Matthew 6:7, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”
Prayer can often be a challenge for children, even children raised in the church. They hear adults pray in church or at home using big, fancy words and think they have to use big, fancy words, too. Or they quickly become bored during the long prayers they hear during the church service and don’t really pay attention to what is being said. Sometimes children think that praying is really just giving God a wishlist of everything they want, kind of like a Christmas list. Other times, we have one of many excuses to NOT pray – “I don’t feel like it,” “I don’t know what to say,” “I feel silly,” “I don’t think God is really listening,” etc.
I have often struggled with feeling like I, as a pastor’s wife, ought to have a fabulous plan of attack for teaching my kids the spiritual basics like reading their Bibles and praying. Truthfully, I often feel like a failure in this area. Like all kids, my kids are sinners, and these spiritual disciplines are not natural habits for them – or for us adults! I tend to put off doing something that I know I need to do if I don’t feel like I have a good plan of attack. For a long time, that was how I approached teaching my kids to pray.
Then one day, I realized what I needed to teach them: just pray. We didn’t need a fancy plan to get it done or a perfect curriculum. We just needed to do it. We have always modeled prayer in our home, and they have seen it in church their whole lives, but when I first started asking my children to take turns praying out loud, they balked. They had many of those familiar fears and worries – they weren’t sure what to say or felt nervous praying out loud in front of each other. We started anyway, and it didn’t take long for them to grow more comfortable. Along the way, there have been many small lessons on prayer that have helped us:
- Don’t worry about using big words or having a really long prayer. Matthew 6:7 is a great help for showing kids that God doesn’t care how impressive our prayers sound. My kids were worried that they couldn’t pray “as good” as Mommy and Daddy, so they felt defeated before they even began. Once they understood that their prayer could be as simple as, “Thank You Jesus for loving me,” they were happy to participate.
- God wants to hear from children too. Jesus told His disciples, “Let the little children come to me” (Matt. 19:14). Kids sometimes think they aren’t worthy of praying and that God only wants to hear from adults. Scripture clearly teaches that God loves children and wants to have relationships with them, too.
- Model prayer to our children. The best way to teach kids to pray is to consistently model it to them. That can be at mealtimes, before bed, in the morning, on the way to school, when they’re sad, when they’re happy, when someone is in need, when they’ve disobeyed, when they’re scared, anytime! Pray with them and for them so that they are used to hearing what talking with God sounds like.
- Teach them that prayer is more than just asking for things. I have used the familiar acronym ACTS to teach my kids about different kinds of prayer. A is for Adoration (praising God), C is for Confession (confessing sin), T is for Thanksgiving (thanking God), and S is for Supplication (asking God for things). I will often tell them to pray two letters, or we will pray all together after we have brainstormed at least one item for each letter. This is helping them see that praying is bigger than just asking for stuff.
- Pray Scripture. This is the easiest to do when we have just finished reading Scripture together. We simply pray back what we have just read. If we read about creation, we praise God for His awesome work in creation. If we read about the fruit of the Spirit, we ask God to grow His fruit in us and confess ways that we have sinned. We look at what we have read and ask ourselves, “How does this teach us or affect us?” Then we pray accordingly.
One product that we have enjoyed and that has helped us in this area is Devotional Dippers. We pull one “dipper” out of the box each night and read the short passage of Scripture it lists. Then we talk about it and pray, using that Scripture as a launching pad to pray. Devotional Dippers can be found here.
- Pray through your church directory and missionary list. It can be easy to focus on our own little circle of family and friends and our needs. Using the church directory and missionary list is a great way to expand our horizons to praying for others. Sometimes we look at a name/picture on the list and remember needs they have that we wouldn’t have thought to pray for otherwise. Sometimes we don’t know what their needs are at all, but we can still lift them up and ask God to guide them, encourage them, and bless them. Bonus – the more we pray for our church family, the more that God builds up the unity of the body within our church.
These are just some of the things I’ve learned about praying with my kids over the years. But really, the biggest lesson I have learned is to just pray. I need to stop worrying about trying to get things “just right.” I need to stop living in guilt that I haven’t done a good enough job, or that we skipped yesterday, or anything like that. I need to pick up right where we are and pray, and teach my kids the same thing. God wants to hear from us, right now, right here, no matter what.
Lord, thank You for making it so easy for us to come to You in prayer. May my children grow into mighty prayer warriors, bringing everything to You in prayer every day!
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