With six children in our family, there are an awful lot of prayers ascending heavenward from our home.
Some days, my wife prays she won’t be crushed by a mountain of laundry, and other days, I’m praying about our grocery bill (do other families drink three gallons of milk each week?).
In all seriousness, prayer is an essential part of our family life. We serve a transcendent God who reigns supreme, yet God is extremely personal and He graciously invites us to trust Him for all our daily needs (Matthew 6:11). Prayer isn’t just for church, of course — prayer is for all of life. We teach our children that any time is the right time for prayer because God cares about us (1 Peter 5:7).
My two youngest children are in kindergarten and preschool, so it’s been an adventure teaching them how to pray. These two young ones have prayed about lightning bugs, pizza, roller coasters, soccer balls, and even “The Avengers.” They’ve prayed seriously, too — for sick friends, pregnant teachers, even hurting families who lose their homes to hurricanes.
If you want your children to grow up as people of prayer, you don’t need a degree in theology. You can teach your kids to pray effectively as you remember these four truths:
1.) Remember who God is. Prayer starts by understanding the Person to whom we’re talking. Our children need to know that God isn’t a ghost or an impersonal force. Scripture says He is an eternal person, even though He does not have a body like we do. We understand ourselves as human beings — and God is also a being.
He is the Supreme Being who oversees the whole universe. He created everything, from the smallest atoms to the largest suns, and God orchestrates them all by His amazing wisdom. God is awe-inspiring, but we don’t need to be terrified of Him. He invites us to talk to Him as our loving, heavenly Father (Matthew 6:9).
2.) Remember who we are. We’ve all heard the famous hymn “Amazing Grace” by John Newton. Newton was a slave trader who became a Christian minister. But he never forgot the horrible nature of his own sin. Near the end of life, Newton said, “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”
If we want our children to pray correctly, they need to see the contrast between our sinfulness and God’s holiness. When we come before God, we shouldn’t do so arrogantly or flippantly. We should always approach God humbly, knowing that even on our best days we will fall desperately short of God’s standards (Romans 3:23). God welcomes our conversation, but it’s because of His grace — not our goodness.
3.) Remember that we come through Jesus. Scripture says our access to God the Father is made possible by Jesus the Son — by what He accomplished for us on the cross. This is why we pray, “In Jesus’ name.” It’s not a magic formula. It’s a reminder that we come to God through the forgiveness of sins Jesus bought for us. Only because of Jesus can we “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
4.) Remember that it’s about the heart. I’ve prayed with all kinds of people over the years — children, teenagers, adults — and with everyone from wealthy businessmen to the humblest janitors. But I’m happy to remind everyone, no matter who they are, that God cares more about the posture of our hearts than the power of our words (1 Samuel 16:7).
He doesn’t require Shakespearean-inspired sentences. Jesus said to avoid rote prayers (Matthew 6:7-8). Instead, teach children to pray from the heart, speaking openly to God in their own words. Will their prayers be short, stilted, at times even silly? Maybe. But didn’t our first attempts at walking look the same? Perfection isn’t the goal. The goal is prayer to God.
Over the course of 18 years, from birth to that late teenage age, parents will teach their children many important skills, such as honesty and hard work. But out of all the things we might teach our children, nothing is more important than how to communicate with God.
Not only does prayer develop a life of devotion to God, but it encourages humility as well — and ultimately points children to Jesus the Savior.
Pastor Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for 19 years.