Sidewalk Chalk Prayers

29 02 2012

This is one of my favorite creative prayer ideas, which I stole from Steven Case’s book Crash: Prayers from the Collision of Heaven and Earth.  We’ve done this activity twice: once on our high school mission trip last year, and once about a month ago during youth group.  Although the context was different in each situation, it worked really well for us both times and proved to be a great way to get students’ creative juices going! I could see this working really well as a community-building art activity, as well.

1. First, choose your Scripture.  (Case recommends choosing something simple.  We’ve done Ephesians 4:4-6 and Galatians 5:22-23 ).  Before your students arrive, write the verse out in big letters on a parking lot or sidewalk. Use big letters!!

2. Give each student a piece of sidewalk chalk, and spend some time explaining the concept of word associations (i.e. What’s the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the word clock? Time.  Okay, what’s the first word that comes into your mind when you hear the word time? Race.  And so on.)  Tell them that they will be brainstorming word associations from the various words in the Scripture passage by drawing a line from the original word and adding their new word.  They can offshoot from any word in the parking lot, not just the original words of Scripture.  And they don’t have to write Sunday School answers…just the first

word that comes into their mind.

3. Remind them before they begin that this is a form of prayer.  (We made our students do this exercise in silence).  Then see what happens!

4. The debriefing is up to you.  The first time, we talked about the words the students had written; the second time, we had our students walk back over their words in silence.

Click on each of the photos for a better look!

Lord’s Prayer Stations!

27 02 2012

my favorite station: "Forgive us our trespasses..."

Last night, as part of our Lenten series on prayer, we set up a series of small group stations to take an interactive look at the Lord’s Prayer.  I’m including our planning resource as a free download if you ever want to use it!

Download here: Lords Prayer Stations

Here’s what made this work (for us…of course, feel free to adapt with your own group!):

1. We did NOT have the students go to the stations in order. At each station, the youth received a foam puzzle piece, on which they re-wrote that section of the Lord’s prayer (in youth-friendly words!)  After completing all the stations, each small group put their puzzle together to see their final version of the prayer.

2. We gave each group a candle to take with them to each station, as a way of marking that space as sacred.  This simple technique helped keep the youth focused throughout the evening!

3. These stations really engaged all five senses (including smell and taste, which  I find notoriously hard to incorporate into Bible study!)

4. We paired a high school senior up with each of the middle school groups…and it worked great!  Our seniors stepped up to the challenge of leading their groups, and the middle schoolers loved having a “fun adult” at the stations with them.  Afterward, one of the seniors remarked, “My favorite part was at the end, when I had them put their puzzle together and read what they had written.  That’s when I realized: they got it.  It worked.”  

(And when he shared that, I thought the exact same thing!)

Coca-Cola and Prayer: This Year’s FCA Devotional

2 11 2011

Every year, our church hosts a breakfast for the local FCA club.  And, for the second year in a row, I got to give the devotional.  I thought I’d share it here…enjoy!

Have you ever wondered if we have a tendency to treat God like a vending machine?  We come to him with quarters in hand, and we expect something very specific in return.

My drink of choice is either Coke Zero or Mountain Dew, depending on whether it’s a Coke machine or a Pepsi machine.  But sometimes when I go to the vending machine and put in my money, it flashes back the message, “Out of stock.”  And I have to decide whether I’m thirsty enough settle for a Sprite, or if I’m just going to ask for my money back.  Or even worse, I ask for Coke Zero and I get a Grape Fanta instead.  No offense to you Grape Fanta fans, but that’s disappointing!  And by then, I’m usually out of money, and I can’t even try again.

Of course, we do this with God, too.   Only, we’re not generally asking him for Mountain Dew…usually we’re asking for healing, or for guidance, or maybe to make a good grade on a test.  And when God doesn’t deliver exactly how we expect…when our prayers aren’t answered exactly the way we would like…we are disappointed.  We feel like the machine has failed us.

But God’s not a vending machine. He’s our Father in heaven, and he loves us deeply.  He wants us to have the best.  In Matthew chapter 7, Jesus asks, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will you give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how much we limit God by the way we pray.  Like before a meal, when we bless our food, we get into a rut of praying the same way every time, and it becomes routine. So much so that we forget God is actually listening.  Or when someone’s sick, we’re scared to ask God for what we really want, and so we pray for small things, manageable prayers, like that the doctors will do their job well, or that we would be comforted.  And don’t get me wrong, those are great things to pray for, and God does work in those ways.  But sometimes when we pray small, we never have to leave room for God to really work.
But how much more will our Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!  Maybe instead of the Coke we’re asking for, we’ll get a bouquet of flowers, or a 6-foot sub, instead.  Sometimes God’s blessings are immediately apparent, and we know right away that He has surpassed our wildest expectations.  But sometimes, we have to wait, and we think that our prayers have been ignored, or that God doesn’t care.  But if we could see the bigger picture, we would know that God is working in the midst of all circumstances, in the midst of every detail in our lives, and working it into something good, for his glory.

So today I challenge you guys to pray boldly, and to really leave room for God to work however He sees fit.  It’s a scary prayer, because it means we no longer are in control…but then again, we never were to begin with.

Prayer Stations for All Saints Day

6 10 2011

As we approach All Saints’ Day this year (Nov. 6), I wanted to share a creative worship service that we did last fall.  At the time, our youth were reeling from the deaths of several friends.  Two local teenagers had committed suicide, another two had died in car crashes, and one had just lost his battle with leukemia.  We wanted to give our students a space to grieve, remember, and think about death and life from a Biblical point of view.  And we tried to make the service generic enough for anyone to experience, while still allowing students to remember specific losses.

We set up seven prayer stations around our church’s Fellowship Hall, and in the middle of the room, we set up chairs in a circle around a cross.  Students were instructed to visit the prayer stations in order (although in hindsight, order may not have mattered as much as I thought it did), to have no more than two people at each station, and to sit quietly in the middle circle when they were not at a station.  I held my breath and worried about our extra-hyper sixth graders, but even they participated without much extra noise.

I’ve included our prayer stations below and tried to indicate when we borrowed our ideas from elsewhere.  Feel free to use or adapt!

1. Tragedy.

Cover a canvas with a black sheet, and post news stories about recent tragedies all over the board.  Include the following instructions:

“It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the tragedies of life.  As we read the paper and watch the news, we sometimes feel like the world is spinning out of control.  When we experience loss, death, and grief, we feel powerless and wonder if our prayers will ever do enough.

In moments like these, we can remember that God is always in control.  Romans 8:26-28 says this:

The Holy Spirit helps us in our distress.  For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray.  But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.   And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

Take a few minutes to browse the news stories on this board.  Choose one article and read it all the way through.  Look at the pictures.  As you read, pray for each person mentioned in the article.  After you read, spend a few minutes praying for everyone who may have been affected by this tragedy.

When you are finished, move on to the next station.”

2. Remembrance.

Set out handbells and candles on a table, with the following instructions:

One of the traditions of All Saint’s Day is to remember those who have died: our friends, family members, and fellow believers. These are the “saints” who have gone before us to heaven.

Who would you like to remember today?

Think about each one individually.  Ring a bell one time for each person you want to lift up to the Lord today.  Close with this prayer:

Remember, Lord, those who have died and have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, especially those for whom we now pray. May these, and all who sleep in Christ, find in your presence light, happiness, and peace. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. (from the Book of Common Prayer)

3. Honesty.

from  Set out markers, paper, and pictures of individual people in various emotional states, along with the following instructions:

Allow yourself to be real with God.

Look at the pictures on the table.  Which ones describe your deepest feelings at the moment?

Write a letter to God telling him your emotions right now.  You may throw this letter away or keep it as a reminder to be real with God.

4. Burdens.

Inspired by the “Burdens” Prayer stations at and at  Place Sharpies and a basket of rocks on the floor next to a cross. Include the following instructions/meditation:

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.  Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.”
–       Psalm 68:19-20

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
–       Matthew 11:28

Are you willing to let God help you rest in this moment?

First, consider what burdens you are carrying around: those doubts, fears, obligations, grief, worries, and feelings of inadequacy that are weighing down your spirit from experiencing God’s spirit.

God doesn’t want us to carry our burdens. He asks us to lay them down at the foot of the cross.  He wants us to surrender our heavy loads to him. But it takes an act of our own will to give up our burdens.

Choose a stone (or several) that represent those burdens for you.  You may choose to write a word or draw an image on your stone(s).  Then, when you are ready, lay it down on the cross and offer it to God.  Imagine God taking those burdens for you and carrying them for awhile, as you seek rest and peace.

When you are ready, move to the next station.

5. Comfort.

Inspired by  Set up butcher paper on a long table, and scatter paint supplies and Bibles on top.  In the middle of the table, post the text of Isaiah 40 (we only had room for an abridged version).  Set up instructions near the Scripture text:

This passage is taken from the 40th chapter of Isaiah.  If you choose to, you may read this chapter in its entirety using the Bibles provided nearby.

As you read this passage several times, meditate on the different images presented by Isaiah.  Paint the images that are most speaking to your heart right now.

6. Hope of Heaven.

This station includes mirrors of various shapes and sizes, and CD players with headphones. I can’t remember exactly which songs we included on the CD, but they all had something to do with imagining heaven.  “I Can Only Imagine” was on there, as well as “No More Faith” by Andrew Peterson…and a few more.  Include the following instructions:

We do not believe that this world is all that we have.  We know that God is bigger than everything we can imagine. We do not believe that death is the end.  We believe that our home is in heaven, and we are just strangers and pilgrims, passing through this earth. We can’t see exactly how God is working all things together for good, but we have hope that there is something good…something wonderful…happening.

“Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.”

–       1 Corinthians 13:12

Look into one of the mirrors and notice the image that reflects back at you.  What keeps you from seeing perfectly?  What clouds your sight?

How is the world that you live in now different from your heavenly home?

Now, settle into a chair and listen to one of the songs on the CD.  Each song describes our Christian hope of heaven.  As you listen, make the lyrics of the song your own as you imagine what it will be like to finally see God clearly.

When you are finished, move onto the next station.

7. Life.

Inspired by  Fill a planter with dirt.  Set out seeds in a bowl, and a pitcher of water.  Include the following instructions:

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”
–       John 11:25-26

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died, so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
–       1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Annual garden flowers bloom in the spring and summer, before wilting away.  To the untrained eye, these flowers may look dead.  But the next year, the flowers will grow and bloom again.  This is the miracle of life, which gives us hope for resurrection.

Plant a few seeds in the dirt.  Pack the dirt all in around your seeds, and then water them.  As  you do, reflect on what it means to be alive in Christ.  Ask God to show you how you can best grow in him.

When finish, return to your seat in the circle.

Prayer Chairs

We also set out two big comfy chairs, with signs that said, “Need extra prayer? Sit here if you want someone to pray for you.” These ended up being the best part of the evening. We had adults on standby, ready to pray with whoever sat there, but the youth ended up gathering together and lifting each other up in prayer.  All in all, it was a powerful evening of worship and healing for all of us!

Taste and See: The Lord’s Prayer

13 09 2010

As the third lesson in our series on prayer, we focused on one of the most liturgically familiar prayers from Scripture: the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).  This particular prayer has been a part of Christian liturgy and tradition from the very beginning of Christendom; one of the earliest extant Christian documents, the Didache, instructs believers to pray three times a day.  It includes the text of the Lord’s prayer as an example.

Most of my students grew up attending traditional worship services, where this prayer is said every week.  As such, most of them learned the words out of repetition.  In the lesson, I hoped to capitalize on the familiarity of this prayer while also bringing them to a new understanding of the words.

Beforehand, I created giant signs out of construction paper (tied with yarn) that included short phrases from the Lord’s Prayer.  On the back of the signs, I included Scripture references (for use later in the lesson):

Our Father in heaven: Luke 11:11-13, Psalm 103:13

Hallowed be your name: Nehemiah 9:4-6, Isaiah 6:1-4

Your kingdom come: Mark 1:14-15, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 13:18-21

Your will be done: Psalm 139:15-16, Psalm 40:8, Isaiah 55:9-11

On earth as it is in heaven: Philippians 2:5-11, Revelation 5:13-14

Give us today our daily bread: Matthew 6:25, 31-34; Exodus 16:1-4

Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors: Colossians 2:13-15; Matthew 6:14-15, Leviticus 25:39-41

Lead us not into temptation: James 1:12-15; Matthew 4:1-2

Deliver us from the evil one: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, Acts 2:18-21

I hung one signs on each student’s back (so they could not read what they had); then, in total silence, they had to get themselves in order.  Only after they finished did they get to see what sign they had, and read the prayer together.  Then we talked about their own personal experience with this prayer (Is this familiar to you? How did you learn it? What does it mean to you? Do you have any particular memories of this prayer? etc.)

We looked up the original text of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), and then I invited the youth to split off by themselves and silently read and reflect on the Scripture references on the back of their signs (if we had had  a really big group, I would have had them do this in small groups).  Then we came back together, and I had each student share their portion of the Lord’s Prayer, with a paraphrase or explanation based on the Scripture passages that they had just read.  (The main question here was, “Why is this  particular phrase important to the prayer as a whole?”)

Then, we took a step back and read Matthew 6:5-13, focusing in especially on verses 6-8. How does Jesus’ sample prayer actually fulfill the instructions about prayer that he gives during the Sermon on the Mount?

Appropriately enough, we closed our session with the Lord’s Prayer!

Taste and See: Prayer 1 & 2

12 09 2010

High school Sunday School continues to go better than expected.  We began a study on prayer three weeks ago, and we chose to open the series with a lesson adapted from Rethinking Youth Ministry.  I found that when we went around the circle several times, instead of just once, the students really got excited about coming up with new words to describe prayer.  At the end of the lesson, we had created several posters based on the theme of “Prayer Is…” (the first was based on our descriptions; the second, on the Pharisee’s prayer from Luke 9:9-12; the third, on the tax collector’s prayer from Luke 9:13; and the fourth, on the description of Jesus’ prayer life from Luke 5:15-16).

The next week, we focused on the idea of “praying without ceasing.” I set up the altar with a burning candle as the focal point of our attention, and opened our lesson by showing a video advertisement for 24/7 Prayer from New Hope Church (watch it below…it’s super cool):

Then we read from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-23…as we noted the repetition of the words “always,” “continuously,” etc, we talked about whether it was possible to be joyful always, to pray continuously, and to give thanks always.

Our spiritual practice of the day was “breath prayers.”  I remember when I was in high school, our youth ministry intern spent one night teaching us about breath prayers, and the idea obviously stuck, since I remember it to this day.  We talked about how to “do” breath prayers, then split up and actually tried out the practice.  It was a pretty low-key lesson, but some of my youth told me that they said their breath prayer all week long!

And that candle burning on the altar?  We closed Leviticus 6:13: “The fire must be kept burning continuously on the altar.  It must not go out.”  Just as the light burned to signify the presence of God, so should we never allow our prayer life to be extinguished by the busyness and distractions of life: instead, in the simplest of habits, in our very breathing, we can find ways to commune with God!

(You can find one resource on breath prayers here)

Prophetic Imagination and the Lord’s Prayer

23 08 2009

(Just in case you’ve lost track along the way — I almost did 🙂 — I’m in the midst of reading Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination and am blogging my thoughts, one chapter at a time.  This entry is inspired by chapter 5: “Criticism and Pathos in Jesus of Nazareth.”  Click for more food for thought about chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, or chapter 4)

Brueggemann opens his chapter about Jesus of Nazareth with a disclaimer: “Clearly Jesus cannot be understood simply as a prophet, for that designation, like every other, is inadequate for the historical reality of Jesus.  Nevertheless, among his other functions it is clear that Jesus functioned as a prophet.”  Brueggemann’s study give us the tools and language to understand that particular function of his ministry, and I have a feeling I’ll be referring to this book in my Bible studies for years to come.  Obviously, Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven are a huge part of that prophetic ministry, and his ushering in the kingdom can be seen a radical criticism of the status quo.

One thing that stuck out to me was the radical prayer that Jesus offers his disciples in Matthew 6.  On the surface, it may not seem immediately radical to us, especially for those of us who grew up in liturgical traditions and prayed this prayer every single week.  But some of the phrases stuck out to me for their rhetorical power in building up that alternative consciousness, which God has been establishing from the beginning:

Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.

Prophetic messages are empty if they are removed from God.  For prophets who proclaim social justice or religious freedom, it is essential to know the reason for that social justice and freedom and compassion.  And within the Judaic context, the prophet had a whole rich history of religion — the religion of a people in covenant relationship with their God — to use in his message.

Part of the prophetic message is about setting God apart from the gods of other religions.  Moses’ message declared that our  God — YHWH — is free to love and reach out and show compassion to the broken-hearted and oppressed (as opposed to the stagnant gods of Egypt, who served Pharaoh).  Second Isaiah’s message declared that God called the weary-hearted people near to him to carry them and save them.

Jesus’ ministry attested to both of these prophetic messages.  And in this prayer he sets this God apart, as hallowed in heaven.  This God is greater than any other god we could ever dream up.

Your kingdom come
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

Brueggemann makes the great point that the kingdom of God was radical for everyone, in one way or another.  In true prophetic form, Jesus’ kingdom message offered both mercy and criticism simultaneously.  For example … his ministry to the poor radically challenged the status quo of economic justice, and directly criticized those who profited from others’ poverty.  His ministry to the oppressed also implied that their was another class of people, the oppressors, who would be threatened by his message.  And so on.

So what did this kingdom look like on earth?  Jesus gave us some idea by the way in which he lived out his life, crossing social boundaries with his radical love and compassion.  He broke the Sabbath law, he ate with sinners, he touched the outcasts and the lepers, he crossed gender boundaries in allowing women to join his ministry, he criticized the temple.  Nothing was “safe.”  This kingdom on earth instituted a new social order and thus affected every aspect of life.  And today, we can learn both from the hope and the criticism, as we embody this kingdom-living in our own lives.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Earlier, Brueggemann established that the image of bread was used by Isaiah to symbolize the sustenance offered by God.  Jesus takes the image of bread several steps further: first he recalls Isaiah’s words as he declares that he is the bread of life, and later he breaks bread at the Last Supper to symbolize his own death.   In the first instance, he establishes himself as the daily bread referenced in the prayer; he is all we need for sustenance.  In the second instance, he shows how the process works — through his death and resurrection.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Stay with me here — this is the coolest part of the prayer.  Jesus’ ministry certainly demonstrated radical forgiveness, and we should never underestimate the power of forgiveness.  It has the potential to dismantle societies (in a good way — in a modern context, I’m thinking of initiatives like As We Forgive and Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in various countries).  And notice the past tense of the second phrase — “as we have [already] forgiven.”  As Jesus instructed us during his Sermon on the Mount, we are expected to make our amends and be reconciled to our neighbors before we come to God in prayer or worship.

But it’s not just about forgiving sins — although that’s important.  The most literal translations use the word “debts.”  As in money.  As in, this prayer has radical social, political, and economic implications.  We often interpret Jesus’ debt-forgiveness parablesmetaphorically, forgetting how literally he speaks about money elsewhere in the gospels.   And in fact, the concept of debt forgiveness, among other things, had deep roots in Levitical law.  Leviticus 25 talks about a year of Jubilee, which proclaimed economic freedom for the poor of Israel, to be celebrated every 50 years.  This is the economic order as ordained by God.

So what a promise and blessing that must be for all of us, to know that we are living in the year of the Lord’s favor, as proclaimed by that radical prophet, Jesus of Nazareth!!