Jordan had just poured out his heart to Frank. He hadn’t felt God’s presence in weeks, and he was still struggling with an addiction that had haunted him for years. And Frank stood there, astonished that this teenager would be so open about such vulnerable stuff in his life. Not having the words to make it all better, Frank thought, What do I say? How do I respond? Not knowing the right answer, Frank uttered the words he had used so many times before in similar situations, “I’ll be praying for you.”
Jordan stood confused. On the one hand, he was thankful that his youth leader was willing to pray for him and the stuff he’s going through. On the other hand, he felt gypped. Why did Frank have to leave so quickly? And what was he supposed to do now? He felt alone with his doubt and lost in his struggles.*
We’ve probably all been there, whether we were Frank (the youth leader who was caught off guard and didn’t know how to respond) or Jordan (the teenager who was confiding in Frank about his doubt and struggles and left still feeling alone).
It’s easy when life gets tough and situations get messy to not know what to do or say. Unfortunately, well-meaning Christians often close conversations like the one above with a simple, “I’ll pray for you” or “I’ll be praying for that situation.”
Don’t get me wrong, I believe prayer is powerful. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus illustrates the power of prayer to his audience:
“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8, NIV).
Prayer is huge, and I think we often miss out on the power of prayer in our everyday lives with God. But when it comes to situations where we find ourselves faced with a Jordan, lost and seeking someone to help him, I would argue that prayer is not enough.
We often use prayer as a way to avoid getting messy, using it as a way to end an awkward conversation or get out of an overly involved situation. However, Jordan desperately needed Frank to dive in to his life, explore Jordan’s doubts with him, and journey alongside him as they pursued God together. Frank didn’t know the answers, and, when it comes to ministering to and with teenagers, we really don’t need all the answers (READ THIS!).
But Frank was nervous, afraid of getting messy in the uncertainty of Jordan’s life. And for Jordan, a well-meant “I’ll pray for you” was not enough. He needed presence.
Because PRAYER + PRESENCE = TRANSFORMATION
Presence is powerful. Mark Yaconelli, a well-known youth worker and author, points out the importance of presence in the lives of our youth:
Study after study in the field of youth development makes it clear that the single most important thing that can make a positive difference in the life of a young person is the PRESENCE of a caring adult.
Teenagers need you [youth workers, parents, and everybody] to get messy with them as they explore their place on the journey of faith. It’s not always going to be easy, clean, or barrels of fun, but it’s worth it.
So go ahead… Dive in. Get messy.
* This story is fictional. Names, characters and incidents are products of my imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. 🙂