Sunday, June 08, 2008

    10 Simple Prayer Ideas for Teens

    While putting together a pocket-size journal for our youth to use at camp this coming week, I decided to include a variety of ideas for prayer that might be useful to them during their "morning watch" meditations. Sometimes teens have trouble knowing how to pray, particularly if they are alone, so these suggestions are designed to be simple yet meaningful:

    The Examen: This is a cool ancient form of prayer that asks you to think back over the last week or month. Let you mind wander through the following questions as you pray: Thinking back over the recent past, focus on the moments when you were most grateful and the moments when you were least grateful. What were they? Which moments did you give and receive God's love the most? When did you give and receive love the least?When you were paying the most attention to the love of God in the world? When were you paying the least attention? Finish by thanking God for the gift of today and ask for guidance in being more open to God’s presence in your daily life.

    Pray Scripture. Pick up a Bible and start reading. Select a verse such as "Truly, I say to you,as you did it to one of the least of these,my brethren,you did it to me" and turn it into a prayer: "God help me to to reach out to the least of these in my world and to treat them as your beloved children." Or select a psalm as an inspiration for prayer. Try taking the Lord's prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and write your own translation in a way that reflects your life and needs.

    Be quiet.
    If prayer is a conversation, then you also need to listen in silence. Simply sit in silence, perhaps close your eyes, and see what comes to you.

    Meditate on an object. Pick up some natural object nearby (a rock, a leaf, a stick, a flower) and just focus on it for awhile. Admire all its details, its quality, its texture. Consider what a gift this piece of nature is and give thanks.

    Give Thanks: Using paper or a journal, make a word cloud or list of all the things in your life or in the world for which you are thankful. If you are feeling artistic, doodle images of all the things you are thankful for today.

    Repeat a word or phrase: Chanting or repeating a mantra over and over can focus your thoughts and free you mind to be open to new things. Pick a word to say slowly and repeatedly to yourself quietly (or in your thoughts) such as love, peace, life, or perhaps the name of someone or something important to you. You could also choose a phrase such as “Jesus, be with me” or “God so loves the world” or “Open my mind, open my heart,”

    Ask Questions. What are the big questions of life you’d like answers to today? You know--the ones like “Why is there suffering in the world?” Spend some time just asking those questions, one after another, offering them to God and see what happens.

    Imagine. Close your eyes for awhile and imagine the world as God would have it be – not as it is. What do you see? How is that world different from the one we live in today? Now imagine yourself as part of that vision, helping to make it come true. What are you doing? How is God calling you to be part of bringing that vision to reality in your own little corner of the world?

    Walk the Labyrinth. Find a copy of a finger labyrinth. Sit in a quiet place and take time to slowly trace your finger along the path of the labyrinth, all the way to the center and the slowly back out. Even better, use a finger of your non-dominant hand. As you move along the path, spend time thinking about your journey of faith, the journey of your life, all the people you have met, the things you have done, the problems you have overcome, the challenges you still face, and focus on where you have encountered God along the way.

    Feel the Earth. Take off your shoes and sit in the grass. Let you feet and hands feel the cool grass and the earth beneath you. Open your awareness to the natural world around you and see yourself as part of it. Listen for sounds of insects and animals. Sense the movement of the wind. Enjoy the warmth of the sun. Give thanks for your place in God's creation.


    Randy said...

    so, Brian, how about sharing the journal (I mean, hey, why re-invent formatting for a pocket-journal when I can get it from you . . .)

    Brance said...


    I still read your blog, even though it is obvious we have differing theologies. But when I read this post I was taken aback.

    "The Examen" I kind of shook my head thinking "That's not how I would instruct my students to pray."

    "Pray Scripture" I was right there with you. I do this all the time, and I think there is a clear Biblical precedent for this when we see the Biblical authors quoting other Scripture in their own prayers.

    "Meditate on an object" started me wondering where you were going. I agree that we should observe and appreciate Jesus' creation, but meditating on an object doesn't seem like prayer to me.

    "Give Thanks" is a good thing. I can even go along with being creative about by doodling, but don't overlook simply telling God "Thank You" for what He has done. Don't make it into a game. I'm not sure youth will connect with God by doodling.

    "Repeat a word or phrase" as a mantra is not a biblical way to pray. It is a pagan form of meditation taken from eastern religions and philosophy. Opening our mind and heart is not the goal of prayer. Our goal should be to fill our mind and heart with Scripture and then pray to God out of that fullness.

    "Ask Questions" is something we should do, but just asking them and waiting to "see what happens" is not going to get us answers. To find answers we need to study Scripture, that's where God put the answers.

    "Imagine" We don't have to imagine the world "as God would have it be" because he's described it to us in Scripture and He's told us what our role is in His plan.

    "Walk the Labyrinth" is the one that really got me. Prayer Labyrinths are not biblical in any way. They come directly from pagan rituals and mysticism and should have nothing to do with a Christian's prayer life. The page you linked to isn't even Christian, it's all about finding "inner peace" instead of the peace that comes from Christ Jesus. I was saddened and outraged, to be honest, that you are calling yourself a youth pastor, even writing material for use by other youth pastors, and promoting this kind of non-biblical nonsense.

    Where is Jesus in all this? How about suggesting some Scripture the youth could meditate on about the supremacy of Christ, the glory of Christ, the magnificence of Christ? How about teaching them the lessons of prayer that Jesus taught in the Lord's Prayer?

    I don't see any of that happening here. What I see is thinly veiled eastern mysticism invading "Christian" teaching.

    Will you be proud of teaching a prayer labyrinth when you stand before the judgement seat of Christ for your works to be judged? When He asks why you taught the labyrinth, when he gave a perfect example and lesson on prayer and you didn't teach it, what will you answer?

    St. Brianstine said...

    Amen Brance...

    Meditate on a stick? Repeat a mantra? These are steeped in new age and pagan religions. Where is Jesus? Where's the biblical precedent in this?

    Brian said...

    Hi Brance. Thanks for your comments, which were unexpected but enlightening. I think the challenge here is that in the churches I serve and the strain of Christianity that I inhabit with other of my "ilk" there is really very little focus on praying to Jesus or "Christ." We follow Christ's example of the Lord's prayer and direct our prayers to meditating on God, connecting with God, speaking with God, listening to God, and trying to envision a world where God's kingdom comes and God's will is done. There are many avenues to making this connection with God. Paul writes that we should "pray without ceasing." In my understanding, this means that everything we do, if done in awareness, love of, and connection with God, is prayer -- including meditating on creation, repeating a mantra (a standard prayer practice in celtic Christianity) and imaging the world God would have us be a part of. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and showing that there is indeed great diversity within Christian thought. I hope the ultimate question on this issue would be: do these practices move one into deeper relationship with and understanding of God in one's life. I speak for myself and others when I profess that the answer can be "Yes!"

    Brian said...

    Hey Randy,
    I'll work on getting a link to the journal document.

    St. Brianstine said...

    Well just b/c the Celtics did it, doesn't make it biblical...

    MommyRev said...

    Look forward to seeing the journal link!

    steve said...

    thanks for the ideas, hey brance and st,brianstine why dont you stop picking holes in peoples theology and creativity and go and lead some people to chrisr, its a better use of your time!


    Jenn said...


    I am very glad that you put up these different ways of exploring our options for prayer.

    You're creativity is definitely based on biblical and holistic ways. Not entering into pagan ways.

    You're ways of mediation, repeating a word and walk the labyrinth are all very christian and different ways of christian prayer.

    Contemplative prayer is an essential part of Christian and Catholic ways of prayer. Its actually in the Cathecism of the Catholic Church (Part 4, Section 1 Chapter 3). There are three essential parts in a prayer life: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplation.

    The use of a prayer word is fabulous - its is reflecting on simple words and prayers in our daily lives. To stand in contemplation and mediation and using simple prayers words like "God is love" or "Jesus" allows yourself to focus and center yourself to be able to listen to God.

    I understand that it is important to focus and scripture since it is God's word, but to relate prayer to scripture only is hindering youth to be able to fully understand and appreciate prayer. Prayer comes in many different forms through song, scripture, words, thoughts, and breathing.

    I guess you can say that is why there is a difference now between Catholicism and other christian denomination.

    Brian said...

    Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. I suppose some of this comes down to whether one says "If it's not in Scripture, you can't do it" and those who say "If it's not prohibitted in Scripture, it okay to consider it."

    Anonymous said...

    Wow. Some people really seem out to get you for expanding our horizons on what prayer is all about.
    And somewhat judgmental, if you ask me.
    Doesn't Jesus say something like "He who is without sin, cast the first stone"? As in judge not, lest ye be judged? Interesting...

    dusty said...

    Riddle me this: How is it that David prayed in the Old Testament? Did he have a Bible in hand to make sure that every prayer he prayed was "biblical"? No, he did not. David wrote the book on prayer; the Psalms. The Psalms are a life of prayer that David offered up to the Lord through song, meditation, and intercession. Read the beginning of Psalm 109. David is speaking of a bad time when those closest to him are meaning him harm. When translated literally it says, "For my love they are my adversaries: but I prayer." Explain that one! David didn't say, "But I grab my Bible and make sure I pray biblically!" No, he says, "I AM prayer. My life poured out unto God is a fragrant offering. Everything I do is prayer...intercession to God."

    Just food for thought. Thanks for the article Brian. I really enjoyed it.


    Brian said...

    Thanks for reflection on David. Very helpful and something I had not thought about before.

    hollamonium said...


    "The Examen" I kind of shook my head thinking "That's not how I would instruct my students to pray."

    Why wouldn't you instruct your students to pray this way? It is a great form of prayer.

    There is nothing wrong with looking at your day through the eyes of Christ and determining where you most and least felt his presence.

    There is also nothing wrong with reconciling yourself with God and giving thanks for the blessings he bestows on us.

    There is nothing wrong with recommitting yourself to Christ everyday.

    I must admit I read your comment and began to shake my head. Why wouldn't you want you people to pray this way? You are giving them the ultimate connection with Christ. Asking them to see their lives as he sees it.

    I am unsure of your motivation in the comment, but it leads me to a few thoughts. Either you don't like it because it is too Catholic or you don't like it because it isn't your cup of tea.

    If it doesn't work for you that is fine, but you shouldn't discourage others from doing it, it may work for them. It isn't for us to decide how God will choose to work within the young church. We are to be a vessel for his work. I hope you reconsider a very old but effective way of prayer.

    revkjarla said...

    I love this and am going to use it not only with youth, but my adults!!!

    Daniel Sihombing said...


    Your blog is very very inspirative.. Thank you very much.

    From Indonesia,

    Daniel Sihombing

    Brian said...

    Daniel, thanks for the kind comment. Glad you find the blog useful.

    Hannah said...

    I thought this was extremely creative and helpful. I appreciate the variety of ways to connect with God. I have learned that sometimes youth need something different, and if we don't do something different every once in a while, we may not be helping the youth who don't connect the same way we do. The more tools we give them to pray and meditate on faith, the more likely they are to build stronger faiths of their own.
    I'm at a DOC church in Illinois, and we are always searching for different approaches to things.

    Thanks again. Wonderful

    Brian Kirk said...

    Thanks, Hannah. Always good to hear from a fellow DOC'er involved in youth ministry.

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks for the ideas, I agree that the prayer labyrinth is a bit out there but the point is thinking about your journey of faith which, in itself, is a good idea.
    As for the nature ideas, critics, look at the book of Psalms. David was an avid observer and thanker of things God created in nature.
    As with everything, weigh these ideas against the Bible and use or discard them based on whether or not they agree with the Word of God... its not necessary to tear down the writers/sharers of the ideas, in fact, it's not very Christian to do that at all...just sayin'.

    Peter S. Sebastian said...

    your blog is very useful, helpful, and inspirative for our especially for me as a youth minister.

    thank you very much.

    From indonesia,
    Peter S. Sebastian

    Loren said...

    I would also want to add to the list "The Prayer Walk," where you pray concerning what you see or what's already on your mind while you take a walk. I've always had trouble sitting still!


    Brian Kirk said...

    Thanks, Loren. That's a great idea and perfect for those who like to pray with their whole body.

    Andre said...

    Rom 3:4 tells us to let every man be a liar but let God be true. And we know from John 1:1 that God IS His word. That being said, I simply cannot understand teaching ways of prayer to a Christian group of teenagers that are not mentioned in His word. Some of this post I def agree w/ but there are a few of the suggestions that really disturb me.

    The point is to pray as Jesus did. To follow the example we're shown in His word. We aren't supposed to make up our own ways of thought or seeking inward peace to replace the Biblical roadmap to prayer that God gave us.

    And since when is praying to God and Jesus different? Did Jesus not say that He IS the father? Are there not MANY scriptures verifying that God is ONE God?? Praying to Jesus IS praying to God and there isn't anything in the word that says otherwise.

    The issue here is, as youth ministers, it's our job to teach the WORD of God pure and simple! Study and teach what God says about something not about what Oprah, the Catholic church or God forbid celtics taught! And there is no such thing as a Celtic some research on that!

    Brian Kirk said...

    Your post perhaps points out the diversity of Christianity. Although you see things as being just one way, clearly many other Christians understand things differently. From your point of view this is perhaps a problem. From my point of view, I think our diversity is something to be celebrated.

    Joy said...

    I wonder, if the traditional altar and altar call were invented today, if we would think of them as "non-Biblical," since Jesus never used them. A lot of these ideas seem to be based on the same formula as the altar call: a physical object used to symbolize a truth coupled with a physical action used to symbolize obedience to or acceptance of that truth.

    GJTesar said...

    There is a ton of diversity in the church and I think offering these different ways to pray before God is a great way to show the youth that being a "Christian" isn't going to look the exact same for everyone. Running a youth program overseas has really opened my eyes to that. God desires for us just to spend time with him, to be honest, and share the deepest parts of our heart with him. There isn't just one way to that, and I hope and pray that anyone who uses these, that their students will be enlightened to the diversity within God and able to feel more connected with the Holy Spirit, and able to continue to explore the deepness in the relationship they can have with the one who gave it all.

    GJTesar said...

    There is a ton of diversity in the church and I think offering these different ways to pray before God is a great way to show the youth that being a "Christian" isn't going to look the exact same for everyone. Running a youth program overseas has really opened my eyes to that. God desires for us just to spend time with him, to be honest, and share the deepest parts of our heart with him. There isn't just one way to that, and I hope and pray that anyone who uses these, that their students will be enlightened to the diversity within God and able to feel more connected with the Holy Spirit, and able to continue to explore the deepness in the relationship they can have with the one who gave it all.

    Anonymous said...

    Which is of greater concern for you? That every believer read, study, learn and use the restrictive prayer types Brance referenced... or that even new believers.. yea, non-believers, know they can reach out to God and initiate the conversation so badly needed in their lives?

    I find the former mindset to be directly responsible for the loss of connection between God and a multitude of unloved youth and outcast adults.

    Barbs said...

    Brian, I stumbled across your blog and just love it. God would be proud of your kind answers to harsh criticism. I have been Brance-like too in the past and am so glad to say that God has taught me how big He is and am beginning to just love Benedictine Spirituality and Celtic spirituality etc. Your blog is wonderful and I shall be using some ideas on Friday night with my group. Bless you xxxxx

    Barbs said...

    I love your blog, your prayer ideas get non church people in touch with our huge God who loves everyone of us. Love it, love it and it gives me enormous peace to read the positive comments. Thanks Brian.

    I will be using your ideas with my group this Friday

    Barbs from France

    Brian Kirk said...

    Thanks Barb. Glad to be of help.

    Cool2bCatholic said...

    Brance - (Previous Commenter)

    "The Examen" why would you not instruct your students to examine their behaviors and reflect if they would be pleasing to God, and then to truly pray to God for his forgiveness and guidance. Adolescents NEED reflection. Although they do know the difference between right and wrong, THEY STRUGGLE with free will. Self reflection is a way for their age group to develop a more defined relationship through self discipline and self impressed behavior modification. I would recommend some reading on adolescent development so that you can see how, as youth ministers, have to not only know the theology of our faith, but some basic principles of psychology and development so we can be more effective teachers.

    Perhaps you could share some of your prayer thoughts to add to this book if you have anything that you feel would help youth come closer to God and practicing their faith on their own on a daily basis...

    Wishing you all the blessings and guidance of our Lord - KB

    Joanna Capps said...

    Brian, thank you for this post. I love that you have incorporated many of the spiritual disciplines!
    It would be wonderful if others knew Church History and understood that many of these practices were used by the early church and by MANY of the saints. In fact, the examen was created by Saint Ignatius of Loyola!! It frustrates me to no end when we put God in a tiny box. Oh well, keep writing. I LOVE your blog!