When my children were small and I was really sick or feeling bad, there was no one I would rather pray for me than them. The innocence, the purity and the sincerity of a child’s prayer touches me to the core. I wonder if God feels the same way when He hears them? And if that is why Jesus instructed, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt. 19:14)
There is no hidden agenda in the prayers of a child. No desire to impress. No wondering what should be said before it is said. Just raw, honest expression of what lies in their hearts and minds. That’s why I believe it’s important to encourage our children to pray on their own rather than simply repeating a memorized “Now I lay me down to sleep” or a formula mealtime prayer.
There is no hidden agenda in the prayers of a child. No desire to impress. No wondering what should be said before it is said.
Very young children may need to be coached with a question such as “What would you like to thank God for tonight?” or they may be more comfortable with the “team approach” to prayer (“Let’s tell God ten things we’re thankful for. I’ll name five and then you name five.”) But usually kids require very little prompting as they haven’t yet learned to be uncomfortable in their honesty and candor.
Teaching children to pray out loud gives them an early confidence in the value of their spoken words and their ability to do something grownups do. Our five grandchildren ranging in ages from three to seven, are often asked to say the blessing at family meals. And quite honestly, their prayers are usually my favorites! If they have concern over a family member, a pet or a friend, they’ll usually throw that in with the rest of the prayer and that is absolutely fine with me. No matter what the prayer includes, three-year-old Hudson always ends with “And bless this food to our bodies. Amen.” That phrase invariably brings tears to my eyes as I remember Hudson’s first five days on earth in the neonatal intensive care unit while we prayed for healing for his little body.
Five-year-old Ella never runs out of things for which to be thankful. In fact at a family dinner a few months ago her dad finally had to put the “Amen” on her prayer in which every creature of God’s good earth had been named while the food was growing increasingly cold. I always start bedtime prayers with Ella early because I know it’s going to take awhile but I never want to discourage that inclusiveness because it reflects a heart that loves big!
Teaching children to pray out loud gives them an early confidence in the value of their spoken words and their ability to do something grownups do.
At his school’s chapel service last year, Owen, then six, was asked to lead in prayer. I assumed he would pray for his school, the students and teachers but when he prayed, “Dear God, please help my PawPaw feel better and help his surgery to do good”, I felt my heart swell. Obviously the needs of a beloved family member were weighing heavily upon him and I love that he felt free to express those concerns in a public prayer.
We have such a wonderful opportunity to teach children God’s laws and His ways as we interact with them on a day to day basis. The directive in Deuteronomy 6:7 is clear, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” And part of teaching them those ways is teaching them to talk to God in prayer. Obviously one way to do that is by simply modeling a life of prayer. I pray out loud with my grandkids but I also write prayers for them in a small blue prayer journal I keep. I walked into the room one day to find then four-year-old Katie scribbling with a pen in my book. When I asked what she was doing she replied in a matter of fact fashion, “I’m writing my prayers.”
It makes me smile whenever I see her scribbles in my prayer journal but it also made me wonder about the possibilities of a kid version of a prayer journal. One day I gave Katie her own little notebook and told her she could “draw” her prayers in there. I’m not sure if we could have interpreted her drawings or her scribbles, but I’m certain God saw her heart each time she made a mark in that book.
I read an article recently about a mom of four who devised a prayer wall calendar and I wanted to share her idea with you. Melissa Spoelstra didn’t want her children’s prayer times to just be about asking for things for themselves nor did she want them to fall into a mindless repetitive chant of “We thank you fors” so she made a theme chart for each day of the week to give her children a prayer focus for that day. Here’s what it looked like:
Monday: Missionaries. They picked two families they knew and supported and prayed for their children and any other needs they were aware of involving their mission work. (This could be done on a local or national level and would not necessarily need to be an overseas mission work.)
Tuesday: Teachers. Each of her children prayed for their own teacher but they also prayed for their piano teacher, Sunday school teachers, coaches and other school helpers. If they didn’t know what to pray for specifically, they would ask God to give their teachers wisdom and endurance. (As a former teacher I would say that’s a great prayer!)
Wednesday: Widows and orphans. They prayed for specific ones they knew and for an orphan their family sponsored through an organization. I think it would be good to pray for the children who are awaiting adoption for loving and caring families and for those in foster care for protection and that they would feel loved. This will also help create gratitude in your own child’s heart for his own family.
Thursday: Those who don’t know Jesus personally. Children who are spiritually aware can pick up quickly on whether or not someone knows the Lord. It may be a neighbor, a family member or one of their own friends but ask them to pray they will see that person in heaven some day.
Friday: Friends and family. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and special friends. Melissa has each of her children pick two in this category to pray for that day. Because her husband’s family lives in Canada, praying for those family members helps her kids feel more connected to them.
You can read more of Melissa Spoelstra’s ideas in her book Total Family Makeover: 8 Steps to Making Disciples at Home.
Helping our children learn to pray is one of the greatest disciplines and gifts we can offer them. By helping create a comfortable connection between them and their God, we have given them a friend for life. A friend who always cares, always listens and always understands. I believe when a child prays God smiles.