In my nearly twenty-five years of youth ministry, I have discovered that the easiest way to get a group of young people to stop talking is to ask them to pray.
Even the most confident young people seem to clam up when we start to pray together. It is not just young people, if we are honest. In life groups and other situations, adults seem to find the transition from sharing life together to talking about that life with God at best a little awkward.
We have been talking about spiritual disciplines, gifts, and fruits over the past few months with the group of young people I work with as a youth pastor. Their thoughts on prayer were particularly interesting and relevant.
We talked about why they find prayer difficult, and their responses were varied. Some of them said that it feels awkward talking out loud to someone you can’t see. Others felt that they did not know what to say. A couple said they didn’t feel like God heard them.
As we were talking through the session, I started to ask the young people questions about what concerns they have and what they struggle with. These were their concerns:
- The environment
- School and exam pressure
- Peer pressure particularly around sex and relationships
- Mental health and anxiety
We talked for a few minutes about each of these issues and then I encouraged the young people to think about one thing they would want to change about these issues.
I asked them to write two or three sentences that expressed the feelings that they had most strongly toward these issues. As a group we shared our sentences with each other. One of the teenagers at this point commented, ‘Is this what you do when you pray?’
YES! That is one way in which I pray particularly if there are things on my mind, things that I want God to change in me or in the world.
It changed the dynamic of the group as we directed our thoughts and feelings about issues towards our good Father who knows what to do in every situation.
As we are praying for young people it would be good to remember the challenges that they face and the issues that they are concerned about. Here are some challenging statistics around the young people’s areas of concern that you could pray about:
- 15% of GCSE students may fall into the category of being ‘highly test anxious’
- 30% of children and young people talked to Childline about their mental or emotional health in 2018/19 in the UK
- According to 82% of teachers, tests and exams have the biggest impact on pupils’ mental health
- 73% of teachers believe student mental health has worsened since the introduction of the reformed GCSEs
- One in six people are aged 10-19 years
- Mental health conditions account for 16% of the global burden of disease and injury in people aged 10-19 years
- Half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age but most cases are undetected and untreated
- Globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents
- Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in 15-19-year-olds.
There is a lot in these statistics that is potentially alarming and unknown to you. However, I think that starting with prayer for young people in these situations is the first step toward change and lasting improvement in these scenarios.
Serena McCarthy - Energize Editor
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