Nothing shouts sincerity louder than the sound of little children speaking to their creator. However, as one of Jesus’ disciples states in Luke 11:1, “Lord, teach us to pray…” we all need help in learning to pray.
The children we once taught to pray now have praying children of their own. I now love the occasions when I have the opportunity to pray with my grandchildren. I love “hearing their hearts” and am often inspired by the honesty and detail with which they pray.
I think back to numerous times when my faith was challenged by my children’s prayers. I confess that at times I wished to myself that they had not prayed a particular prayer which I faithlessly believed could not happen.
Like the time they prayed fervently for a puppy…day after day.
Several months later an Irish Setter puppy showed up at our door. Seriously. I opened the front door and it was right there staring at me. Eyeball to eyeball as if to say…”Oh you of little faith.” The dog stayed with us for days until its owner was finally found. By then we were persuaded to get a dog…and have had one ever since. My children were not surprised.
While I’m not saying a puppy will show up at your door, I am saying that we must not underestimate the power of prayer.
As I think back to prayer times with our young children I remember times when their prayers scared me. Often they would express their love to God and tell him how much they wanted to be with him. While I loved this and longed for this simplicity of child-like trust, I would follow up with God afterward and let him know that I understood that they wanted to be with him…but this scared me and I longed for them to stay here with us.
I also remember times when they were preschoolers when I initiated prayer time before bed and they refused to pray (at least the one of them did this). This sometimes messed with my mind. Would it be wrong to “demand” that they pray? Would this warp their genuine heartfelt desire for God because they felt they “had” to pray? Remember….I’m talking little ones here…little ones who can be stubborn and try to take control. I realized that these times were simply about “who was going to win” and that my “win” as a parent was crucial. By the way, it did not hurt their future prayer life or heartfelt love for God
So what are helpful ways we can teach our children to pray?
- Set the example. It seems most obvious, but there is nothing more important than our example. Do our children see and hear us pray? I mean “really” pray? Not just the quick prayer before a meal, but talking with God when we don’t know how to handle a situation…or when we are worried…or when we are thankful…or when someone we know has a need… Do they see us pray often and spontaneously? Do they hear true thankfulness in our hearts when we thank God for the food on our plates, or for the gifts we receive, or unexpected blessings…or even challenges? When they are in a spat with a sibling or unsure of what to do…do we lead them to prayer?
- Give them some practical ideas. It helped our children to have some structure in their prayers. When they were very young my husband or I started the prayer and let them follow with words from their heart. I started by talking about why I loved God and loved talking to him. Then I began the prayer with: Thank you for _________ and let them fill in things for which they were thankful. Gratitude is always a good place to start. From there I would continue: Please help ________ and encouraged them to ask God to help others who were in need–those who were sick, or poor, or orphaned, or sad. They also prayed for people we knew and hoped would learn the Bible and become Christians. Next, I would add the sentence…Help me __________ and encourage them to pray about areas of their character where they needed God to help them grow stronger. Then we’d end by expressing our heart toward God starting with…I love you because_______________. and then share with God reasons why we loved him. We didn’t follow this every time, but we did this often while they were young.
- Pray with them. Often. Nothing brings us closer to another than going to God with them. I still love to pray with my adult children. Nothing helps me get in touch with my heart more than when I pray together with someone. Nothing helps me know the heart of another more than praying with them. And….In Matthew 18:20 God tells me that “whenever two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
So, set the example, give practical ideas and pray with your children. It can make an eternal difference.
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thess. 5:16-18