“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7
God created families. He intended the home to be a safe place for children to grow and mature, knowing that children learn the most from the people that they live with day in and day out. The family is the environment that form habits and attitudes which will be passed on down the generations. Before a child goes to school, they will already have learnt many essential life skills. In Christian homes, they learn one of the most important; they learn how to relate to the unseen kingdom of God.
Jesus trained his disciples by being with them 24/7 for a period of about three years. They watched as he ministered to the people, teaching with authority and healing the lame, the deaf and the blind. Then he sent them out in twos to go ahead of him and practice what they had learnt. They asked him questions. They watched him get up early in the morning before it was still dark to talk with his Father in heaven and they realized that they knew nothing of this kind of prayer. They asked him to teach them. He answered with the words now known as The Lord’s Prayer. He addressed his father as Abba, Dad, and taught his disciples to do the same. The most important thing we can teach our children about prayer is to relate to God as a father, a good father, and to pray in partnership with the Holy Spirit.
The foundation for teaching children to pray comes from having an attitude of seeking God and putting him first in everything. Children pick up quickly on hypocrisy. When their parents only pray at church, they will understand that prayer is an activity for church and not for the home. On the other hand, when they see their parents praying at home and setting aside the best times of the day for cultivating their relationship with God that will impact their lives more than any other lesson. My desire for this year is to make the Holy Spirit the center of our home. I’m still working out what this means in practice, but it teaches me to be constantly on the lookout for what God is doing in his kingdom right here and now.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
Praying with children starts when they are still in the womb. Many mothers have sung to their unborn babies. They pray, prophesy and read the word of God to them. The angel Gabriel prophesied to Zechariah that his son John would be “filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born,” Luke 1:15. His wife, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when this baby recognized in her cousin Mary’s voice the anointing of God through which Jesus the Messiah had been conceived (Luke 1:41).
Praying with children takes different formats at different ages but it is good to always remember that we need a childlike attitude. There is no ‘one size fits all’ formula. I asked friends from around the world how they have incorporated prayer into their daily routines. They helped me compile this list of suggestions. If you feel like you are getting stuck in a rut, mix it up and try something new. This isn’t a comprehensive list, I would love to hear from you with more ideas: [email protected]
- Setting aside specific times such as around the dinner table and before bed. Ollessia from Kazakhstan shares, “Most of our praying happens around the lunch and dinner table and before bed.” Dionne in Cyprus adds, “Evenings, I ask them what they want to pray about, then I usually start with that and include things that I feel will help.”
- Family worship together. Shayla from Haifa writes, “We have worship together most mornings, and our three preschoolers sing, dance or just play together. Then my husband and I pray, and they sometimes join us with topics that are on their hearts. They have been praying a lot lately for the children of Syria. When we have ‘teaching moments’ throughout the day, whether because of discipline or another opportunity, this will often lead to prayer with one or more of them about the topic. In the evenings, we have another very brief worship time, and just before bed we have a Bible story and prayer time with them about things related to the story, or the day, or whatever.”
- Praying in the spirit, singing and speaking in tongues. Billy Jo in Michigan shares, “I pray in the spirit around them. Their spirits love it and sometimes they fall asleep when I do this. My 6-year old has become a prayer warrior.”
- Listening prayer. Melissa in Jerusalem: “We have listening prayer during which I put on soaking music and give our children paper and colored pencils or markers. Each one of us draws or writes what they heard and afterwards we. We often use this method to listen for direction as a family.”
- Taking turns leading. Elizabeth in Alabama: “When our kids were at home, we normally had a brief devotional time in the evening, except for when we had church meetings. We would have Bible reading, and each one would briefly lead in prayer.”
- Praying “in the moment” and bringing God into everyday family interactions. Caroline from Northern Ireland shares, “We do things very simply. We pray with them every morning following devotions and again in the evening. If there are wrong attitudes, we talk about it and pray with them. There is no right way. We feel it’s about showing them how to just speak to God as they would to us but always in a right manner too. It’s tough on this generation. As parents our need for the Holy Spirit is massive.” Hedva in Israel adds, “Whenever they have something bothering them stop, pray, then continue on with the day.”
- Using prayer boxes for family and for the world. Hadassah in Jerusalem: “With our ‘GrandWonders’ we have a family meeting every two weeks. There’s a prayer box containing cards with people’s names and needs. We pass the box around until all are prayed for.”
As children mature, we want to encourage each one to develop their own relationship with God. Rose from the UK writes, “When the children were young we would read the Bible together and pray as part of our bedtime routines. As they grew into their teens, we gradually stopped reading with them and they began to take responsibility themselves. Their peer groups of other Christian believers at school and also Church youth groups became more influential. Where they had a strong support group, they encouraged one another in prayer and Bible study. Where our children see us living our lives for Jesus and not just following a system, they pick it up unconsciously. It’s harder to rebel against a genuine way of life rather than a religious system.”
Overcoming obstacles in praying with children
Sometimes we need to encourage our children to relate to God as their Dad. Dionne writes about her daughter, “I put it to her that if she wanted to talk to me she wouldn’t wait for daddy, or her brother to do it, but she would come directly to me. God our Father wants to hear our own voices. She prayed a very short prayer but it’s a start.”
Most of us have a picture in our heads when we think of prayer time in the home; the family gathered around the table or around a log-fire with the dad holding a big old Bible and the children quietly sitting around him listening. Having a ‘perfect scenario’ can prevent us from getting started. What if the father isn’t there? We are raising our children in partnership with the best Father there is. He fills in all the gaps in our parenting and turns our mistakes into lessons for all involved. Timothy learnt about God from his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5). Each family can find its on pattern, single parents included. But just as God has a special concern for widows and orphans (Exodus 22:22-24), I believe he also wants to encourage all the parents raising children singlehandedly. He wants his body of believers to reach out, encourage and support. Prayer can be taught by the wider community of believers too.
Growing up in church, we often think that our children will automatically follow Jesus. Subconsciously we can subjugate our role of living out the faith to church leaders and Sunday school teachers. God didn’t command us to take our children to church every week, he told parents to teach their children the truths about God from the Bible. He told us to live it out day by day. We can be encouraged by the promises of God for us.
“All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace.” Isaiah 54:13
This article originally appeared in Faith Filled Family Magazine May 2018 Issue, page 64, and reposted with permission.