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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church

    news article

    The Youngest Prayer Warriors

    May 3, 2017 / By Melanie Clark, Lead Sunday School Teacher at Bath: Centenary UMC

    The Apostle Paul exhorted us to “Pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5: 17), but did he determine an age when we should begin? 

    The children in the Sunday School program at Bath: Centenary United Methodist Church have learned that we are never too young to join the ranks of faithful warriors of prayer.  Throughout the months of January and February 2017, these young believers, from first to fifth grades, were presented with a toolbox for prayer, learned prayer how-tos from the examples of several Bible heroes, learned the Lord’s Prayer, became engaged in the Joys and Concerns sharing time of our worship services, and gained practice in group conversational prayer.  

    Utilizing Children’s Ministry Deals curriculum, Prayer Warriors, our children:

    • Learned to pray Thankfully following the example of King David.  In 1 Chronicles 29, we read David’s prayer of praise and thanksgiving.  We learned how important it is for each of us to praise and thank God for our many blessings.  What a revelation to young children that prayer isn’t synonymous with a wish list!
    • Learned to pray Boldly as demonstrated by Peter and John following their arrest, imprisonment, and release (Acts 4).  As a result of their bold behavior and prayer with the believers, the Holy Spirit actually shook the room! We also learned about present-day teenage American and Australian missionaries to Vietnam who  boldly teamed up with the underground church to smuggle Bibles into that country! 
    • Learned to pray Honestly as we learned from Hannah.  Through her sadness at being childless, she held nothing back as she prayed to God to give her a son.  Like Hannah, we can let God know what we are honestly feeling.
    • Learned to pray Willingly as our Savior demonstrated in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Although Jesus understood the agony ahead of him, he was willing to do the Father’s will.  Like Jesus, we learned to seek out and follow God’s will, not our own.

    Along with the Prayer Warriors curriculum, we spent time in each Sunday School class practicing the Lord’s Prayer and discussing its meaning and use in our lives. 

    Over the course of these two months, it became increasingly important each week to set aside enough time for our group conversational prayer.  As we prayed, we used the Five-Finger prayer model to guide our prayers:

    • Thumb:  Praise God.
    • Pointer Finger:  Confess sins.
    • Middle Finger:  Thank God.
    • Ring Finger:  Pray for Others.
    • Little Finger:  Pray for Yourself.
    • Palm:  Closing.

    Unlike many adults, these children show no signs of shyness or apprehension in praying aloud together!  They also found praying with their eyes open more comfortable, looking to their friends and teachers for eye contact as they expressed their thoughts.  The honesty expressed in their prayers is humbling—prayers for health and wellbeing of family members and pets, prayers for guidance in making good decisions in peer pressure situations, prayers for stability in their parents’ marriages, and prayers for their own behavior within complicated family structures.

    With the encouragement of Pastor Eleanor Collinsworth, we extended our learning experiences into weekly worship services. Children brought with them to worship a weekly prayer calendar.  With Pastor Eleanor’s guidance during the Joys and Concerns portion of our worship services, each child noted the joys and concerns expressed by members of the congregation.  The calendars went home each week for the kids to use in their daily prayer time.  Following the sharing of joys and concerns, Pastor Eleanor leads the congregation in a pastoral pray, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.  What a blessing to witness the engagement of children in prayer during a worship service and to hear their voices participating in the Lord’s Prayer!

    Of course, the children in our Sunday School program are at various stages in their faith and spiritual development.  Yet, they all continue to impress with their insights and application of lessons.  Our discussions confirm that they think about our lessons throughout the week and assess their own behavior in a variety of settings with regard to their spiritual training.  Here are a few comments made when asked what they learned in our Prayer Warriors series:

    Pastor Eleanor Collinsworth shares that the adults were encouraged to “be mindful of what and how they were sharing in the ‘joys and concerns’ time in the worship services.  Everyone’s prayer time and prayer lives were enriched by this whole-church focus on the power of prayer.”  In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “…and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6, NRSV).  Amen!

    With more than 144,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 865 local churches and 91 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."