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.