Teaching Children to Pray
This article suggests ways we can all journey towards a vibrant prayer life that combines talking and listening to Almighty God.
Let’s liberate our children to pray, and at the same time remain humble enough to learn from them.
There will no doubt be a shared desire amongst parents and children’s ministry leaders to see children actively engaged in prayer. We want to encourage children to see prayer as a bedrock in their spiritual development and an active part of their relationship with God. But there are two problems we face:
It’s actually quite hard to ‘teach’ children how to pray, especially in an hour a week at church.
In desiring an active prayer life for our children, we are keen for them to experience prayer in a way we often haven’t ever experienced ourselves.
Unless we are to become like a little child surely we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Could the releasing of a generation of children to pray and seek God, to hear from him and to respond to his call, who prophesy and see visions actually revitalize our prayer life and walk with Jesus too?
To accompany this article do look through the many ideas and suggestions that can be found on the RaiseUPfaith website. There are wonderful and creative examples of how to engage groups of children, families and churches in praying together.
Family life is often hinged around set rhythms - waking and sleep, eating, school and work. These points in our day help create patterns of behaviour and give children a degree of emotional security. It is may well be that you find helpful points in the day or week to pray with your children like bedtime, mealtimes and church gatherings. These times are important and give opportunity to focus on God. If you are looking to develop these already structured prayer times then RaiseUPfaith has some wonderful ideas to be creative as you say grace as a family, or tuck your child into bed with a prayer.
If you don’t already have any set times of praying then be assured that it doesn’t take long to form habits of praying and it’s never too soon to start. So even if you have tiny babies, then it’s good to pray before eating, and to pray over them as they sleep, just like it’s wonderful when our teenagers ask us to pray with them at bedtime for a tricky situation they face because they know it’s a rhythm that is in place and you are available to them.
1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 says we should, ‘Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances’. When my own children were young, I would crave ‘alone time’ with the Lord, but God showed me how to find opportunities to worship and pray in the playdough, the building of a train-track, in meal preparation and the tidying of our home. Perhaps this sort of whole-life spirituality is what Paul was getting at when he said we should pray continually. Our prayer life should not be reduced to a quick prayer slot at church or a list before bed. The exciting revelation that we can all find God in the everyday, ordinary things should be the starting place for a dynamic prayer life. By showing children that our thoughts can be turned into praise and our conversations with each other can include Jesus will begin to provide a framework for each of us to pray more freely.
It might seem clunky at first but try to include ‘Jesus’ in your normal conversations each day. Little sentences like ‘Look at that wonderful view, thank you God’ or ‘I love the way you were kind to your sister, it reminds me of Jesus’ kindness’, can simply inject the thought of God into our daily routines. Then begin to invite God into these conversations. If you find that your child is hurt, gently pray for healing. If they are sad from an argument, pray that God would comfort them. If they are laughing, reflect back to them that they have the joy of the Lord in them. Additionally, model this in your own life. Begin to find God in the ordinary moments of your life and acknowledge his presence with you.
Listen to God
Babies learn to identify their mother’s voice from inside the womb, and from birth the voice of their mother continues to soothe and calm a child. In just the same way, the Lord wants us to hear, recognised and be soothed by his voice. Teaching children to hear the voice of God may seem like an odd concept, especially if you aren’t used to praying in this way. Don’t let this stop you! The Bible is full of examples of God speaking to his people, and in John 10:27 Jesus says, ‘My sheep listen to my voice. I know them, and they follow me.’ Here are a few examples of how to hear the voice of God.
A simple way for children to hear God’s voice is to put themself into a biblical story. Invite the children to find a comfortable place to sit and close their eyes whilst they listen to you telling them a parable, one of Jesus’s miracles, or any other biblical story. Ask them to use their imaginations, to think about what it would have felt like to stand next to Jesus while this is happening. Encourage them to think about the smells, and the sounds and what they can see as they imagine themselves in the story. At the end of the story, let the children sit quietly and talk to Jesus, bringing him their worries and concerns. Then ask them to imagine what Jesus is saying to them right now.
As you begin to use this language of Jesus speaking to us, you will be able to further encourage children to hear what he might be saying to them in school or at home. Recognising the quiet gentle prompting of God’s voice is a beautiful gift.
Another simple way to demonstrate the Holy Spirit’s prompting is the acknowledgement of our own emotions, and how God can use these emotions to speak to us. It may not be an audible voice, but children can begin to understand that all emotions are God-given and therefore God can speak to us through them. If a person is praying and has a real sense of peace about something, that is likely to be from the Holy Spirit.
Naming these emotions in yourself and in your children will acknowledge God’s leading and guiding in a way that children understand. And peace is only one example. Sometimes God uses anger to rile us into seeking justice. Sometimes he uses discomfort to challenge us about behaviour or sin. And other times an overwhelming sense of joy as we discover His love for something or someone. Helping children use their emotions in prayer will be a treasure God can use.
When I was a little girl, we used to sing an Ishmael song called Obedience. It went something like this, ‘Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe. Doing exactly what the Lord commands, doing it joyfully. Action is the key, do it immediately and joy you will receive!’
Once our children have prayed and listened to the voice of God in prayer, the final part of the puzzle is to give them opportunity to step into what he is saying. The Bible says that it’s common mistake to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit but fail to act upon it. Try reading the Parable of The Wise and Foolish Builders in Matthew 7:24–29, and especially verse 26, ‘But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand.’
The difference between the foolish and wise builders, isn’t that the foolish man didn’t hear God. They both heard God, but the foolish man didn’t put God’s words into practice. Our children don’t just need to be given the opportunity to hear from God but, in the words of Ishmael, ‘action is the key’ to growing into a wise disciple!
As adults we need discernment to give our children the tools they need to not just listen to God but to obey him too. The reason we need discernment as parents and children’s leaders is because it is likely to look different each time a child responds to what God is saying and it may not always be in a child’s power to respond to his voice. Sometimes they might have a word from God for the whole church community. Are we ready to give them the platform to speak out a prophetic word? Sometimes they might feel challenged to feed a homeless person. Are we agile enough in our schedule that we can let them take time to stop and buy food where God has prompted them? Sometimes a child might know that God is asking them to take risks or to be generous with resources that don’t always belong to them. Are we mature enough in our faith to trust them and God?
When King Josiah came to the throne, he was 8 years old and through his obedience to the voice of God the whole Israelite nation returned to the Lord. The adults around Josiah responded to God’s word even though it came from a child. In Joel 2:28 the day of the Lord is marked by sons and daughters prophesying and seeing visions as they are filled with the Holy Spirit. God is ready to speak to our children. He is ready to touch their hearts, to whisper truths to them, to show them incredible visions and dreams, and we get to encourage them in the lifechanging pursuit of listening and obeying our Heavenly Father.
Raise Up Faith is full of wonderful prayer ideas and stories and videos that engage children with prayer. Be encouraged to look through this incredible website and find meaningful ways to pray with your little ones and may you be blessed as you journey towards God together.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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