By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education.
September 1, 2014—I remember congratulating a young man on his first sermon. The topic was prayer and he did very well for his first effort. Responding to my compliment on his performance, he replied, “Thanks, but I couldn’t go wrong on this one. Who’s not going to agree that prayer is important?”
Despite his motives for choosing a safe topic to address in his first sermon, the young man was right, who doesn’t agree that prayer is important? Prayer is a given in the Christian life. It is foundational to continuing spiritual growth, including learning about the Christian life in formal educational settings.
Using prayer in the learning experience is one effective way to help your learners grow. There are more opportunities to pray in our teaching and learning than we may realize. Prayer doesn’t just happen when we bow our heads, close our eyes, and whisper a message to God. Prayer can happen all throughout the learning experience if we plan for it and incorporate it into our lesson planning. Delia Halverson in her book, 32 Ways to Become A Great Sunday School Teacher, suggests five ways to use prayer in the learning experience.
Poems express our thoughts and feelings in a form that uses few words and imagery. Prayer poems do not need to be literary works of art to be effective. Whether the poem rhymes or not is not important—it just needs to express what we’re feeling. A haiku can be a prayer. Another poetic form is the cinquain poem, which is made up of only five lines which follow a set formula. In a cinquain, the first line is the title or subject, the second is two words that tell about the subject, line three is three action words (verbs or –ing words) about the subject, line four is made up of four words or a phrase telling of feelings about the subject, and the last line is the subject word again, a synonym, or an Amen.
Using movement prayers is a wonderful way of incorporating multiple learning styles in your learning process: body (kinesthetic), mind (cognitive), and heart (affective). Movement may be a part of the prayers the class creates or you can adapt the movements to written prayers, including the Psalms. Prayer hymns are easily adapted to movement. Halverson says, “As you decide which movements to use, remember that you do not need a movement for every word or phrase. Make the movements simple. The movement prayer is not a performance, but a communication between the participant and God.” She adds, “Never ‘practice’ the prayer; always pray it.”
Litanies are highly participatory prayers. The simplest way to use litanies is to divide your class into two or three groups. You can also incorporate individual parts or responses as part of the litany. Some Psalms lend themselves to litanies. You can use Psalm 100 as a litany for your class. Select parts for a leader, two groups, and then entire class to read. Try finding another prayerful Psalm that will make a good litany for your class.
Prayer journals focus on events, needs, problems, and joys as they relate to God. They can use the â€œDear God,â€ format similar to what one would use in a â€œDear Diaryâ€ format. If you use journaling as part of your class learning experience be sure to emphasize that the contents are private and will not be read by anyone (including the teacher) unless permission is granted by the writer. This method of prayer can be used at the beginning or end of the class period and works well during special seasons like Lent, or during special studies or themes.
Guided Meditative Prayer
Guided meditative prayers are especially helpful to those who have little experience in prayer. This method has the advantage of helping to focus prayer in specific directions which relate to your lesson. There are many ways to lead a guided prayer. One is to choose certain areas of focus (praise, concerns for others, concerns for self, choices, family, forgiveness, temptations), prompt the class to pray for that focus in silence or using sentence prayers. Give them a few moments, then move on to the next prayer focus.
Make prayer a part of your teaching-learning experience. We learn best by doing and observing. That’s just as true about prayer as in any other area of life. Give your learners a chance to learn prayer by doing it and observing it done in your class.
Adapted from “Prayer in the Classroom,” in 32 Ways To Become A Great Sunday School Teacher, by Delia Halverson (Abingdon Press).