PRAYING TOGETHER Some ideas for praying together at home, during the day and in the workplace Compiled by Jane Tibbs, Children’s Adviser for the Diocese of Bath and Wells PRAYING WITH CHILDREN AND THE FAMILY Many of us were brought up with family prayers at the breakfast table, graces before meals, and bedtime prayers. However, with the pressures of getting off to work and school and family meals becoming rare occasions, prayer said together as a family is a rarity. Prayer needs to be re-established at home, as a normal, domestic activity. Participating in fun activities related to the church’s year, and in that context offering straightforward prayers, is a vital way of helping to root children in God’s time. We need to talk about God with children. When we think of prayer, we often think of lots of complicated words and church services, of being very still and silent. But for small children, who can only be still for a very short time, prayer – searching for God – will be learnt as much in what they do as in what they say. We all learn vest by experience, and this is particularly true for young children. Parents play an important role in nurturing the spiritual life of their children. As parents, we are often amazed at the depth of our children’s understanding and the wisdom of their comments and questions about God. Here are some suggestions about ways to help our children grow in the knowledge and love of God through prayer Begin to grow yourself in patterns of prayer. Give thanks daily for God’s many gifts. As you think about each of your children, ask God to bless them Give thanks to God at mealtimes. Teach your children to say or sing together a simple grace. Invite the children to say “thank you” in their own way by making up their own grace. Children may take turns praying at meals At bedtime, talk with your child about the day. What good things happened today? Say “thank you” for them. Thank God for things that you have done well. Is there anything you wish you hadn’t done? Can you think of a better way to do it next time? Say “I’m sorry”. Is there someone we know who needs God’s help? Remember by name family and friends. These do not have to be formal prayers, but part of the conversation with God Pray spontaneously during the day. Give thanks to God for rain puddles and snow angels and a summer day at the beach. Your children are learning a habit of thankfulness for the many gifts God gives Sing a song or dance a response Read a Bible story Teach your child some of the great prayers of the church Help your child participate in public worship PRAYING AT HOME For beginners in prayer it is very useful to build the first few attempts around the existing rhythms of life. For most Christians this will be centred in the home. This is where we spend most of our lives and this is where we are most likely to experience some rhythm in our life, even if it is only the rhythm of sleeping and waking. The home is also a place where it is most likely that we can find space where we are comfortable and available. In the Jewish roots of Christianity the home was the liturgical centre of the faith. To this day much of the religious observance of Jewish faith takes place in the home. This was the tradition that Jesus knew, and it is striking in the gospels how often he goes to people’s homes. His visits to Matthew (Matthew 9: 10) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19: 5-9) have a transforming effect. They also enrage his opponents. But Jesus desires to be with his people where they are: he wants to make our homes his home (see John 14: 23). The early Church quite naturally picked up on this tradition and much of their worship was in each other’s homes. Indeed, some of the earliest Christian communities were known by the names of the owners of the homes in which they met. There are several reasons for this. First, the early Church suffered great persecution and in many places needed to be a secret society. The much-loved fish symbol for the Christian faith originates from this time. The fish was the secret Christian sign. The first Christians worshipped in the synagogue when they could, but after the division from Judaism this was not possible. When persecution ended church buildings soon grew up. Secondly, the early Church was a mission church. It was constantly on the move. When Jesus sent out his disciples he told them to set up base in the home of a man of peace who would welcome them (Luke 10: 6). This pattern repeated itself in all the missionary endeavours of the first Christians as they took the gospel across the known world. Thirdly, and most importantly, the early Church lived and breathed the radical belief that worship of the one true God only happens in and through Jesus. It was for proclaiming this truth that Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death. He said that “the Most High does not live in a house that human hands have built"”(Acts 6: 48). Jesus is our place of worship and our way to God, not a building or a liturgy. We need our church buildings and we need our liturgies, but they are not the essence of our faith. In our own day we have lost the balance between worshipping in church and worshipping at home. We need to sanctify our homes. We need to let them become cells of the church, places where we are nourished, and also places of witness and service. This will happen when we restore prayer to our life at home. Creating a place of prayer A simple way of beginning this process is to proclaim the lordship of Jesus in your home by putting a cross on the wall, or another Christian symbol, such as a fish. This will not only remind you of your faith, it will be an unassuming witness to everyone who visits your home. In some Christian traditions – particularly in the East, and among Afro-Caribbean Christians – great care is taken over creating a place of prayer in the home. This can be particularly helpful for children, but is something which would benefit every Christian home. It need not be elaborate. A cross, a candle, an open Bible: these things are enough to furnish a corner of a room, or an empty shelf. They provide a focus for prayer at home. Blessing our homes It would also be good if we could revive the tradition of prayers of blessing for our homes. This is an especially good thing to do when we move into a new home, but there is no reason why it cannot be done at any time. It could even be an annual event. Once again this sort of service can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. It can involve a priest or minister visiting your home and praying with you, or it can be something you do on your own. It can be great fun! Here are some prayers which could be used for blessing your home: Blessed are you, Lord God, King of all creation: Through your goodness you have given this house to be our home. Let your peace remain with us always. Let all who come here to share our life Find generosity, tranquillity and happiness; May they depart enriched by the joy of Christian living. Visit this house, O Lord, we pray, Drive far from it all the snares of the enemy; May your holy angels dwell with us And guard us in peace And may your blessing always be upon us; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Lord Jesus Christ, who taught your apostles to bless each home they entered with the words, “Peace be to this house”: we ask your blessing on our home. Let your peace rest upon us; keep us in your abiding love; and be with us in our going out and in our coming in, from this time forth and for evermore. Amen. PRAYING THROUGH THE DAY Wouldn’t it be lovely if life had the same stop, fast forward, rewind and pause facilities as a video recorder? Unfortunately, it is not like this except in prayer. Prayer fast forwards us to God. The Christian life has a kind of “already here” and “not quite yet” feel about it. Through Jesus we already enjoy the fullness of life with God, but we are also awaiting that fullness when we shall see God face to face. It is a bit like experiencing the end of the journey in the middle. In this sense prayer is a foretaste of the banquet that awaits us in heaven. Prayer allows us to rewind. We can be forgiven for the things that have gone wrong; we can always start again with God. In prayer we can be reconciled to the past. We can be forgiven our sins; our memories can be healed; broken relationships can be restored. We can learn to face the future because we need not be prisoners of the past. It is prayer for healing and forgiveness which sets us free. Prayer allows us to stop and pause. Finding time and space to pause is the first practical foundation to put in place when we are trying to build a life of prayer. For most of us this need not be about creating special times, though this is clearly a good thing to do, but about building prayer into what we are already doing. We need to analyse the existing rhythms of our daily life and see where we can most effectively press the pause button. Greeting the day This is a lovely and fairly easy way to begin praying. As the alarm goes off, or as the first small child jumps on your stomach, or as you stare at yourself in the mirror, or open the curtains, or put the kettle on, or jump in the shower, or pick up the newspaper, or let out the dog, pause and pray. Most of us have some sort of getting up ritual. There are things we do nearly every day at nearly always the same time. Identify what your little routine is, and then decide when you are going to press the pause button of life and give thanks to God for another new day and for the strength you need to get through it. This prayer need only take a few seconds. You can use your own words, or you could memorise and say the same set prayer each day. For example: O Lord, enable us this day to reveal your glory in all we think and say and do; that your presence may bless and strengthen us all the day long, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Lord, the smile of the dawn lights up the sky. May the smile of your face light up our day. Jesus, be close to me and those I love through the twists and turns of today and be with me at the day’s end. Amen. Travelling Many of us spend a lot of time each day travelling. The constant bustle and rush of modern life carries us from car to train to bus and back again. But travelling can also mean waiting – at bus stops, at stations, and most irritating of all in long queues of jammed traffic. For many of us it is travelling which shapes the rhythm of our day: journey to work, picking up children, shopping. If there is daily routine to the journeys we make then this is another good opportunity for prayer. In particular this might be the time for intercession. We can hardly read set prayers while driving the car, though this could be done on a train journey, but we could use the time in the car to pray for family and friends and for all sorts of other needs. So much of the time spent travelling is dead time. Prayer – even if it’s only for a few minutes – brings the time to life and gives the travelling another dimension of purpose. Travelling can also be very stressful and very dangerous. To pray while driving might be the best cure for road rage. Here is a prayer for the beginning of a journey: May our Lord Jesus Christ go before us to guide us; Stand behind us to give us strength; And watch over us to protect us as we travel. Amen. FAMOUS PRAYERS There are probably as many ways to pray as there are people of faith! Sometimes it is helpful just to be still and aware of God with us, sometimes it is helpful to pray with words. Some prayers we read and some we know off by heart because we have heard others say them so many times. In the past, in a world where few people could read, learning prayers off by heart was really important. Here are a few prayers which people have known and used for centuries, which have passed the test of time and still help us to be close to God today. Some were written by famous people. No one knows where others came from. The prayer of St Francis Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is discord, union; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy; For your mercy and for your truth’s sake. Amen. We praise you, O Christ, And we bless you, Because by your holy cross You have redeemed the world. Amen. Thou who hast given so much to me, Give one thing more, A grateful heart, For Christ’s sake. Amen. George Herbert (1593 – 1632) Christ has no body now on earth but yours, No hands but yours, no feet but yours; Yours are the eyes through which to look At Christ’s compassion to the world, Yours are the feet With which he is to go about doing good, And yours are the hands With which he is to bless us now. Amen. St Teresa of Avila (1515 – 1582) O Lord, thou knowest how busy I must be this day; If I forget thee, do not thou forget me; For Christ’s sake. Amen. General Lord Astley at the Battle of Edge Hill O Lord, let us not live to be useless, For Christ’s sake. Amen. John Wesley (1703 – 1791) Teach us, good Lord, to serve thee as thou deservest. To give and not to count the cost; To fight and not to heed the wounds; To toil and not to seek for rest; To labour and not to ask for any reward Save that of knowing that we do thy will. Amen. Ignatious Loyola (1491 – 1556) Thanks be to thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, For all the benefits which thou hast won for us, For all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for us. O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, May we know thee more clearly, Love thee more dearly, And follow thee more nearly, Day by day. Amen. St Richard of Chichester (1197 – 1253) BEING STILL In all the rush and noise of our busy lives, it is easy never to be still and quiet. We hear what other people think from the TV and the radio, from discs and tapes and videos, but often we don’t have time even to think about or listen to God. Christians have always known that one way to be aware of God, to be close to God, is in being still, in silence. Even tiny children can do this for a few minutes and it can be a great experience to try it out. If it’s possible, choose a time when you can be just one child and one grown-up together. Choose a time when you can be sure that there won’t be lots of interruptions. Find a place to sit down together and agree that you are both going to be very still and completely silent for an agreed time. You might like to start with being still for half a minute, then a minute ….. So sit together and agree to be still. Close your eyes together (though you may need to promise to keep an eye on the watch too!) and, keeping close together, be silent. When sufficient time has passed, open your eyes and talk about how it was in the silence How was the silence for you? What did you hear? What did you smell? What did you feel? What did you imagine? Share together what you found. Drop thy still dews of quietness Till all our strivings cease; Take from our souls the strain and stress And let our ordered lives confess The beauty of thy peace. Amen. John Greenleaf Whittier (1807 – 92) SAYING GRACE From earliest times, people have thanked God for their food and for all that kept them alive. In our lives today, it is all to easy to take every day things for granted. To stop and say thank you for them helps us to be aware of the very basics of survival, and that without God’s love and generosity, we should not be. When we do this, we in turn become much more closely aware of the needs of others and of those who have so little, and we learn to become more generous people. So before you eat, at least sometimes, stop. And say THANK YOU. Here is a selection of short thank-you prayers to be said before eating. Most can be said by anyone and it is important that you share round the responsibility – or choose one prayer to say all together often. Or choose one to sing! For these and all God’s gifts, may his name be praised. Amen. Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who feeds the whole world through his goodness. Amen. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow, Praise him, all creatures, here below. Praise him above, ye heavenly host. Praise father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen. God bless this bunch As they munch their lunch. Amen. For good food and good friends We thank you, Lord. Amen. This happy meal will happier be, If we, O Lord, remember thee. Amen. For health and strength and daily food, We praise your name, O Lord. Amen. Amen. Lord for this plateful, We are truly grateful. Morning (Noontide, Evening) is here, the board is spread, Thanks be to God, who gives us bread. Amen. Thank you God, for giving us food. Thank you God for giving us food. We’re so grateful, for every plateful. Thank you God for giving us food. Sung to the Superman theme If you are having visitors children might like to make little cards with the words of a grace on them so that everyone can join together. THE LORD’S PRAYER Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray and he gave them the prayer we have come to know as the Lord’s prayer. It is said by Christians throughout the world, and of course, in many different languages. It is a prayer that all Christian people should know. You can read it in Matthew 6:5-13 and Luke 11: 2-4. Jesus, of course, taught it to his disciples in their own language and this has been translated into English in various ways at various times. Here are a modern and traditional version. Our Father in heaven Hallowed be your Name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins As we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial And deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, Now and forever. Amen. Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come, They will be done In earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen. BEDTIME PRAYERS Just before bed can be the best time of the day for regular prayer together. It is nice to create a place for bedtime prayers. Children respond well to candles so it might help to light a candle and make use of a cross as a focal point and perhaps have some seasonal pictures to talk about. Story telling is often part of the bedtime ritual so reading a Bible story fits easily into bedtime prayer time. Encourage the children to think through what has happened during the day and chip in with your own reflections. Let this lead naturally into prayers of thanksgiving and intercession. This is also an opportunity to sing a song and it doesn’t matter whether it is a Christian song or not. Some prayers to use at bedtime Glory to thee, my God, this night, For all the blessings of the light. Keep me, O keep me, King of kings Beneath thy own almighty wings. Amen. Thomas Ken (1637 – 1711) Dear Jesus, please be with me From now until the end. Hold my hand and guide my feet And be my special friend. Amen From If I’d been born in Bethlehem by Joan Gale Thomas Save us, O Lord, while waking, And guard us while sleeping. That awake we may watch with Christ And asleep we may rest in peace. Amen. God in the night God at my right God all the day God with me stay God in my heart Never depart God with thy might Keep us in light Through this dark night. David Adam Keep us safe tonight Lord: May your angels watch over us. And tomorrow, help us to be angels, Bringing your love to anyone who needs help. Amen. PLANNING PRAYER WITH CHILDREN When praying with children aim to: Keep to small groups, with the smallest range of age possible, it helps to personalise the experience and offers greater scope Keep it short, keep it moving, children’s attention span for any one activity lasts approximately one minute per year of the child’s age – so five year olds can reasonably be expected to actively participate in worship for about five minutes; ten year olds, ten minutes Keep it simple and uncluttered Start with something that draws everyone together, then move to a deeper understanding of the theme and conclude with a response Create a place for prayer and worship, even if it’s only a table/cupboard top, corner or under the stairs Involve children in planning the worship Prepare 5 boxes In one put a selection of readings In box two put a selection of songs, pieces of music In box three, a selection of activities such as giving, receiving, making chains, mime, dancing – write the activity on a separate card In box four, a selection of suggested visual aids such as statues, pictures, photographs, flowers – write the suggestion on a separate card In box five, a selection of prayers, traditional and children’s own Invite a group of children to Choose a theme for prayer Choose one card only from three boxes Plan an act of worship If they repeat the same activity, remove that card for a while. PRAYING WITH TEENAGERS Teenagers are interested in God. Teenagers are interested in spirituality. Teenagers may rebel against the status quo of church and liturgy – and who could blame them?! – but this does not mean they have abandoned faith. On the contrary, this is a time of life, unlike any other, when people ask the big questions of life. Each year thousands of teenagers flock to Taize in France. They go there to pray and to experience Christian community. What teenagers need are resources to support them in their prayer, and ways of praying together, and with others, that can support the questioning character of their spirituality. Teenagers are inspired by the example of others. They will want to see what the Christian faith means in action, not in theory. Books and videos about the lives of those who have tried to live out the gospel will inspire them to see the relevance of the Christian faith, and will tap into their own growing hunger for justice. Praying with teenagers in the home The teenage years are marked by a longing for independence. If there has been a pattern of praying together in the family there is no reason why it should not continue, but it might be the case that teenagers will want to opt out. This is normal. If family prayers do continue they will have to change to take account of the changing temperament of teenagers. If you have never prayed as a family and you have teenage children then introducing the idea of praying together will need to be done with great sensitivity. But it is not too late. Teenagers like and deserve to be treated in an adult way, and so long as they are included in all the discussion and planning there is no reason why prayer should not begin. But adults and teenagers praying together in the family is a tricky area, so please do not feel guilty if it has never happened in your family. If you are planning to pray together, once a week might be realistic. Silence Light a candle or burn some incense. Teenagers respond well to atmosphere. Just have some time to be still and to think. Recollection This is an opportunity – either silently or aloud – to remember good things that have happened during the week and give thanks, or bad things and be sorry. Scripture The gospel reading set for the Sunday of that week would be a good starting point. The Youth Bible, and other Bibles, also suggest themes. Intercession It is important for these to be relevant to the teenager’s own life and concerns, but also to reflect the needs of the world. Each person can voice a prayer in turn, or candles can be lit representing different things, or set prayers can be read out. Helping teenagers to pray together Young people are searching for identity. With this can go self-consciousness, embarrassment, intolerance and often rebellion. Therefore, however good the relationship is between parent and teenager, and however stimulating and relevant the prayer, many young people will still not want to pray at home. So let them know that prayer is going on and they are welcome to join if they want to. Encourage youth groups connected with the church to have prayer on their agenda. While young people may be finding prayer at home impossible, and prayer in church incomprehensible, prayer together in their group with their peers might be the best way forward. Some suggestions might be to include Pausing Try to create an atmosphere where it is possible to pause for a moment and be still. It needs to be as atmospheric as possible, using candles, incense, lighting, visual images etc Sharing Everyone brings something to share with everyone else. This can be a piece of personal news, a piece of music, a poem, something from the newspaper, an object – anything which means something to the person bringing it. Everyone shows what they have brought and passes it round, or if it is music everyone listens to it, or if it is a poem or story it is read out. If people feel comfortable they can say why they brought things. What is brought does not have to be specifically religious. The idea is to create a space where things of meaning and importance can be shared. As long as the leader has something to share each week, then over a period of time the young people will also start to bring things. Reflecting Everyone has a chance to comment on what has been brought and share what it says to them. Praying This leads naturally into prayer. This will not happen straight away, nor at the first few meetings, but if a time of reflection and sharing is introduced into every meeting, after a little while the young people know they have a safe place to bring things that matter to them – a place where things can be discussed and a place where they can pray for their concerns and needs. Prayer will develop slowly and the leader needs to be sensitive both in allowing the prayer to happen and not feeling it has to be hurried. There is nothing wrong with prayer beginning as wishful thinking and longing. By encouraging teenagers to sit and reflect on what matters to them, you will be leading them into prayer. Silence End with thoughtful quiet. Listen to some music or finish with some shared action such as lighting candles or burning incense. The advantage of this approach to prayer with teenagers in a youth group is that everyone can participate regardless of how they feel about God or about prayer.
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