In the workforce portion of the Nashville Fellows program I have the incredible opportunity of working at one of our partner churches and serving the youth there. With this role comes the responsibility of teaching the seventh grade Sunday school class. The chance to teach these young boys and girls about the Bible is an absolute honor, and it has brought me so much joy to spend this time with them each Sunday morning. But the curious thing about it is that I continually learn more in teaching them than I expect they do in listening to each lesson.
Having grown up in church, there are many topics that I would consider “elementary” simply because I have heard the words thrown around so much that I think I actually know something about them. As if absent-mindedly sitting in the pews on a weekly basis would somehow make me an expert in this faith I claim to live by. But in teaching these students, I am given “elementary” topics such as forgiveness, repentance, the gospel, or prayer to teach on. When I first look at these subjects I find myself scoffing at how simple I deem them, but then I begin the arduous process of actually creating a lesson to be presented in front of a classroom full of seventh graders who I truly think the world of. I do a little research by looking up relevant verses, reading biblical commentaries, listening to sermons, or reading essays and it is at this point that I usually realize just how far into the deep end I have wandered. These topics that I saw as beneath me suddenly overwhelm me with how rich they are, and prayer is the one that has really convicted me lately.
Prayer is such a fascinating thing to me because it is something that we Christians all talk so freely about, but seem to rarely do! We say a quick blessing before a meal or we lie through our teeth and tell someone “I’ll be praying for this or that thing in your life” but I can probably count on my fingers the number of times that I have really sat down and prayed for any extended period of time. Yet the Bible repeatedly commands us to pray, God calls the Israelites to pray repeatedly throughout the Old Testament (I Chronicles 16:11, Jeremiah 33:3, II Chronicles 7:14), Jesus commands His disciples and followers to pray (Matthew 26:41), and Paul calls us to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). Why then do I pray so little? I must either not really believe that it does anything at all, or perhaps I really just don’t know how.
In doing research for this lesson on prayer I repeatedly found that prayer is not merely about us making our requests known to God (although that is part of it), but rather it is building a relationship with Him, and like any relationship, it takes a great deal of dedication and work. Prayer is hard, and it seldom has immediate results. In Luke 11 one of Jesus’ disciples comes to Him and asks, “Lord, teach us to pray.” This clearly implies that this is something that needs to be both taught and learned. It’s not easy, and if we give up after half-hearted efforts we are never going to experience the deep rewards that come from it. Prayer must also be coupled with Bible reading because if prayer is us talking to God we need to allow Him to speak back to us, and Scripture is the way that He has designed to do this. We engage in a very one-sided conversation when we don’t let Him speak through his word.
Prayer is very difficult, but what truly rewarding thing in life isn’t? Prayer isn’t flashy or boastful, instead it is humbling and challenging because so often no one will ever really know if we do it or not, but it is the true litmus test of a genuine believer. The most impactful Christians that the world has ever known had vibrant and dedicated prayer lives, and it was from this bottomless well that they drew their strength to be a light in a dark world. I don’t claim to be any expert on prayer, and I am a poor example of it in my own life, but in preparing for this lesson I was convicted of my ignorance and have been challenging myself to pray for ten minutes each night. Give it a try and see if it doesn’t deepen your relationship with the Savior who longs for a relationship with you.