I don’t watch a lot of movies, but when I do, I’m rarely impacted beyond being entertained in the moment. Sometimes, though, on rare occasions, I see a movie or even a scene that captivates my thinking, leaving an indelible mark. Such was the case with “Gravity,” a film starring Sandra Bullock as a scientist/rookie astronaut, whose first mission goes horribly awry, leaving her floating around in space with ostensibly no way to get back to earth.

The most impactful moment of the movie for me follows after an accident has left Bullock’s character lost in space. Oxygen is running out; the penetrating cold is taking its toll; she’s losing capacity for rational thought. Attempting to make radio contact with any living being, she is babbling into the comms device searching for any response. Her ramblings are mostly forgettable, until finally, in a desperate and hopeless whisper, she says this: “I’m going to die today…and no one will even say a prayer for me…would you say a prayer for me? Or is it too late? I would say a prayer for myself, but I’ve never prayed in my life. I would pray, but nobody ever taught me how. Nobody ever taught me how.” [To watch this powerful clip, click here].

These lines really rocked me; in the dark of the theater, I was moved to tears. Oh God, how many people have never learned how to talk to the One who loves them beyond understanding, who hears every need, who sees every tear, who formed their beings with infinite care?

Praying as Christian Educators

I’ve been involved in helping implement the second annual ACSI Day of Prayer, an involvement which has stimulated my thinking about the role of prayer as an aspect of spiritual formation. The many benefits of enacting a global day of prayer are readily apparent: honoring God (and that would be enough!); being obedient to pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Colossians 4:2); connecting the body of Christ represented by Christian schools and their constituents; building awareness of global needs; practicing corporately the discipline of prayer; interceding for nations, regions, schools, and children… the list goes on.

In conjunction with working on the Day of Prayer, I’ve also been doing work related to biblical worldview development and spiritual formation in our schools. I’ve been thinking about how to build strategic plans for achieving spiritually-related expected student outcomes. So often, we have articulated our ESO’s as they relate to spiritual development; we create activities, events, and programs designed to spiritually form our students; we have the best intentions for what we hope our students are becoming as followers of Jesus Christ. However, too often we stop there—we don’t take all those discrete pieces and intentionally create a plan. After we’ve articulated the hoped-for outcomes, we need to strategically design a scope and sequence that builds a framework of activities, events, classes, and other inputs that deposit within students the knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions to achieve these outcomes. Of course, these inputs include numerous opportunities for hands-on, hearts-in, active engagement that shapes our students from the inside out.

Within this framework, where do we teach students to pray? And do we see this as a need? Even the disciples, grown men who daily walked in the presence of God incarnate, came to Jesus with this appeal: Luke 11:1 tells us that the disciples saw something in Jesus that they lacked, so one asked Him, “Lord, teach us how to pray.”

It’s generally understood that our society is growing increasingly secular; prayer is not a frequent topic of conversation or point of instruction. Even those who would claim to be Christians are not necessarily steeped in religious tradition or regularly practice spiritual disciplines. As Christian educators, we must consider that, if we want to achieve effective spiritual formation in our students, truly helping them become devoted followers of Christ, the task may fall to us to teach our students how to pray.

Becoming Strategic 

To that end, what should we do? First, we need to be sure our teachers are themselves ones who know how to pray. Does your interview process include asking about a potential candidate’s practice of spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible reading? At a minimum, are we assuring that our teachers or would-be teachers are comfortable praying with their students and colleagues such that they can model this practice for their students?

Second, we must articulate clearly our expectation that teachers pray. We do this by making prayer a part of the fabric of our communities. Do we have staff prayer? Do we ask teachers to include prayer in their classes? Do we have a parent group that gathers to pray for our schools? Do we share prayer requests with our school community and report on answers to prayer? And by way of modeling prayer, do you personally, as the school leader, pray? With staff? With students? In public gatherings with your school community?

What a gift we give to our students when we teach them the benefit of prayer, equip them with tools of prayer, and then stimulate their faith to step out and pray, believing that their Father hears them. No matter what may face our precious students in life, may we help them know how to reach out to their strong tower, their fortress, their deliverer, the lover of their souls, their rock and redeemer. That is a priceless gift we can give them—let’s teach our students to pray.

Next Steps 

  • Today: To be involved in ACSI’s Day of Prayer today, February 12, follow this link to see the hundreds of prayer requests that have been submitted from all over the world. Spend time praying through them and consider how you can invite others into this process with you.
  • For the future: consider your school’s expected student outcomes related to spiritual formation, and the scope and sequence currently in place to achieve them. Plan a time to review what’s currently being done, especially with regard to prayer. Consider how you might address teaching students to pray.

About the Author

Deborah Miller - ACSIDeborah Miller serves as the Northwest Regional Director for ACSI. She is a Pacific Northwest native and completed her higher education (BA, MA, and Ed.D) at George Fox University. She taught upper elementary, junior high, and high school levels before creating and running a teacher education program at Multnomah University. She later served as head of school at a large Christian high school in Tigard, Oregon prior to working at ACSI. Her passions include biblical worldview development, prayer, and equipping others to fulfill their calling with passion and excellence. Dr. Miller has published articles and led professional workshops for ACSI and other professional organizations for over twenty-five years, and was named as George Fox University’s 2018 Alumna of the Year. She can be reached via email at debi_miller@acsi.org.