Praying is such an important aspect of being a Christian though I think sometimes we expect our children just to get it – just to be able to pray. And some may well do that – but others will need to be taught. Jesus disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus also pleaded with his disciples to pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane –obviously it was a hard thing for them to do.
Here are a few thoughts that we are working on in our home:
- Model, model, model – our children need to see prayer as an everyday part of your life before it becomes anywhere near natural to them. Do your kids see you, and hear you praying?
- Say after me prayers – when our kids were young we would ask them to pray after us. We would say a sentence and they would say the same sentence. Through this type of modelling they would start to experience prayer, and that it is just conversation.
- Pray throughout the day – pray at meal times (don’t just thank God for the food but take the time to pray at the beginning of a meal), pray when things go wrong, pray when things go right pray when someone is hurt, when they have a bad attitude – pray together and gradually invite them to pray at these times as well as you.
- Pray after a Bible reading or devotional lesson giving them some heart thing to respond to rather than asking for stuff in their prayers all the time.
- We often discuss the different things we could pray about and when they were young I would designate who prayed for what. These days, with our kids fairly comfortable with corporate prayer I leave the floor open and they pray when and if they are ready about the things they have on their heart. This also teaches them to join in and to handle silences that happen in group prayer times.
- Don’t insist on public prayer (praying out loud with the family is a type of public prayer). We’ve encouraged strongly at times when we are one on one that they either say after us, or pray their own words but they don’t have to do this when we are with others. We teach them that when you are praying with others it isn’t just listening to their words but to be able to pray in your own heart as well. We talk about the word ‘amen’ being our agreeing with what the other person has prayed. Being comfortable to pray out loud comes after you are comfortable praying by yourself.
When things don’t go well in our teaching our children to pray we need to ask ourselves:
- What am I really trying to teach my children (Are my motives pure? Am I subtly moving into performance prayers?)
- Why am I doing it this way?
- Is there another way to encourage my children in their relationship with God?
My goal has always been to teach my children to understand that praying was talking to God more than a goal to teach them to pray out loud. Praying out loud is more an issue of living together with your brothers and sisters in Christ and therefore it is a “Christian skill” (so to speak) but their relationship with God and their ability to talk to him and listen to him is more important to me. There is no prayer test that we have to pass or prepare our children to pass – it is all about our relationship with God and our desire to have that grow.
Another post about teaching our children to pray: