Teach them to pray

Last year I was thinking about the fact that my kids were in public school and missing out on the Christian school education that I enjoyed. I’m a firm believer that no matter where my kids go to school or church, their education–be it academic, social, or Biblical, really comes down to  what they are being taught (and, yikes, even more importantly modeled) at home.

At that time my oldest was in second grade. I crossed my arms over my chest, scrunched up my face and squinched my eyes closed really tight doing a Winnie the Pooh “think, think, think” and tried to remember what I had learned about God or the Bible in second grade. All of a sudden, I could see the poster hanging on the wall at the front of my second grade classroom just to the left and a little bit below the chalkboard. It was the ACTS method of praying. ACTS as in Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.

I decided to do some “Bible class” at home and begin teaching my kids about prayer and how to pray on the Saturday nights that Dan was working at church.

Instead of doing an inductive Bible study or making them memorize what each letter of ACTS stood for and practice phrases they could mumble over and over, I did a little internet searching to see what other methods of teaching prayer to kids spanning the ages of 3-7 was out there. I didn’t find a whole lot, but there were a few ideas that I sort of fused together to create my own recipe for brewing up a strategy that would help me teach my kids how to pray.

I still remember my childhood mealtime prayer. It went like this. Exactly like this. Every single time. No deviation. Ever. It even has a certain cadence and it’s own note: “to be spoken as quickly as possible all in one exhaling sigh, as if you’re annoyed and just checking each phrase off the list”.

Dear Jesus, 
Thank you for this day. Thank you for this food. Bless it to our bodies. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

I think I began the first Saturday night “Bible school” session by reading the 23rd Psalm to the kids. I told them that this was someone’s prayer. They listened intently as I intoned each melodious phrase. “Isn’t that beautiful? It almost sounds like poetry or a beautiful story, doesn’t it. God loves it when we talk to him like this in prayer–we can say anything we want any way we want to say it.”

After this, I told my kids that starting that night, I’d begin helping them learn to pray and talk to God like this. And that night I started leading my kids through prayer, where I prompted them, but then was silent to let them “fill in the blank” so to speak.

I made sure we covered each area of prayer without explanation because I more want them to get into the habit of learning how to pray first and later we can dive into the theory of why we are doing what we are doing and the Biblical basis and examples as they begin to ask questions naturally on their own. (And they have started  asking–yippee!)

Here are some of the leading phrases I use:

Dear _____________________

(Adoration)

God you are _____________________

Jesus I love that you _____________________
God I’m so amazed that you___________________
Jesus you are the only one who ____________________
Wow, God, you just _____________________________

(Confession–be sure that they are confessing for themselves, not “tattling” to God on other people 😉
I’m so sorry that I _________________________
Please forgive me for_________________________
I’m disappointed that today I ______________________
Today I didn’t make a wise choice and I __________________
Thank you for dying on the cross and forgiving me for _______________________
Help me not to keep _______________________________

(Thanksgiving)

Thank you for ______________________
I’m so grateful that you ______________________
Thank you for blessing my family with _________________________
I really enjoy ________________________
Today it made me happy when I noticed _____________________________
I can’t believe that you have given me/done for me __________________________________

(Supplication aka asking for things/prayer for others)

Today I want to ask you to please help ____________________________
I want to pray especially for ______________________________
I would ask that you ____________________________
Please help this person _____________________________
There are some sick people who need prayer, they are ______________________
Please help me not to worry about ___________________________
Please help me to do/be better _______________________________
Please help me to remember not to _____________________________
God I really need your help to ______________________________
Please be with __________________________________
I pray all of this _____________________
In Jesus’ name _____________________

My kids ADORE praying this way. I think they think it’s fun and kind of a game, but I would rather have them enjoy it that listen to them sigh and moan and grumble each time they are asked to pray.

I will admit that it is not always easy to pray this way–sometimes when they ask me to “help them” pray, I kind of sigh and begrudgingly say ok. It takes some thinking on my part as well as having to really listen and focus on what your child is saying as you guide them. Your mind is not allowed to wander, which is something I often struggle with when I am praying.

Teaching my kids to pray has probably been one of the best things that has happened to my prayer life in a long time. I confess I struggle with prayer because I am such a multi-tasker that I simply cannot concentrate on praying for any amount of time. I tried writing out my prayers in a simple college-ruled notebook, but after a while I would find my hand writing but my head thinking about 4 different things all at the same time and every now and then a grocery or to-do list would sneak onto my page.

Often times while I’m leading my kids through their fill-in-the-blank prayers, I think of how I would/should fill in a blank, and end up in tears myself. Often the most intriguingly beautiful, simple, or astounding things come out of my children’s mouths.

When I listen to my daughter describe how wonderful God has made this planet, and how she can’t believe he thought up colors, and what our world would look like if we didn’t have all these beautiful colors, it’s all I can do to stifle my sobs of guilt as just a few moments earlier I was upset and obsessed about the sticky green Jell-O on the floor in the kitchen.

When my little son asks “Dear God and Jesus” to help him be good, and he says it so simply and he honestly sounds a tiny bit contrite and earnest, it gives me a jolt of hope light a lightning bolt that despite the happenstances of the day he left shredded behind us, maybe he truly does desire to behave better than he does.

When my daughter pleads with God to please help her not be so scared, I feel her pain and send up my fervent prayers for the same things for her as well. I love that she can be so transparent with God knowing He truly is listening and loving. And be still my heart, when she uses a verse in her prayer, “help me not to fear because God is with me” (Isaiah 41:10a), I wish I could go back to my freshman year of college and run up to the front of the room and jump up and down and scream and shout “my 5 year old just prayed an affirmation prayer using scripture!” (When I was in that class, I had to write a verse on a 3×5 card, sneak it up to the front with me and read the verse off of it during my prayer–I had NO IDEA what I was doing in there!)

My 8 year old is very private with his prayer life, so when he offers to pray in front of us I let him. Sometimes I’m dumbfounded by his depth of insight and knowledge and how he talks to God. I can tell that he’s praying and talking to God on his own, because He’s not uncomfortable with the praying out loud. He tells me that at night when he’s in his bed, he prays before he falls asleep, and I believe him.

These sometimes big prayers from my little people are truly sweet whisperings in God’s ears.

It wasn’t until about my 6th grade year that I really understood that there was someone on the other side of my prayers, truly listening, caring, understanding, and that it wasn’t just me throwing words up towards the clouds or saying things to impress the adults in the room and garner compliments after I said “amen”.

Despite the fact that my kids may or may not really understand that they are having a real conversation with a really big and important and all-powerful God, as a mom I’ve been instructed to train my children in the way they should go. Part of that training is to guide them in the spiritual disciplines, one of which is prayer, and these prompting prayers are one way that I am helping my kids connect to the God I so ardently desire for them to come to know better.

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7 thoughts on “Teach them to pray”

  1. Love this! I’m the same way when I pray. When I write prayer I have to go back at the end to re-read so I know/remember what I just said/asked for! I like how this helps you too. Sometimes, as adults, I think we overthink and overanalyze and overdo things, including our words in prayer. We need to be simple too. This can be a good tool for anyone, of any age!

    1. SO. TRUE. Like I said, it’s revolutionized my own prayer life. God’s not so concerned with my loquaciousness, He’s concerned that I’m regularly talking to Him about real, relevant stuff in my life and on my mind. And you’re right, like Trix, it’s not just for kids!

  2. Thanks Jenna! I love to see prayer begin to be understood in young hearts. Just this Sunday, my oldest (7) chose to tackle her sister on the balcony during my praise team practice…she saw that I saw and remained in the stairwell for probably a good 15 minutes. When I went to check on her, I found her crying. I’m sure there was an element was fear of getting in trouble, but she told me that she had been praying, already confessing her bad choice and was ready to ask for forgiveness from her sister. It is soooo encouraging to begin to see the Spirit work in moments of tenderness. Thanks for the example! I’m going to use this with my own kiddos!

    1. I have to admit I giggled at the sister tackling part, but I totally understand what it feels like to get to see your child actually live out the faith you are working so hard to help them understand. Thanks for sharing that story–I love it!

  3. I may have to use your idea. Ewen used to pray such beautiful prayers. Lately, he hasn’t really wanted to pray much. It makes me sad. Maybe something different like this will help him to like praying again.

    1. So, I just tried it, and as soon as I paused, he prayed a whole prayer as quick as he could. When he was done, he said, “I don’t want to pray that other way.” haha!

      1. He’s one smart cookie–and a little sassy too! Maybe if you and Jon model it for him, he’ll want to “play” too.

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