of material to guide our prayers, help us express our feelings and enrich our personal prayer life. Using the Bible can also provide a focus and a framework to help young people and small groups pray more effectively, when their own words are difficult to find.
PRAYING THE PSALMS
The Book of Psalms is really a book of prayers. From praise and giving thanks, to asking forgiveness, overcoming temptation, dealing with discouragement, facing fear, finding guidance, seeking wisdom or gaining courage. No matter how we feel, in the Psalms we find words to express every human condition and they teach about how God wants us to communicate with him. It’s reassuring to know that the psalmists had the same feelings we do, and weren’t afraid of expressing them to God!
SHARE A PSALM
When words are difficult to find or the pressures of events distract my thoughts I find it helpful to share a Psalm, making the words of the psalmist my own prayer or request and applying them to my own situation. Here are a few examples of where I look for help in the Psalms when I feel,
- Afraid 3, 91
- Alone 27
- Envious 73
- Like giving up 34, 43
- Sad 13
- Weak 40, 121, 142
- Worried 37
- Tempted 141
- Unimportant 139
- Like praising God 96, 100, 145
Encourage the young people in your group to explore the Psalms and discover passages which can enrich their own prayers. Make a psalm list for distribution to the group. Or, as a group activity, make some simple and colourful bookmarks. Encourage each person to add 3 or 4 Psalm references which they might like to use in the coming weeks. For example, when I need,
- Comfort 23
- Forgiveness 32, 51, 103
- Guidance 19, 25
- Hope 13, 27
- Peace 3
- Courage 11, 42
- Confidence 46
- Protection 91, 121
- Rest 23
- Wisdom 16, 111
Within your youth nights or small groups there are simple and effective ways to use a Psalm as a framework for guided prayer. Here are two examples,
Read Psalm 100 out loud and together. After reading the Psalm ask the young people to pray one sentence prayers of thanks to Jesus. Encourage them to express their gratitude to God for his love, grace and mercy. Close the prayer activity by reading a linking piece from another Psalm of praise i.e. Psalm 95: 1-7
TALK IT THROUGH
A Psalm can be helpful to provide a common direction, for example, Psalm 23. Read a small section and use the words as a springboard for individual prayers within a small group.
‘The Lord is my shepherd…’ Thank you that you look after us and protect us
‘I shall not want…’ Thank you that you provide for all we need....
USING THE PRAYERS OF OTHERS IN THE BIBLE
Beyond the Psalms the Bible has many other great prayers we can appropriate for our own circumstances. Sometimes these prayers are specific to a particular character in an immediate situation, but other prayers can be used by anyone to express particular feelings.
When your young people struggle to find their own words, encourage them to use someone else’s words to pray and praise.
Many prayers, such as the Magnificat, the Canticle of Simeon or the Lord’s Prayer, have become part of the churches liturgy. Yet they also help us to voice and express our own joys, desires and struggles.
Mary's Magnificat can become our own song of praise, hope and trust. There are times in our own lives when like Mary we recognise, ‘the Mighty One has done great things for me’ (Luke 1: 49).
If we truly pray the Lord's Prayer, taking each phrase and making it our own, then we will find its truth impacting our beliefs and lifestyle in new ways. Here are a few more examples from the richness of scripture,
- Psalm 51 (David seeks forgiveness and restoration)
- Jonah 2 (Jonahs prayer)
- Matthew 6: 9-13 (The Lord’s Prayer)
- Luke 1: 46-55 (Mary’s prayer)
- Luke 1: 68-79 (Zechariah’s prayer)
- John 17: 9-21 (Jesus prays for the disciples and the church)
- Ephesians 1: 3-14 (Paul gives thanks for spiritual riches in Christ)
The New Testament also includes some beautiful expressions of praise to God's name and character. They are sometimes known as ‘doxologies’, songs and affirmations to be included in the churches worship. People knew them well and it was a way of remembering the greatness and character of God. We can also use them in prayer to praise God for who he is and lift our hearts in prayer and worship. For example,
- Ephesians 1: 19-23
- Philippians 2: 9-11
- Colossians 1: 13-20
- I Timothy 1: 17
- I Timothy 6: 15-16
- Hebrews 1: 3
- Revelation 1: 8, 1: 13-18
When words fail us in our personal prayers, or the study group is lost for words, or your young people need help in expressing their thoughts to God, remember the Bible is a deep mine of expression, reflection and spiritual truth to enrich our communication with the living God.
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