Originally published March 30, 2008
Thou shalt teach thy children to pray.
“pray without ceasing;” I Thessalonians 5:17
When my kids were toddlers, I knew that there was no way they could wrap their little undeveloped brains around the abstract concept of God. It is certainly true, though, that God has made Himself evident within each of our hearts (Romans 1:19), because when the kids and I would pray together or talk about God, none of them ever once asked me who God was, even though they couldn’t see, hear, or touch Him. Teaching our kids to pray fans that little spark of knowing God into flame. Start from birth, and help them to make it a lifelong discipline.
I’m not a big fan of “Now I lay me down to sleep”, “God is great; God is good” and other memorized prayers. Assuming they’re biblically sound, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with them, and they do contain some spiritual truths, but in my own experience the more familiar, rote, and repetitious something is, the less meaningful it can become over time. I think it’s important to teach kids that prayer is a way of talking with God that should have meaning for our lives.
When we teach children to pray, they need to know that they don’t have to use “thee’s” and “thou’s” and a bunch of fancy language in order to be heard. There are millions of Christians all over the globe who wouldn’t know flowery speech if it smacked them upside the head, and yet God listens to them just the same.
It is also essential that we teach them that while God is indeed our friend, He is also holy, and must be addressed with reverence for that holiness. When we recognize His holiness in our prayers by acknowledging Him as Creator of all things in the universe, listing and proclaiming His attributes (such as goodness, mercy, justice, grace, love, forgiveness, etc.), and humbling ourselves before Him, it puts us in the right spiritual attitude for doing business with God.
Another vital distinction to make is that God is not Santa Claus. He’s not sitting up there waiting for our wish lists, granting them if we’ve been nice and denying them if we’ve been naughty. Kids are naturally self-centered, so it helps them to take their focus off self if we teach them to thank God for the things that they already have, to pray for others, and to confess their sins.
Jesus gave us a great example of how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13):
- Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. We humble ourselves before God, recognizing His position and submitting to His sovereignty and authority.
- Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. We intercede for ourselves as well as others. We ask that God’s will, not ours or anyone else’s, be done in each situation, and that He will receive the glory in every circumstance.
- Give us this day our daily bread. We ask for God’s provision for our needs and recognize that it is only by His hand that we have anything.
- And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. We confess and ask forgiveness for our sins. We ask God to help us forgive those who have sinned against us.
- And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. We ask for God’s protection and the strength to obey Him and resist temptation.
- For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. We again recognize God’s sovereignty, give Him glory, and leave all of our requests with Him to deal with as He sees fit.
Your 5 year old’s prayer, encompassing these areas, might look something like this:
Thank you for being good and loving. Thank you for my family and my dog. Thank you for making the park so I can play there. Thank you for the food we’ve eaten today, and please give us the food we need tomorrow. Please help my friend Jason to feel better and get over the flu. I’m sorry I hit my brother this morning. Please forgive me and help me to be kind to him. I love You.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Of course, he probably isn’t going to come up with all of that on his own. The best way to teach kids to pray is to pray with them. You might go first, praying a simple prayer, and then have him pray, or you might want to try what I call a “ping pong” prayer. You pray one sentence, and he prays the next, and so on, until you’re done. For example:
Mom: Dear Lord, thank you for being kind.
Kid: Thank you for being forgiving.
Mom: Please help the Jones family because they’re sad that their cat died.
Kid: Please take care of our missionaries in South America.
One of the ways we can teach our kids that God hears us when we pray is to keep track of His answers to our prayers. At our house, I was concerned that, while we were all praying together, the kids were not making the connection between their prayers and what God was doing in our lives. I decided a good way to help them make that connection would be to keep track of answered prayers as well as blessings we hadn’t thought to ask for, and other ways God was working in our family.
It was as simple as a trip to the dollar store. I bought a piece of posterboard and entitled it “What is God up to?” It now graces one wall of our breakfast room. Every time we have an answered prayer (even if the answer is no), an unexpected blessing, or an obvious move of God in our lives, I write it down on the poster. It has really helped the kids to see where God is moving. I can tell, because now they are the ones to remind me of an answer to prayer or something else that needs to go on the poster!
It has also helped them to learn that our prayers don’t just bounce off the ceiling. God does care for us. He does want to hear from us. We can bond with Him by spending time talking to Him. Those are priceless precepts for kids and parents alike.