“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” – Soren Kierkegaard
In the Big Start Assemblies, you will notice that there are various ways to encourage prayer and reflection. It is important to not be too directional at these times, but give space and permission for children to respond – pray and reflect – in ways that make sense to them.
The following “ways” are not just for you to ‘lift” and insert in to an assembly (though you could do that!), but hopefully will spark your imagination about what tools and ideas you could employ to make this important time fit your context and the children you work with.
What Do You Want to See?
“Watch to see where God is working, and join Him in His work.” – Henry Blackaby
Being visual is great. Having an easily understood illustration that needs little or no explanation is awesome. Asking children – “What do you want to see?” shifts prayer from simply asking with a view to getting and instead makes the question bigger – encompassing thoughts about what life could or should be like and, through prayer, we “look” (see what I did there) for God’s involvement in that.
Vision of the Future –Hold up a pair of glasses, binoculars a telescope, sunglasses. What we “see” depends on the lens through which we are looking. At the end of the Lord’s prayer we say these words “Your Kingdom Come” . . . What does God want for your future? What are you dreaming of? Hoping for? What would it look like if God’s Kingdom came now? What lens do we use when we pray? Encourage the children maybe to hold up a hand a turn it into a telescope or two hands as if a set of binoculars – as you pray, ask them to think about what kind of world they would like to see.
Our Prayers Connect Us.
“Learn to Pray. It’s Easy and it’s so good for the soul.” – Chris Pratt (AKA StarLord, Guardians of the Galaxy)
Activity and prayer go together. It’s a great way of helping children learn to pray as they begin to bring their everyday thoughts and worries to God. The following perhaps works best as a classroom activity – but could easily follow on from a collective worship and so helping children (and staff) take what they are discovering in assembly and continue to reflect on it through the school day.
Paper Chain Prayers. Have available a load of strips of paper. Children can write something they want to pass on or share with a friend – something to encourage the person next to them. Loop it and print stick it – after the first person, each subsequent prayer can be looped in to create a chain of prayers for friends / prayers of encouragement / prayers for help. Have a theme for everyone, or have different coloured strips to reflect different kinds of praying – praise, asking for healing, saying sorry, sharing worries . . . Then string these prayers around the classroom.
Use What You Have to Pray.
“I remember praying a simple prayer up a tree one evening and saying, ‘God, if you’re like I knew you as a kid, would you be that friend again?” – Bear Grylls
You don’t need any equipment for this – just what the children already have with them, that they walk around with and maybe don’t even notice. The beauty of this model is they always have it with them! Children might even pray on their own as they start to remember the clues for each finger . . . !
Hand Prayers – As the children to look at their hands and encourage them to join in quietly as you lead them through each digit.
Thumb (people who are close to you) – These are your close friends and family, often the first you think about when you pray. Give thanks to God and ask his protection on your parents, family, friends, uncles and aunts etc.
Pointer Finger (people who point the way) – These are leaders in your life, such as teachers, youth leaders, Jesus!. Offer God your thanksgiving for them and ask him to help them to lead well (obviously, Jesus is doing pretty well).
Tall Finger (people in authority) – The big people in the world need prayer too. Ask God to give wisdom to our government, those with responsibility and power – would they seek God, and not trust in their power and strength, pray for wise and Godly people to surround them and support them in their decision making and leadership.
Ring Finger (people who are weak) – This is your weakest finger. We should remember others who are sick, live in poverty, or are treated badly. Pray that Jesus would give them new strength and those who can (including maybe us) would fight for justice and defend and support those who are weak and lack power and have no voice to speak for themselves.
Little Finger (little old you) – God wants to hear your needs too, especially when you put others first. Pray for your own life, the things going on for you. We are not so small (despite the size of our little finger) that God does not care or is not interested. God loves each of us and wants to know what matters to us, what is on our hearts – so finish with sharing those things now.
That’s it! Prayer can, and should be, exciting and fun – creative and passionate. Engagement is key, and each of these models is tried and tested with groups of children and young people in a variety of contexts. They do work – but what makes the difference in application is your willingness to commit and have a go.
This blog post was written by Ali Campbell from The Resource. He has over 30 years experience in children, youth and family ministry. Ali has worked as an educational practitioner and advisor on collective worship as well as trained headteachers and clergy in delivering fun and engaging assemblies. He is also one of the Big Start Assemblies contributors, helping develop a large number of the walkthrough scripts. The Resource is full of insights and resources to help empower those working with children and young people today.