Praying with Teens: The Prayer Journal
As a mother of two daughters, I’ve been learning the vital role of prayer to help my teens approach their day—especially when we’re overwhelmed, stressed out, or fearful about the day ahead. I want my daughters to experience God as a loving Father who cares about them and listens to their prayers. I want them to cultivate the regular practice from 1 Peter 5:7 where we’re told to “cast all [our] anxiety upon him because he cares for [us].”
Several years ago, I memorized a passage of scripture that fuels my passion for prayer with my teens and sets up the expectation that God will indeed move on our behalf every day. David writes these words: “In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”
I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
The passage filled my heart with hope and joy. And I loved that, like David, I was sitting with the Lord in the morning as the sunrise turned my bedroom to buttery yellow. I could hear my husband making coffee and my daughters getting out of bed. I thought about the beauty of a day that waits expectantly for God to answer prayer. My problems now seemed like opportunities to see God work. For the first time in a while, I felt full of a new kind of faith. I underlined the passage and called out to my daughters as I held a pen over a blank page in my journal.
“Girls! We can tell God about everything we need today. Then we can wait to see how He responds! Listen to this verse! The psalm says we can wait expectantly! What prayer requests do you have about your day?”
That morning, I wrote down anything they told me on that blank page. Years later, this blank page turned into the practice we call The Prayer Journal (or the PJ for short). We record 3-5 requests every morning: the upcoming tests, the friendship trouble, even the worry about whether an outfit looks good. My youngest would ask, “Mom, can we ask God that I feel good in my clothes? Can we ask Him about the new seating chart in math class?” Back then, I told them over and over again that no concern was too big or too small for the prayer journal. I kept reminding my children that God actually does care about them. In Psalm 33:15 we read, “God formed the hearts of all and considers everything they do.” So yes, we prayed about the test in Biology, the English presentation, and that we felt good in our clothes. We prayed about our nervousness for new seat assignments, about the pain of braces, and anything else on our minds. As the years went by, the requests became bigger like college entrances and scholarships, but we still ask God about tests and friendships every morning.
The Prayer Journal allows us to pray together (often as we’re driving to school or gobbling down a quick breakfast). This practice of morning prayer requests cultivates a heart of hope and expectation; it eases anxiety, and it allows me to constantly reiterate the truth that God is listening, that He answers (Psalm 65:2) and that He is our “ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). We approach God confidently (Hebrews 4:16) because Jesus made a way for us to freely enter God’s presence at any time (Ephesians 3:12). The Prayer Journal, then, became a foundation to help build an ongoing relationship with God and a way to talk to Him at the most basic level of what we needed. Although prayer comprises so many other aspects (adoration, confession, intercession for others), the Prayer Journal of requests helped build our faith and family conversations about God and prayer.
Later in the day, often during our after-school snack (that I still do even for older teenagers!) or around the dinner table, we check in to see how God moved on our behalf. We celebrate answered prayers, but we also talk about our disappointment. When my daughters don’t get the thing they’ve asked for, or especially if they feel disappointment or rejection, we talk about these two family mottos we created when they were little girls:
Every rejection is God’s protection.
Every delay is still God’s way.
Sometimes God says “No.” Sometimes He delays our plans because He has something else brewing. We talk about God’s loving character and how “no good thing does he withhold” from us (Psalm 84:11). I often remind them of this quote from missionary Elisabeth Elliot who endured many disappointments and suffering in her life. She wrote, “God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God’s refusals are always merciful – ‘severe mercies’ at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our hearts desire except to give us something better.” God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better.
Finally, The Prayer Journal connects me to my daughters when I travel and as my oldest leaves for college. I’ll often find myself on an early morning plane ride or in a morning meeting, and my daughters will text in their morning prayer requests. By afternoon, I can text back and ask if they saw God answer their prayer. It keeps us connected and focused on Jesus all day long. It’s a way we’ve learned to enjoy God’s presence and practice talking to Him each day. Every new morning, I think about Psalm 5:3. I let hope, joy, and expectation fill my heart as I turn to a blank page and call out, “What are we praying about today?”