The Prayer Wall
by Joshua Carson
I inherited a lot of things from the previous Youth Pastor at my church. My favorite piece of that inheritance is a section of a wall in our Youth Room that had been deemed the "Prayer Wall." When I first heard about the idea of a Prayer Wall I was deeply impressed—I had never seen such a significant physical embodiment of a student ministry's commitment to prayer.
I've found that teens are not naturally comfortable with prayer in front of others. It can be like pulling teeth to get a student to volunteer to pray during a youth event. Students feel intimidated by the prospect of praying in front of their peers or in front of adult leaders, who allegedly "pray better" than they do. I've often heard students say that they "don't know how to pray" or that they don't know what words to use. To be fair, teenagers aren't the only ones who have these kinds of complaints—adults do too. In fact, churches need to be equipping families with the ability to engage with God through prayer—both as a unit and on an individual level. Growing up, I found that praying frequently at home with my parents and sisters was a great way to learn how to pray on a developmentally appropriate level.
That's where the Prayer Wall comes in. The Prayer Wall is a large section of the wall in our Youth Room that was painted with chalkboard paint. That paint essentially turned the wall into a chalkboard. Add some chalk and an eraser and you've got all that you need for a Prayer Wall. Each week during our Youth Group meeting we gather in a semi-circle around the Prayer Wall and go through three steps. First, we have time for students and adults to address any prayer requests that were already on the wall. Students can erase a request that had been answered, underline or circle one that they feel needs some emphasis, or otherwise modify their request. This is also a time for us to follow up with each other about how God may have answered prayers in our lives from week to week. The second step of the process is to write up new prayer requests, which are left up on the wall as long as the author wishes. This past year we divided the wall into four sections: family, school, community, and world. The prayers get added into the appropriate section so that it is easier for us to find them later. The third step, of course, is to pray. Each person in the circle has the chance to pray out loud or to "pass" to the person next to them. I close our time in prayer and then the group prays the Lord's Prayer, which we have written on the side of the wall.
I love how much our students have come to expect and enjoy the Prayer Wall (if I forget to close with the Lord's Prayer, the students don't let us move on until we've prayed it). It has become a part of the culture and liturgy of our Youth Group, and students frequently come to Youth Group with prayer requests or praise reports to share. Once a student brought in a notebook with a list of prayers to write on the wall—prayers that he had been saving over the summer. It has been a phenomenal way for us to visibly and tangibly see God working in our lives and to take intentional time with prayer as a community. At the beginning of each year I explain the purpose of the Prayer Wall and how we use it, and I always talk about how God sees us when we write our prayer or praise on the wall, and that the act of writing on the board is itself a prayer to God—God hears it even if someone doesn't mention it verbally during our prayer time.
Some requests stay on the wall for the entire year. ISIS has been on the wall since the fall of 2014—we've been praying for them to cease violence and come to know Christ. We've prayed for the many people in our church struggling with cancer and other physical ailments. We've prayed for people to find jobs, for stressful academic situations, and for healing and peace to come to our families and the world.
Throughout the year when prayers are answered or when people want them taken down we erase them with a chalkboard eraser. Some more organized or Type-A folks might prefer to wipe it down with a wet paper towel so that the wall actually gets cleaned and the marks are gone. But I only clean the wall once every August, and we use an eraser for a very important reason. Over the course of the year that wall gets really dirty. There are lots of marks where lots of prayers have been erased, and each of those smudges is a reminder.
We can see by the dirtiness of the wall how faithful God has been to us.
In the filthiness we see how God has heard our cries and laments for the world. And that alone is worth dealing with the mess.
What are some creative and meaningful ways that you and your community can engage in prayer? Answer in the comment section below.
Josh Carson is Pastor of Student Ministries at First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, PA, and is a Sider Scholar with the Sider Center & ESA while working on his M.Div. at Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University.