The concept of the devotional life comes up often. It surfaces among seminarians, students, pastors, DCEs, teachers, parents, as well as the vast workforce of people working with teenagers. Studies among pastors puts the devotional life in the top five most pressing needs of pastors and the top five personal and professional experiences impacting DCEs.
For those of us working with youth, the words of Mark Yaconelli may strike hard and deep within our inner fears, “But the central problem in sharing the Christian faith with young people… The real crisis facing those of us who seek to share faith with youth is this:
We don’t know how to be with our kids.
We don’t know how to with ourselves.
We don’t know how to be with God.”
The issue isn’t with God. Right? He has come to be with us. He is with us in His Word, in His Sacraments, in the fellowship of His believers. As Jesus said, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). But how can we get better and more comfortable at being with Him, at sitting still in his presence and listening to His Word? If Yaconelli is correct, or even pretty close, this goes to the foundation of youth ministry – being with our kids.
We are invited to be with God, to spend time in His Word and in prayer. This concern is not new. It is an age old struggle since Adam and Eve could no longer be with God in the cool of the Garden.
It was a concern for Peter, Martin Luther’s barber, when he asked Luther how to pray. (The story of his barber is another interesting tale all by itself!) Luther writes his reply, “I will tell you as best I can what I do personally when I pray. May our dear Lord grant to you and to everybody (that’s you and me!) to do better than I!”
He then shares his ITCP practice with Peter. He calls this a garland of four strands, which is woven into one durable practice for our devotional life. We can also try this with our Small Catechism, in particular the 10 Commandments or the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles’ Creed. For example, take one commandment at a time (Ex. 20). This can be done on the commute, on a run or bike ride, a walk, with a cup of coffee in the middle of the day.
Instruction – Ask, “How is this commandment instruction for me?” Read the commandment seeking to understand what it is teaching me here? How can this be my textbook?
Thanksgiving – Use the commandment to thank God for something. How can this be my song?
Confession – This one is pretty easy for the commandments, “What sin comes to my mind or heart for which I need to bring to the Lord to be forgiven?” How can this be my penitential book?
Prayer – Not the miscellaneous of the four, but the chance to raise other things, praises to the Lord who wants to be with you. How can this be my prayer book?
It is a simple outline, often one does not get through one commandment or even all four ITCP steps until you notice that the Holy Spirit has some gift just for you. Luther noticed when using the ITCP format with the Lord’s Prayer, “I may get lost among so many ideas in one petition that I forego the other six. If such an abundance of good thoughts comes to us we ought to disregard the other petitions, make room for such thoughts, listen in silence, and under no circumstances obstruct them. The Holy Spirit himself preaches here, and one word of his sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers.”
It seems that trying something different for a season is a good way to adventure out. This Easter season may be a chance to practice the ITCP method of being with God in prayer and His Word. Then we can possibly get better at being with the kids the Lord has given to us to nurture, encourage and mentor. Maybe even practice the ITCP method of being with God with them!