That is the subject which you gave to me. And I must admit that it is rather difficult.
I could write about prayer; and I could also write about young people. But to write about Prayer and Young People is not so easy. In the mind of those or of him who chose this subject there must have been the idea that prayer and the young people is different from prayer and old people.
I remember that such was my impression when I first was asked quite a while ago to write on that subject.
You might well ask me to write on Young People and the Love of God. Or: Young People and Justification.
It seems to me that there is not so much difference between Young People and Old people in the Church of God. The older I become, the more I see that essentially there is no difference at all. And also this: it is a mistake to make too much of a distinction between them and us. Some people talk about sermons for young people and sermons for old people.
There as a day once in the life of God-fearing kind Jehoshaphat when we was attacked by combination of wicked people. And the kind proclaimed a fast. And he called the whole nation to him, so that he might stand and pray before them to Covenant Jehovah. And so they came. Listen to one verse in this beautiful history: “And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives and their children.”
And before the face of that mixed assembly Jehoshaphat poured out his heart to their God. And He heard, and they were beautifully delivered from these wicked people.
And that’s the way our fathers taught us.
Are we not subjecting our children from their earliest infancy to the prayer of their parents, their teachers and their ministers?
I smile sometimes when I think of the first question in the catechism book which I had to learn when I was five years old. Here it is: “How many Gods are there?” Answer: “There is one God.”
Then further: “How many Persons are there in the Godhead?” Answer: “There are three Persons in the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Further, and that was my third question: “But are there then not three Gods?” Answer: “No, but God is one in Essence and Three in Persons.”
There you are.
I was five years old, and they had taught me the deepest mystery in religion.
A few lessons further there came this question: “Whereby is your faith strengthened? And the answer was: “Through the sacraments.”
I was five years old, mind you, and I had tackled the mystery of faith no only, but also its strengthening.
I said that I smiled somewhat, and you must excuse me. That is on account of my stupidity. Because our fathers were no fools. They had studied the way of God with His people, including the little ones. And they did likewise.
Here is the point I wish to make: we usually underestimate the regenerated minds of the little ones in the church.
And that is a serious mistake.
And it has serious consequences.
One of the worst consequences is that most of our young people do not participate in the Lord’s Supper until they are from 17 to 23 years old. And that is terrible.
The old people (and I mean with old: from 23 to 80 or more) go to the table of the Lord and they thank God for the strengthening of their faith. But what about the thousands and thousands of poor young people who had the faith of Jesus Christ in their hearts, souls, and minds, and who must get along as best they can without this strengthening?
In the most flourishing period of the Reformed fathers they took their children to the table of the Lord when they were 14 and 15 years old, and that’s correct.
And so it is with prayer and the young people.
Pray: what do we teach them with regard to prayer? Well, the answer is easy. When they are too young to pray a free prayer, we tell them: Pray thus: Lord, bless this food and drink for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And in the meanwhile, we pray our prayers by the table for them to model after; and they are the prayers of the old!
In church it is the same. They listen to the long prayer of the minister twice on the Lord’s day. They listen to the Christian school teacher pray 20 times each week. And they are prayers of the old people for them to model after.
And so I began to pray when I was young.
Since I had this assignment I turned my thoughts to my first free prayers, when I was alone with God. And, really, they are not much different from the prayers which I pray today. How could it be otherwise? All I had to copy after were the prayers of the old.
If there is a difference, it is the difference of subject matter. And two things come to my mind. First, the subject matter of my mature days is characterized by more knowledge of the Scripture. It stands to reason that prayer that is worthy of that name must be Scriptural in content and subject matter. The more you pray like the inspired saints, the more “beautiful” is your prayer. God loves to hear you pray like Abraham, David, and Solomon. Yes, and like Jesus. And, second, my subject matter is richer, because my life’s experiences are richer now than in my childhood.
But I will give you some hints.
First, pray early. With that I mean that if you seek the Lord early you will find Him. God Himself asks you to do this. To everyone of His children He says in their infancy and young manhood and maidenhood: “My son, give me they heart!” And when you do that, you are praying. That is my first hint: praying is the opening of the heart to God. Of course, you understand that I am speaking of the children of God. I am speaking of those that are regenerated in their earliest infancy.
And that first hint is according to God. Your heart has the love of God in it. And your heart will turn for that reason to Him who begat you. Why does the flower turn itself to the sun? Answer: because it loves the light.
Second: that you pray in Jesus’ Name. And that does not mean to simply finish every prayer slavishly: for Jesus’ sake. Many are the prayers which ended in this manner, but were never heard. But it means that you pray from the consciousness that you are in Him, are ingrafted in Him, and that you are controlled by His Spirit.
Third: that you pray to the true God only. And that’s very important. God hates it if you erect a god in front of His face. Search your heart before you pray, and take all the idols which you see there and bury them “under the oak at Shechem.” Set your face before the great and terrible God of the Holy Scriptures, and then say: Father!
Fourth: Pray according to His Word. Do not pray outside of that Word. Do not pray for all kinds of earthly things. Learn from the saints who are now in heaven, and whose prayers are both inspired by the Holy Ghost, and are left in the Bible for you to copy. And you will find that they almost always prayed for oceans of grace and truth, love and faith and hope, goodness and mercy. In short they prayed to have God in Christ. Praying thus you will grow rich in God.
Fifth: pray in sincerity and in truth. Be not like the unstable man in James’ epistle, James 1: 6-8. An unstable man, wavering in his mind while he prays is really afraid that God may hear him. If, for instance, you pray: Lord, lead me not into temptation! be sure that you mean what you say. For God may hear you. And you will be kept from filthy sins. But even while praying for His protecting care, you may secretly hope that He may not hear you. Why? Because you like the very sin you pray against. God hates that.
Sixth: Pray in great humility. Remember to Whom you are praying. If angels in heaven cover their faces when they stand before His glorious Face, how about you? I can understand that in better days, many, many years ago, I heard elders pray: O Covenant God! let it not be evil in Thy sight that we address Thee in prayer!
Why do you think God called David a man after his own heart? I will tell you. It is because I know no other saint who was as humble as he. Reading his humble prayers and supplications of which the book of Psalms is full, I am beset with holy jealousy. Oh, to pray like David! And look at Jesus! He is the better David. No, there’s not one like the lowly Jesus. No, not one. No, not one.
When you are alone, when you are going to bed at night, when you kneel by your bedside, crawl in the dust for your own heart and consciousness, and pray. Say to Him: O God! I am not worthy of all they benefits. If Thou wouldest behold iniquity, I could not stand before Thee. I am worthy of only one things: and that is to be cast away forever from They care and thought. Tell Him that you are sorry for all you have done amiss. Do not spare yourself. Tell Him everything: “’k Verborg geen kwaad, dat in mij werd gevonden!” (Ask some Dutchman to translate this for you.)
Be humble. Be meek. Be lowly in your mind. Say with Paul, and say it with your whole heart: I am the chief of sinner.
Seventh: Thank Him, oh, young people, thank Him, that you are His child, that He showered great, eternal, spiritual, heavenly blessings on you. Praise Him, adore Him, extol Him whose name is Jah!
Finally, pray in the assurance that you are heard. That is the meaning of the Amen at the end of your prayers.
I thank you, young people, for asking me to write for you.
Originally published in:
Vol. 18 No. 1 February 1958