Afraid to Pray
"Does anyone have a prayer request?" Ryan, my youth pastor, asked.
I slumped down in my seat. I dreaded praying with the entire group.
As a freshman, I was new to the high school youth group. And even though everyone was super nice, I just didn't feel comfortable praying out loud with a bunch of people. It was weird to me and I didn't want to speak up. I was sure I'd totally mess up and say the wrong thing.
Ryan took some prayer requests. Then he said, "I'll open, and you all can pray as you see fit."
We didn't pray in any kind of order. People just blurted out a prayer whenever they felt like it. And we kept praying until all of the prayer requests had been mentioned.
The worst part was the silence between each prayer. After Ryan prayed, no one said a word. My stomach did a flip-flop. I held my breath and counted the seconds. I couldn't help but wonder what everyone else was thinking. I hoped they weren't waiting for me to pray.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the girl next to me prayed. And then someone else went. And another. It took forever to get through all the prayer requests. I was relieved when Ryan finally wrapped it up.
Although I liked youth group and kept going back, I always felt like an outsider when we prayed. It seemed like everyone but me was totally into it and knew exactly what to say.
Then one night, Ryan told us that when we prayed we needed to listen to God. "When you pray, don't always pray for what you want," he said. "Pray for what God wants. Give him control of your life."
For some reason, that really hit me. I'd been a Christian since I was real little, and I'd prayed for a lot of stuff. But I'd never stopped to ask God what he thought was best for me. The more I thought about what Ryan had said, the more I wanted to change the way I prayed. When it came time to pray that evening, I still didn't pray out loud. But instead of worrying about what other people were thinking, I tried my best to concentrate on God and to listen to him.
When I went home, I couldn't get Ryan's words out of my head. I started to take just a few minutes each day to pray. I quit always asking for stuff I wanted, and started asking God to give me what he knew I needed. The more I prayed, the more I felt God's presence. But still, I struggled with praying in front of others.
Over time, I started to make some good friends at youth group. I didn't feel as self-conscious when we prayed. Then one night, after Ryan prayed, I just blurted out a prayer for a girl whose mom was sick. I hadn't planned on it, but for some reason I just had the courage to pray. I didn't say anything earth-shattering. But no one laughed at me or said anything about it. After that, I prayed out loud more often. Each time I did it, it got a little easier.
I'm a junior now and I'm still part of the same youth group. We continue to pray together, and I've seen how prayer can change someone's life, including my own. Sure, there are times when I stumble over some words or don't know exactly what to say. But I've stopped worrying about that. After all, prayer is really about listening to God and trusting him to do what's best. And while I know prayer doesn't magically make my problems disappear, I know that when I put my trust in God he'll always take care of me.
Jason, a junior, leads a Bible study for junior high students. In his free time, he likes hanging out with friends and playing ultimate Frisbee.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Ignite Your Faith magazine.
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