In what way is prayer a part of Christian nurture? Actually, prayer is the foundational element of Christian nurture. Let’s talk about personal prayer here and leave corporate prayer for another time.
Personal prayer is very much like -- but not exactly like -- talking with a close friend who loves and supports us. (God is always there; our friends may not be able to be there, as we need.) Such talks, where we share intimately, deepen and strengthen our relationship. So it is with our relationship with God. When we share deeply with God and listen for God’s loving response, we grow closer to God and grow in our trust in being loved unconditionally. That is the key to nurture.
Unless I have trust in being loved, I am not truly free to love and serve in the world.
Faith is simply the trust that God loves me and that I am significant in the universe. God’s love flows through me to the world. Unless I have trust in being loved, I am not truly free to love and serve in the world. So personal prayer is the way that I receive, accept, and grow in the trust of God’s love for me. When I am challenged, prayer is the time when I can let God love me and build me up to deal with life as it comes. Prayer is also the time when I can listen and get in touch with what I am truly called to be and do in this world.
So personal prayer is the essential, fundamental element of Christian nurture. The way we nurture our relationship with God makes our servanthood possible.
Our relationship with God begins the moment we are born in the love and care of our parents. It is nurtured through the love and care of the community. Within that human cradle of love, we begin to grow in our own, direct, relationship with God as we are guided and taught in ways appropriate to our age and development.
So it is crucial that we, as the beloved community, the church, do all we can to guide and support our people, whatever their ages, in their practice of personal prayer. Loving nurture is especially crucial in the first few years of a child’s life when the foundation is laid for how that child will come to relate to God and the world beyond. Support and guidance for parents is critical. They need the sustenance that God can provide so that they may love in the way their children need.
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Rev. R. Ben Marshall, a retired United Methodist Elder and Minister of Christian Education with a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Christian Education teaches adults at Northaven UMC, Dallas, TX and provides one-on-one spiritual direction. He founded the Christian Nurture Project and authored the new book "Beyond Christian Education: The Future of Nurturing Disciples in the Local Church".