Teaching our children to pray
When a man and a woman marry and have their first precious baby, it is an awesome experience. Initially, it can feel quite intimidating and even overwhelming. With no tailor-made instruction manual on parenting, how will they know what the child really needs – when he is hungry, wet, uncomfortable, sick, or in pain?
Over time the father and the mother come to know their baby, and are able to understand and even to predict their baby’s needs. They give their child food and drink, provide warm clothing, shelter, and safety, ensure they have a quality education, and pour love into them. As the years pass, the parents help the child learn to talk, walk, sing, count, dance, read, throw a ball, ride a bike, and do so many other, wonderful activities.
But the greatest thing we can ever teach our children to do is to pray – to develop daily intimacy with the Lord Jesus Christ. Parents can instruct their children from the womb and from infancy that Jesus loves them, and that He died on the cross over 2,000 years ago for their sins, then He rose again. Children will soak up God’s truth like a sponge as we read Bible stories to them at bedtime, and tuck them in with a prayer for good dreams and a sweet night of sleep.
From toddlerhood, children can learn that even though we can’t see God, He is still there, seeing us, listening to our voice, and caring about every detail of our lives. Children come to understand from their parents that God is a good God, and our provider and protector. He meets every need we have, and gives us the desires of our hearts.
Children have such a pure faith in God. They trust Him without the unbelief and doubt that adults often struggle with each day. Children simply believe, and take God at His word. This childlike, simple faith in God is what we adults can learn from our children! “Of such is the kingdom of God,” Jesus said. (Mark 10: 13-16)
It is our job as parents to raise up our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4) The best way to do this is first of all by being godly role models, by teaching them the inerrant Word of God, and by showing them how to pray.
Using the acronym PRAY, here are some tips to teach our children the power of prayer:
Presence. It is Jesus’ presence we seek and desire. Religious rituals of long prayer and journal writing will not give us what we long for. The satisfaction of our aching souls only will come through emptying ourselves – and being filled up with Him, life through His power. Our goal, as author Richard Foster says, is to become more Christ-like.
“It is the renovation of the heart we are after in spiritual formation. This inward work is much harder than mere outward conformity. It is harder because we cannot see it, test it, control it. We cannot program the heart of another human being. We cannot program our own heart. But this is also what makes it easier. God is the One who sees the heart. God is the One who tenderly programs the heart, always allowing time and space for our will to turn, turn, turn—responding in a thousand ways to God’s divine Love. We are part of God’s great renovation project for human beings.”
The way we are “renovated” and formed into the image of Christ is to know Him, through spending time with Him – studying His word and being silent before Him so we can clearly hear His voice. We allow His Holy Spirit to expose and penetrate the hardness of our hearts, and to pour His agape love and mercy over it like a river.
Repentance. God is a holy God. We should teach our children that we need to respect and revere God. He is the creator of the universe, our Lord, our master. Children should be taught from a young age that sin separates us from God. God can’t tolerate the presence of sin.
The good news is that out of His mercy, He sent His Son Jesus to die for us so our sins would be forgiven. When we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior – and our children can be taught at a very early age to ask Jesus to “come live inside my heart to be my Lord and Savior” – then as we ask God to forgive us, He will. Parents should model to their children being quick to repent, wiping the slate clean each day with God and others.
Ask. Such a simple word, yet Jesus said we don’t receive because we don’t ask, and when we do ask, we ask amiss with wrong motives. (James 4:2-4) Usually children don’t have any problem asking for what they want. What child do you know who doesn’t immediately ask for a toy she likes? But sometimes they don’t understand that it’s important to also ask for non-tangibles such as healing, grace to forgive, more faith, and wisdom.
We don’t have to beg God for what we want or need. He knows what we need before we even ask it. He is just waiting to bless us and to show us His goodness and favor.
Yearn. We need to teach our children to continually seek more of God throughout our lives, to grow and to mature in our faith – to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Not to be satisfied with yesterday’s manna, but to ask each day for a fresh supply of His word. To hunger and thirst for Him with an insatiable hunger. Jesus said “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled.” (Luke 6:21)
The more we pursue Him, the more we want to know Him and to be like Him. “He must increase and I must decrease,” John the Baptist said to those who complained that Jesus was baptizing his own disciples in the river. (John 3:30)
As His life, His thoughts, His word increases in our minds, souls, hearts, and spirit, then we and our precious children will experience what the apostle Paul longed to see in himself and in all of God’s people: “. . . I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” (Galatians 4:19, NRSV)