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One by one they shuffled into the family room and found a seat. It was time for a sweet moment of prayer together before bed. (Cue: gentle melody in the background, setting the stage for a memorable, loving family scene)
“Dear Jesus, please help my brother not to be so annoying tomorrow and help Mommy make a yummier dinner next time.”
(gentle melody screeches to a halt) Hold the phone. This is not what we had in mind when we said “sweet moment of prayer.”
The Adventure of Teaching Kids to Pray
Family prayer time in our home could be described with many different words: sweet, hilarious, memorable, adventurous, unique, even eventful.
When we first started praying out loud together when they were little, it wasn’t uncommon to hear things like, “Thank you for the frog I caught today and that you died on a cross” or “Jesus, maybe you didn’t hear me when I said I wanted a sister. Can we trade him in for one, please?”
I often comforted myself with the idea that at least they were talking to Jesus and being transparent.
But as they got older, I realized that I needed to intentionally instruct them about prayer.
Why Must We Teach Our Kids to Pray?
Well, first of all, because Jesus felt it was important enough to teach us to pray. And He often did it Himself. That’s a pretty solid indicator that it matters.
Also, the Bible tells us that it is an expectation of the Christian life. Jesus never said “If you pray…” but many times He said, “When you pray.”
This parenting gig is hard. There are so many things that we feel like we “should” teach our kids that sometimes it’s easy to overlook the things we must teach them. However, one of those “musts” is prayer.
Outside of reading the Bible, prayer is the most foundational part of the Christian walk. The Bible clearly states that we are to train our children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6).
As believers, we need to pray all the time (Ephesians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). We are to be devoted to prayer (Colossians 4:2), and in that devotion, we will encounter God and He will hear us (1 Chronicles 16:11, Jeremiah 29:12, Romans 12:2, Psalm 145:18).
And we need to teach our children to do the same if we desire for them to have a living, thriving relationship with God.
Acts 2:42-47 talks about amazing, explosive growth in the Early Church due to 4 things: the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, the breaking of bread together, and prayer. This passage of Scripture is a great template for family discipleship.
God also commands His people Israel regarding family discipleship:
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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:7-9 ESV
God was just everywhere in their homes. He was not just a part of family life at home, but the focus of it.
How Do We Teach Our Kids to Pray?
By doing it in front of them, and with them. Simple enough, right?
It should be, but I know I’ve struggled with it. So I started small.
Like, really small. I just began to teach them by having my quiet time in the middle of our chaotic home. I literally just began to live out my faith in front of them. Hopefully, they pick this up from me just as well as they do the bad habits I see them copying! Ahem.
I also knew I needed to do more than that, however.
Jesus Himself gave us a model for prayer. He taught us how to pray in the Sermon on the Mount and that means that we need to learn how to pray and that teaching our kids to pray is a priority.
That’s why we practice prayer every night, and throughout our days.
Is There A Right Way to Pray?
Sometimes the simplest questions from our kids can be the most profound. When my inquisitive child looked up at me with big, trusting eyes and asked if there was a right way to pray I wanted desperately to answer confidently.
After much thought, I replied. “I think there is.”
“Well, what is it?”
Of course, that was next. I should have seen it coming. After a moment I pulled out my Bible and flipped to Matthew 6:9-13. Then we read through each verse and talked about why Jesus gave us this template for praying.
Next, we read Luke 18:9-14. Here Jesus contrasts the prayers of a despised tax collector and a “righteous” religious man. In this parable, He clearly speaks to the wrong way to pray, as well as the proper way.
We turned to several other passages in Scripture that talk about humbling yourself before God or repenting of sin so that your prayers are heard. Humility and repentance also seemed to be key, even if they are somewhat heavy topics to introduce when you are teaching your kids to pray.
So ultimately we decided that the Bible gives us the right way to pray: with humility, repentance, thanksgiving, and following the Lord’s prayer.
Teaching Your Kids to Pray by Praying With Your Kids
Ultimately the best way to go about teaching your kids to pray is simply praying with your kids. Talk about what the Bible says about prayer, and do it. When you encounter moments in your day that prayer seems natural, take advantage of them.
Instead of just kissing boo-boos better, pray for them and let them know Jesus makes them better.
When someone has been mean and their hearts are sad, pray with them to forgive those who hurt them and for peaceful reconciliation.
If they wake up scared from a nightmare, pray for them to feel safe and secure because God is their refuge.
And let them see you pray, too. Let them see you in your “quiet place” as you go before God with the needs of your family. And when something wonderful happens, praise God with your words so they see thanksgiving, as well.