Teaching Children How to Pray

My wife and I began an exciting chapter in parenting recently.  We have decided to intentionally teach our children how to pray.  There is, however, a major complicating factor.  I feel like anything but an expert in prayer.  Don’t get me wrong, I pray.  I pray several times every day, and have done so for 30 years.  I have read books on prayer as well.  But I still feel that I know very little about prayer and that sense of inadequacy has likely delayed any attempts to actually teach our boys to pray.  We have prayed for our boys and in front of our boys their entire lives.  They have also memorized quite a few verses of Scripture over the years.  But how does one teach children to pray?

I decided to defer that to the ultimate Teacher, Jesus Himself.  In the gospels of Matthew and Luke, we have the best example possible of how to teach prayer.  Jesus taught His disciples to pray.  The model prayer that He used is often called the Lord’s Prayer.  What better way to teach our children to pray than to teach them the model prayer that Jesus used to teach His disciples?  So we read the Scripture passages involved to the boys and asked them to repeat the Lord’s Prayer with us. Then something amazing happened.  We discovered that our boys already knew the Lord’s Prayer.  Unbeknownst to Bonnie and I, my parents had already taught them this prayer and had prayed it with them many times.  What a wonderful surprise!  So I took that opportunity to talk to the boys for a moment about one part of the Lord’s Prayer, the part that refers to God as Our Father.  And then we prayed together.  I discovered (or at least was reminded) of two wonderful truths about teaching children to pray.

1.  We have the best resource possible in the many prayers in the Bible and in Church History.  There is no need to re-invent the wheel.  We can pray the prayers of Scripture and the Church and know that we are praying wonderful, perfect prayers.  Children can memorize much easier than most adults and love to learn this way.  Have your children pray the Lord’s Prayer (and other, similar prayers) with you as often as possible.  In the morning, at meal times, before bed are all great times to pray.  Don’t worry about how much they understand and at what level they “get it”.  After all, how much do we really understand the marvelous mystery of prayer?  It matters much more that we actually pray and turn our hearts toward God than that we have it all figured out.

2.  As we teach our children to pray, we are not in this alone.  My parents have helped us teach the boys and there are wonderful children’s ministers, workers and Sunday School teachers all around who can partner with us.  Take advantage of these resources and let each contributor reinforce the other in teaching our children to pray.

Prayer is one of the many things that is often better “caught than taught”.  Surround your children with prayer, let them hear you pray and pray with them.  Expose them to the best of prayer, in the Bible and in the history of the Church.  Encourage them to pray on their own and let them know that whether they speak words out of their own minds and hearts or use the words of great prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer, that God loves to hear the prayers of His children no matter how young or old they are.  A heritage of prayer is one of the best gifts you can ever give to your children.  Don’t drag your feet like I did, there is no reason to wait.  Teach your children to pray today.

Teaching Moments

Last night my wife experienced an incredible moment with our oldest son.  We had returned home from a church event where the boys had an opportunity to spend time with some of their friends.  My oldest had spotted a friend that he wanted to go and greet, one he hadn’t seen in some time.  As he began to approach he suddenly felt insecure and backed away.  He was quite troubled by this experience and didn’t know what to make of it.  Bonnie noticed his anxiety and asked if he was OK.  At this point he isn’t quite old enough to really express what he’s feeling with much detail.  But Bonnie grasped pretty quickly what the issue was.  She spent the next few moments talking with him about why we all sometimes feel insecure and how to deal with it.  She reminded him of what a wonderful boy he is and how it is God’s love for us that gives us our security and identity in every situation.  It was amazing to watch.  A holy, teaching moment that unfolded right in front of my eyes.

How do we multiply moments like this with our children?  Two words come immediately to mind.  Attentiveness and discernment.  Bonnie noticed something in our son’s demeanor that piqued her interest.  She followed up.  She gently probed to get the relevant story.  It amazes me how easy it is for parents (myself included) to miss the obvious.  Most children aren’t sophisticated enough to mask their feelings.  They may not be able to communicate them clearly, but they don’t hide them well at all.  We must pay attention to what’s going on and engage with our children.  Next, we must discern what is really going on.  It goes beyond interpreting our children’s words and understanding what they are trying to say.  It is discerning with the help of the Holy Spirit what isn’t being said and what is at stake.  Insecurity is an attack on identity.  It is an arrow at the heart of our children.  It is a lie that says you aren’t loved and valued.  It says that to be accepted and loved you have to be someone other than yourself.  It is a spiritual issue that requires a spiritual response.  The antidote for a lie is the truth.  We must learn to embrace the truth about our identity and to teach it to our children.  Bonnie reminded our son of who he is.  She reminded him that he is loved by God and that provides him identity and security.  Truth overcomes lies.  It sets us free.  When attentiveness meets discernment and truth is spoken to our children in love – then a genuine teaching moment happens.

Don’t miss the opportunities to share these moments with your children.  Tune in to their hearts and engage them in the moments when they need reminders of the truth of who God made them to be.  Allow the Holy Spirit to place a holy finger on the issue at hand.  And cooperate with His Word for the issue that sets us free.  These are holy, teaching, connecting moments that have eternal value.  Oh, and by the way, they bring a lot of joy along for the ride as well.