Try this exercise: get a piece of yarn or string 168 inches (14 feet) long. Stretch it out, placing a piece of tape about 3 inches wide near the middle. The rope represents one week with an inch for every hour; the tape stands for the amount of time a local church has with a typical student.
Such a physical representation of the miniscule amount of time your church has to shape a student can be intimidating. But wait — the tape only represents the time you have them at a church building. You have another powerful way to influence students.
You can pray.
Your weekly efforts with students matter, but you will do nothing more vital for the students God has given you than to pray for them.
The prayers of Paul in Scripture reflect a staggering devotion to those he influenced. Read them this week: Romans 1:8-10; 10:1; 12:12; 15:5-6; 15:13; 15:30-33; I Corinthians 1:4-9; 16:23; II Corinthians 1:3-7; 2:14-16; 9:12-15; 12:7-9a; 13:7-9; Galatians 6:18; Ephesians 1:3ff; 1:15-23; 3:14-21; 6:19-20; Philippians 1:3-6; 1:9-11; 4:6-7; 4:23; Colossians 1:3-14; 4:2-4; I Thessalonians 1:2-3; 2:13-16; 3:9-13; 5:23-24; 5:28; II Thessalonians 1:3ff; 1:11-12; 2:16-17; 3:2-5; 3:16; I Timothy 1:12; 2:1ff; II Timothy 1:3-7; 1:16-18; 4:22; Titus 3:15b; Philemon 4-7; 25.
Maybe you had no idea Paul prayed that much. Okay, you are not the apostle Paul. Good news: God cares as much about your prayers as those of Paul! Whether you are a new believer or Billy Graham you have the same access to God.
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But what do you pray? Start by reading Paul’s prayers and copying him. You can also pray for your students:
Daily — Keep a list of your students as you spend time with God in prayer each day. Your own ministry to students will grow as you pray for them daily.
By name — It is more vital to talk to God about your students than to talk to your students about God.
Specifically — Ask them their requests. Help to focus their prayers more on eternal, Gospel-focused requests and less on Americanized, consumer requests. We pray “God bless me” more than “God use me for Your purposes.” Keep a notebook of requests and answers; occasionally review God’s faithfulness with your students.
Openly — Let your students know you are praying for them. Celebrate answered prayers.
Boldly — Pray in faith, asking God to move. He is GOD, remember, and He still answers prayer!
Communally — Pray with students whenever possible. Let them see how vital prayer is by how much you spend time as a group praying.
Expectantly — A leader means a person who sees potential in those he leads that they do not see in themselves. Pray for who they could become.
An old saint said this to me years ago: “The only place you find ‘power’ before ‘prayer’ is in the dictionary. I have found his words to be true, and I’m sure you will as well.
Alvin L. Reid, PhD is Professor of Evangelism & Student Ministry/Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Young Professionals Director at Richland Creek Community Church.