In last week’s Encouragement From the Word, I recounted part of the story of Cassie Bernall, the student at Columbine High School who was killed for being a Christian, relating that to the reality of suffering and persecution among believers. This elicited a heart-tugging response from a subscriber who was part of a tragic school shooting at one time.
This person told me how important a role prayer played in the aftermath, noting that “Amongst the sirens and the ambulances and the police, we gathered in small groups, holding hands and praying. God was there giving comfort to us in our time of greatest need”, and that when the school reopened, a few days later, a prayer was offered over the PA system to bring comfort to the injured and the families of the victims.
Most schools today, at least where I live, don’t offer the option of public prayer. And while I would welcome a call to restore school prayers, I fear that horse has left the barn, as the saying goes, and that nothing short of national revival is going to bring it back, especially in the political culture in which we find ourselves these days.
So what is the alternative?
Prayer at home. (Now there’s a concept.)
Those students who gathered to pray amid the chaos in my interlocutor’s story must have had some foundation of prayer, both at home and in the church, to lead them to pray together. It served them well to provide comfort in an unimaginable moment.
Too often, in our consumer culture, we depend on institutions to do work that more rightly belongs to the family.
We should not rely on the school system – even a Christian parochial school system, if that’s where our kids go – to teach them such foundational faith basics.
I dare say we should not even rely on the church to do this. (Gasps come from the crowd.)
I think this is the responsibility of parents. In fact, this is not my idea; it’s deeply rooted in the history of God’s people. Consider that sharing the basics of faith has been considered a family mandate from as far back as the time of Moses:
“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6.4-7, NLT).
Of course, parents themselves have to learn this, if they weren’t taught it by their own parents. And that’s where the church comes in. The church’s job is to equip parents to be used by God to shape their children as followers of Jesus.
Someone has said, tongue-in-cheek, that as long as there are exams, there will always be prayer in school. But in an age of increasing persecution for followers of Jesus, all the more do children and young people need to be spiritually formed at home – including knowing how to communicate with God in a loving relationship – so that they can be strong in their faith, no matter what they face, in school or elsewhere.
It may not be bullets that they face (and so we earnestly pray!), but it may be words, which injure in different ways, or something else that comes with persecution. As the church equips the parents to form the children, we will see great spiritual renewal among the people of God, which we need for the world in which we live today.