By Stephanie Thompson, Crosswalk.com
Our children watch us. When my oldest son was about two years old, I walked into the kitchen as he happily announced that he was making Kool-Aid.
Standing on a chair that had been pushed to the counter, he stood alongside his supplies: a plastic pitcher, Kool-Aid packet, jar of sugar, measuring cups, and spoon. While he certainly didn’t have the measurements correct, it was an eye-opening moment for a first-time parent. He learned all that just by watching me!
God’s reminder to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 urges parents to impress their children with the truth of whose they are. Listening to God’s voice as well as speaking out of our own cultivates that relationship. Prayer becomes the practice by which we come before God as we are, and are present.
“And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us,” 1 John 5:14. Teaching children to pray evolves from the moments we tuck them into bed as toddlers at night and pray with them.
Eventually, they develop their own language and understand why we engage in regular interaction with God. Here are 4 ways to teach our children about incorporating prayer into daily circumstances.
1. Teach Them How to Lament
Bullying, unmet expectations, guilt, relationship strains, and broken family dynamics may confront children as they go about their days. Children often lack a social filter when it comes to acknowledging their feelings.
When they are feeling disappointed, angry, guilty or confused, they don’t hesitate to show it through words and behaviors. Adults lean toward the temptation to address the outbursts through trying to eliminate the behavior. However, recognizing the emotion lurking underneath shows us the roots.
Scripture bears witness to the fact that God can handle our frustration and anger toward Him for situations that seem unfair and cause us or others pain. Job, the Psalms, Lamentations and other texts provide affirmation that our feelings matter and that we are heard even when we don’t understand what is unfolding before us.
They always point to trust in God’s goodness despite our human emotions. How do we help our children compose a prayer of lament? Here’s one suggestion: Brainstorm some things that feel unfair to them—either personal experiences or issues they know about in the world. Invite kids to pour out their “it’s not fair prayers” to God in a letter, asking Him to fix it.
For older children/teens, they can learn about the different expressions of lament: Shalom, Exodus, Protest, Repentant, and Imprecatory. Encourage them to create forms of lament through poetry, music, spoken word, or art. Have them save their laments and put them in a folder for access in the future.
Just as the Scriptural laments give us words when we have difficulty calling them up, so can this file be a resource for turning to God in their pain.
2. Teach Intentional Supplication
Because kids have a strong tendency to view the world in terms of me, my, and mine, capitalize on this very normal stage of development by focusing prayer on kids’ everyday concerns. In my experience, prayer time during youth-oriented ministries results in a pouring out of burdens. Therefore, I have had to recognize the necessity to allow adequate time for sharing what’s weighing on their hearts.
As children develop their understanding of God’s character, they recognize that God hears our prayers.
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Teaching them to bear their souls openly shows that God desires us to be present as we are: worried, angry, confused, and hurt. We can approach God for anything.
For children, that will involve everyday concerns that touch them on a daily basis: sickness, bullying, justice, parenting conflicts, school anxiety, friendship strains, and death: people and pets. Helping them to cultivate a routine of prayer cultivates a priority of casting prayer. Bedtime, driving to school, and dinnertime provide daily mileposts for supplication.
3. Teach Impromptu Intercession
Prayer needs to surround us on a daily basis. Learning to awaken the senses to discern those needs teaches our children to be ready to pray anytime, anywhere. The Apostle Paul reminds us: to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). A great opportunity to is to take a prayer walk around your community. Encourage them to use their senses-all of them- as prayer detectors.
A practice I taught my children was to pray whenever they heard the siren of an ambulance, firetruck, or police car. Pray for the person in distress, the first responders, and the medical personnel involved.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Romans 8:26
Learning to pray for our neighborhoods, reminds our children that they are agents of change. Praying for someone or something transforms the lens through which the landscape was previously viewed. We become personally connected. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will nudge them to become vessels of answering the prayer in a more hands-on manner.
Amelia Rhoades’ book, Pray A to Z: A Practical Guide to Pray for Your Community, offers a fantastic resource for learning to “see” your community as you pray for various needs. They include alcoholism, bullying, cancer, divorce, depression, estranged relationships, law enforcement, suicide, teachers. Real needs of real people whose paths we cross daily.
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4. Teach Praying out of Gratitude
I can still remember the common rote prayer my parents taught me to say at meals. It gave me language to inform my heart. Eventually, I grew into the reason for my words and created my own.
So much of what we teach our children is “caught” rather than “taught.” To empower our own children, my husband and I implemented the practice of having each family member take a turn praying over our dinner. We remember that our food is not just an anonymous commodity. Our food arrives as a blessing from God via the hands that have grown and delivered it to us. Our companion image-bearers. Giving thanks should reflect that recognition.
Recognizing God’s goodness extends beyond meals.
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” Psalm 9:1
How have your children witnessed the hand of God provide in your family’s life or someone you know? What did those moments teach them about God’s character? About the way the Holy Spirit nudges us to be vessels of provision for others?
Expressing thanks comes in many forms. Being thankful is one thing. Saying or showing it can be tough for all of us. Use these hands-on resources to help your child put into words how they feel.
Developing a habit of gratitude changes the lens through which we view life. It doesn’t dismiss the hard realities of life. However, we can adopt a growing language of acknowledging God’s goodness is always at work.
A few years ago, I recognized the significance of an Ebenezer. Referenced in 1 Samuel 7:12, a stone was held up as a reminder of God’s help in the defeat of the Philistines.
Stones as markers of God’s hand at work in specific places are cited in other passages as well. They served to remind others that saw that God showed up there.
My own family and my High School Sunday School students have created their own out of stones found in my driveway. We place them somewhere in our homes where they will be visible to us. So we write the names and dates of specific events in which we experienced God’s goodness, glory, deliverance, or simply presence on the stones or create them into a sculpture representing them.
5. Help Your Children Cultivate a Habit of Prayer
We all connect to prayer in different ways, Body position, drawing, writing, journaling, breathing, touching and meditation offer creative prayer methods. The environment can also play a role in how we connect with God.
The beach, the woods, a fort, or even virtual platforms can become environments which affirm our unique creation and that God sees and hears us anywhere. Helping our children explore different methods gives them tools for creating a meaningful prayer life.
In addition, modeling the ways prayer becomes a natural part of our daily rhythms, encourages our children to develop it as a liturgy for their own lives.
Praying daily at meals and bedtime reminds them of who informs our moments. Encouraging our children to express their thoughts to God in their most simplistic, child-oriented manner, cultivates practice.
How do they see us, as parents, respond to concerns within and outside of the family? Do they witness or hear us talk about praying? Children are always watching. May we show them that to “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually,” (1 Chronicles 16:11).
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/ThitareeSarmkasat