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Written by Kim Mihalec
Last night, after all the children were in bed, I was rewriting the instructions from a battered index card onto a new card. At the top on one side it reads: "In this manner pray...."
I was blessed and privileged to grow up in a home where prayer was an integral part of life. For many years family prayer on a Friday night was a regular occurrence. Saying a "blessing" over the evening meal was taken for granted. Even so, it took me a few years to work out how to teach my children to make prayer part of their lives. If you grew up in a home without prayer, it may be even harder to know where to start in teaching your children to pray. So I thought I'd share a few principles with you.
First of all, though, you may wonder if you really should teach your children to pray. I have heard some parents say, "We don't want to force our beliefs on our children. We want them to choose for themselves." If you study the Bible carefully, you will soon find that this is not God's point of view at all!
God (who assures us in Malachi 3:6 that He does not change) instructed the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:6-7: "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." Also in Paul's letter to the Ephesians we read, "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4, emphasis added). The Book of Proverbs is full of instructions about training children in truth and what is right. So the Bible clearly tells us that God wants us to teach our children about Him and His way of life – one of which is prayer.
A great starting point for teaching children to pray (and the importance of prayer) is to pray with children, and pray in front of children. You do this by making prayer a part of every day of your own life. Tell your children before you pray (if they are around), "Please don't disturb me right now, I'm praying." Or, if they interrupt you during prayer (unless it's an emergency), "Please wait, I'm praying." You are not only teaching them that prayer is part of every day, but that God comes first.
Pray for your children while they are present, even when they are babies. My youngest daughter just turned four months old. I make a point of praying out loud with her regularly (although not as regularly as I would like – I'm still working on building that habit).
Pray with your children as they get older but are too young to work it out on their own. I pray with my four-year-old by saying a sentence out loud and getting her to repeat it. I try to make sure it is in words she understands.
From there it can be helpful to provide your children with a framework for prayer by explaining the "model" prayer that Jesus used to teach His disciples to pray (see Matthew 6:5-15 and Luke 11:1-4). On the index card that I was rewriting for my seven-year-old last night I divided it in steps with a suggestion of what she could say in her prayers that builds on the model that Jesus gave.
Once you've established the importance of prayer in your own life, and in your children's minds, you can build on that by reminding them of some of the purposes of prayer.
For example, if we hear about someone sick or suffering in some way, we will say to our older girls, "Please remember to pray for (person's name). He's really hurting a lot since his operation" or "Let's pray for that family whose son just died. They must be really sad right now."
Praying for people we don't know personally reminds our children that we are part of a much bigger family made up of all God's people. We also encourage them to pray for people who are not of our faith, remembering that God's ultimate will is for all people to come to a knowledge of the truth in His time.
When our older girls are struggling in their own lives, whether it be physically, emotionally or mentally, we remind them to ask God for His help in dealing with it. We take care to explain that God may not choose to take away the source of suffering because it may be for our own good, but He will always help us to cope with life's challenges if we ask (see I Corinthians 10:13). For example, when they are finding it hard to get along with each other we might say something like, "Ask God to help you forgive your sister, because you can't do it by yourself."
Our oldest two girls are also starting to ask a lot of questions about marriage and "when they grow up." Just a couple of days ago I reminded them: "Whenever you have a big decision to make (such as moving out of home or choosing who to marry) remember to ask God for His wisdom and guidance."
And don't forget a blessing over the meal! That too is a wonderful opportunity to teach the children a short prayer of thankfulness for the daily food that God provides.
All these things may seem like a lot of hard work, and it may be years before you see the fruits of your labours in your children's lives. Just remember, if you teach your children to pray, you are giving them a tremendous gift in setting their feet on a path towards a relationship with their heavenly Father!
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