Teaching children to pray is an awesome privilege and responsibility that we have as parents.
In this post, I am sharing an article by my son who is a missionary to the Philippines. He and his family are in the states right now raising support to go back to the field.
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I LOVE the thoughts he shares here about teaching children to pray, and I think you will find the tips useful.
A couple of months ago, I was really struggling to schedule meetings. I had a huge hole in my calendar with no meetings whatsoever. One night in devotions, I told my family that we were going to band together and ask God to give us some badly-needed meetings. At the end of devotions, we all took turns praying.
The following morning, I began making phone calls. Within the first few minutes of phoning, I was able to schedule a meeting in the exact place and time that I needed it. It was such an obvious answer to prayer.
After I finished speaking to the pastor, I ran out to the living room where the kids were playing. I said, “Guess what? God just gave us a meeting!” Michael and Beth were so excited, but probably not nearly as much as I was!
I told Beth and Michael that I thought we should pray and thank God for answering our prayer, and they both quickly agreed.
I told Michael that he could go first. I didn’t tell him what to say; I just bowed my head (with my eyes open just a little) and waited for him to start.
Michael, who is four years old, jumped right in. He didn’t even say “Dear Jesus,” or anything of the sort. With his little fists clenched and his eyes tightly shut, he said, “WE SO ESITED! WE GOT A MEETING! PLEASE GIVE US MORE MEETINGS… AMEN.”
The following morning, we packed up and loaded the van. However, when we all got in the van, it decided that it didn’t want to start. The battery was stone dead! We all piled back out of the van, and I told Beth and Michael that we needed to pray and ask God to help us get our van fixed.
We knelt down in the living room, and Michael went first once again. He refrained from any kind of opening statement again, and jumped right into his prayer. He said, “UM… WE NOT ESITED. OUR VAN IS BROKE. GOD, PLEEEASE HELP OUR VAN TO GET FIXED, AND PLEEEASE HELP US TO GET MORE MEETINGS. AMEN!”
Then it was Beth’s turn, she bowed her head, and with pathos that I could never describe in writing, she began, “DEAR GOD, PLEEEESE HELP US TO GET OUR VAN FIXED. PLEASE SEND SOMEONE TO HELP US FIX OUR VAN… BECAUSE… WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO, AND WE JUST REALLY NEED YOU, GOD. AMEN.”
An hour or two later the pastor of the church that we were with the previous evening sent a couple of men out to the house where we were staying. When they pulled into the driveway, Beth was ecstatic! She looked out the window and said, “Daddy! Daddy! This is what I prayed… that God would send someone to help us with our van. God answered MY prayer!”
One of the challenges that every Christian parent faces is trying to teach our children to pray and how to pray.
It’s kind of a strange thing; I want to help my children learn to pray, but I don’t want to tell them what to say, word for word. It is very easy for children to fall into a habit of always saying the exact same thing from rote memory. While I’m certainly not against that, it really isn’t what I want to teach my children.
I WANT MY CHILDREN TO LEARN THAT THEY CAN TALK TO GOD JUST LIKE ANY OTHER PERSON. I don’t want them to simply quote a “prayer” from memory. I want them to talk to God, and I want them to learn that God answers prayer.
Though Ruth and I are far from experts, and I have to admit that I haven’t been nearly as consistent in praying with my children as I should be, I feel that God has taught me some things that could be helpful to you as you seek to teach your own children to pray.
1. If you want your children to learn to pray, you must teach and train them.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go...” If your children ever learn to pray, it will not be an accident. It will happen because you as their parent go out of your way to train them. Training must be done on purpose!
No child has ever learned to read by accident. Somebody had to teach him how to read. It was on purpose. If our children our going to learn to pray, it will not happen by accident. Somebody has to teach them, and we, as the parents, should be that “somebody.”
2. If you want your children to learn to pray, you as the parent must have a regular walk with God yourself.
Whether we like it or not, our children will learn far more from what we do than what we say. We will never succeed in teaching our children to do something that we do not practice personally.
The old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do” simply does not work in parenting. You will never teach your children to pray if you are not walking with God yourself.
3. If you want your children to learn to pray, they should know that you walk with God REGULARLY.
It’s not enough for you to walk with God; your children need to know that you walk with God. It should be common knowledge in your home that mom and dad regularly spend time talking to God.
Personally, I like to walk when I pray, and at 6 and 4 years old, my children have picked up on this.
A few weeks ago, on a chilly morning, as I was returning from my “walk,” my son Michael looked at me knowingly and said, “I know where you’ve been.” Then pointing his finger in the air, he said emphatically, “You’ve been talking to God!”
He had no idea what a blessing that was to me! My children are absolutely convinced that their daddy knows God, and that encourages me immensely.
4. If you want your children to learn to pray, they need to practice.
When my children were very young, I would lead them in a sentence by sentence prayer, but as they’ve gotten older, I’ve begun allowing them to form their own prayers.
Like I said earlier, I don’t want my children to simply quote a prayer from memory. I want them to talk to God like He’s a real person… Because He is a real person.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been encouraged by the fact that my children seem to be becoming more comfortable with talking to God.
My wife and I have done a couple of things that I think have helped with that.
I TELL MY KIDS WHAT TO PRAY FOR BUT NOW EXACTLY HOW TO SAY IT.
Each time I have the children pray, I give them one or two (occasionally three) things to pray for. I then allow them to pray without any interference from me. They may pray ten seconds or a couple minutes, but they are using their own words.
The other thing I’ve done with my kids wasn’t really intentional to begin with. EVERY TIME WE PRAYED, I WOULD CHANGE THE PRAYER REQUESTS.
Though it was not purposeful at the beginning, I was preventing my children from falling into a habit of always saying the same thing in their praying. This is probably the most useful thing I’ve learned.
If I can keep my children praying about a variety of things, they will never reach the point where prayer is nothing more than the quoting of memorized platitudes.
I’d like to close with this simple thought: we teach our children to brush their teeth and make their beds. We teach them how to read and write. We teach them proper manners and respect, but are we teaching our children how to pray?