Prayer can be a real struggle for many young people (and their leaders) so it’s useful to have some activities that help you and your group slow down and focus. These are all tried and tested…
1. Centring Prayer
The centring prayer is a very simple way of helping your group to set aside the thoughts and the worries of the day and to focus in on God and on spending some time with each other and with Him.
Encourage your group to close their eyes, and to sit quietly for a short while (for some this may be 5 seconds, others may manage 30 or more!) Then quietly read these words:
Imagine that you are walking down a staircase that begins in your mind and winds, slowly down to your heart. Take a few moments to imagine walking this staircase, leaving all the many worries and thoughts behind, slowly descending into a secret room or chapel within your heart, where God waits to pray with you.
(From Contemplative Youth Ministry by Mark Yaconelli)
Just getting your group to stop and be still for a few moments may be some kind of small miracle. Encourage your group to sit quietly and relax and to become aware of their breathing. Read them this exercise by Jenny Baker.
Sit comfortably and be still.
Enjoy the peace of this place.
As you relax your body, gently become aware of your building…
Breathe a little more deeply, a little more slowly.
Breathe in the spirit of God; breathe out worry.
Breathe in the love of God; breathe out loneliness.
Breathe in the acceptance of God; breathe out the need to impress.
Breathe in the presence of God; breathe out all that troubles you.
Breathe in peace; breathe out tension.
Breathe in love; breathe out hate.
Breathe in acceptance; breathe out rejection.
Breathe in forgiveness; breathe out blame.
Breathe in life; breathe out death.
Breathe in trust; breathe out fear.
Breathe in; breathe out;
Breathe in; breathe out.
(From Heart Soul Mind Strength by Jenny Baker)
3. Jesus is Here
This is an activity that I have used at the start of youth sessions for years, to mark the fact that Christ is with is. By starting with it, and by leaving the candle burning throughout, you make it clear that everything you do together is with God rather than giving the idea that there are fun bits, food bits and ‘God’ bits.
Invite the group to be quiet for a moment, and then as you read these words from John 20:19:
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’
After another moment of quiet continue with your session.
4. Praying for the impossible
I’m not sure where this activity was first published – let me know if you do and I’ll reference it! I last used this at Easter – inviting a group to reflect on the idea that a man coming back from the dead was impossible and wondering what we might dare ask God to do with that miracle in mind.
Hand out small squares of paper, and then invite your group to write or draw something that reflects something of the impossible where they would like God to intervene; it may be a broken relationship, a poorly friend or relative, or something from the news; a conflict or a natural disaster.
Once you’ve all finished writing, carefully fold the four corners of the piece of paper in the centre, to make a second smaller square.
Finally, in a large bowl or tray of water, float all of your prayers and watch as they slowly (miraculously?!) open up. Invite the young people to reflect on what God might be saying to you all.
Go for a walk… easy to say as the sun pours through the window! Take your group out for a quiet wander and invite them to find something that talks to them about God. Remember if you leave your usual premises you will need permission from parents. If your church has a yard of some kind you’ll find all sorts of stuff without ever leaving the site.
After a while (stop before they get bored) invite everyone to gather and simply ask them to show what they found and reflect on what they discovered about God.