Can Prayer Be A New Tool For Young People?
Ancient Practice of Preces
By Rev. Brent Dearnell
When Jesus had finished praying, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his followers to pray.” - Luke 11:1
There was a short season when one of my children would come home from school overwhelmed with emotions that they just could not seem to overcome. We chatted, we enlisted help, we created plans, and we started putting together a figurative toolbox. A toolbox that they could open and find the tools they needed when that overwhelming emotional experience started creeping in at school, practice, and home. As a father who is a Christ follower I wanted prayer to be one of these tools. However, I didn’t want to just tell them to go pray. Our children have grown up in and around the church and prayer is a part of their life. I wanted to give my child the words when they couldn’t find words.
In my own life, when I have turned to prayer but the situation left me without words I have turned to the Lord’s Prayer or the blessing we said at the end of youth group when I was growing up (and a practice I continued as I led student ministry). It was the blessing we find in the book of Numbers chapter six. This was the blessing the Lord shared with Moses for Aaron to bless the Israelites. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.” This was a tool in my toolbox I wanted to pass on to my children.
I wanted the prayer to speak directly into all four of my children’s lives and to be something they had ready to go whenever they needed it. So I got to writing. Some very poetic pros and alliteration riddle phrases started to fill the trashcan. Nothing I was writing seemed meaningful and memorable. That is until I remembered the ancient practice of preces. Preces is the Latin word for prayers. It is short phrases that are said (or sung) by a leader and then repeated by those who were gathered for worship. This call and response type of prayer predates Christianity and is how many Hebrew prayers were learned. So I wrote and memorized a preces prayer. We prayed/practiced it at dinner and on the walk/drive to school. As we said it I slowly shared what each phrase meant over days and weeks. Our children started leading our family in this time of prayer. When asked they shared what the different phrases meant in their own words. Here is the prayer our family shares:
LEADER: God we know you love us.
PEOPLE: God we know you love us.
LEADER: Help us remember,
PEOPLE: Help us remember,
LEADER: Who we are
PEOPLE: Who we are
LEADER: And whose we are.
PEOPLE: And whose we are.
LEADER: We love you Jesus.
PEOPLE: We love you Jesus.
LEADER: We show this with our words and actions.
PEOPLE: We show this with our words and actions.
LEADER: (Leader shares specific prayers for the group - no repose)
This prayer has become something our children can remember and repeat. My hope is they have it in the toolbox when they need it. I also know that each phrase speaks truth specific to them.
Here is a breakdown of our family prayer.
So here is why I share that experience in this blog. I started wondering if this would be a good practice for those leading young people. Could the young people in your ministry grow from consistently participating in this ancient practice of preces? Are their deep message(s) you want your students to be able to pull out of their toolbox that clarifies who God is, who they are, and the the teachings of the ministry and church you help lead? Could your ministry start with a consistent mantra like prayer like so many youth groups I know, and have experienced, ended with the priestly blessings from Numbers 6? Would teaching around this type of prayer give these young people tools to aid their faith life?
As for me and my household (sorry, dad joke around Joshua 24:15), this has been a meaningful and unifying prayer experience. As a family we still say freeform prayers but starting the day with preces has deepened our families faith journey. Could the same be true for the young people you are discipling?
By Rev. Brent Dearnell
Brent is married to Sara and is a father to four young children. He has served as a volunteer, interim, and full-time youth pastor, discipleship pastor, and executive pastor. Before going into ministry full-time he was a middle school teacher in an urban environment as well as a varsity soccer coach. He is passionate about helping young people live into their passion, faith, and call. This passion is why he is one of the cofounders of Colocate Ministry Consulting and serves as one of our coaches.