Today (Thursday, May 3, 2012) is the 61st annual National Day of Prayer. But what have we told & shown our students about prayer?
When you are being asked to take on a big responsibility, do you say that you first need to pray about it? And honestly, if it's truly a major decision, isn't it too big for you to decide on your own? If you say "I'm praying for you" make sure that you actually follow through and do so. If you are lifting people up in prayer, are you asking for specific action or are you asking for God's wisdom or comfort in the situation? All of this might sound like it's all about you when this blog is supposed to be about ministry to youth. Yet, before we can guide our youth, don't we need to live and breathe this in our own lives?
When I was in college, the director of the Wesley Foundation on the campus of what's now Missouri State University responded to a student worried about finals in this way: "If you study, I'll pray for you to do your best." Treva's words were more than a quick response. She was reminding her students (and the lesson sticks with me 20 years later) that we shouldn't just pray for God to do everything for us in spite of our actions. God wants us to play a role in our lives.
I've heard stories that surgeons often say that they can tell when prayer chains are in process for it can truly make an impact. I know personal examples of people making miraculous recoveries. Even as we can point to medical breakthrough's for saving lives we remember that prayer still has a role as it can help to calm the nerves of those involved and guide everyone involved to make the best decisions possible.
At the same time, when we talk about the miracles related to prayer should be mindful of people dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy so that this does not come over as a judgement of those who have not had those experiences. What if those dealing with tragedy had lifted up prayers and still lost loved ones or faced other disappointments in life? We ask "Why?" but it's really more about how we deal with what happens in life and help us to get through that loss. I have friends that participate in charity walks in memory of a lost loved one or do other things to make a difference in their memory and honor.
Several years ago, our neighbors lost their teenage daughter in a car accident. In searching for words to say, I was cautioned by a Pastor that one thing to NOT say was "I know how you feel" unless you've had that experience for nobody can truly understand what that loss feels like. Later, a close family friend (whom I thought of as a son) was killed in a motorcycle accident and those words came back to me. One thing that helped me was that I was surrounded by others that offered prayerful support (in fact, I was actually at a youTheology event, the Youth Workers Gathering, when I received the news) and that helped me to offer support to the family & friends he left behind. The neighbors who lost their daughter launched a campaign to encourage high school students to wear seat belts and later heard from a mom whose child was in a car accident and would have been killed if she weren't wearing a seat belt. While this didn't bring back my former neighbor's daughter, it helped save another parent from the same grief she'd experienced.
The next time you hear a siren, don't complain about it slowing down traffic; instead, pause for a moment and say a quick prayer for the emergency workers involved (whether Police, Fire or Ambulance) and those involved with where they're heading. Chances are you don't know those involved but it might be someone clinging to life or the people left behind; it could be someone involved in a crime and they need prayers to put their life on the right path. The emergency workers themselves could be putting their lives in danger and we should pray for them as well.
Pray for our military, pray for the peacemakers, pray for the politicians, pray for those in our education system, pray for our neighbors and pray for those on the other side of the world. When someone makes you angry, pray for the ability to understand them. It's also OK to pray for people and causes close to your heart. So, I ask for prayers for the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I ask for prayers for youTheology and all of the students and adults involved in our various ministries. I ask for prayers for Saint Paul School of Theology. Personally, I ask for prayers for my church, especially my Youth Group as they lead the service this weekend. Please pray for my family: my wife, kids and grandchildren as well as all of my other relatives.
Finally, I ask for prayers for all of God's children.
by Mark Whitaker
Chair, youTheology Advisory Board
Youth & Young Adult Director @ Avondale United Methodist Church in KC North
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future