Last year, my two year old daughter started asking to pray before meals.
She was difficult to understand, but she began by saying, “Dear God, Thank you for…”
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Those are the most recognizable words in the entire prayer.
Sometimes she would make garbled requests of the Almighty for a minute sometimes just a few seconds. Every so often I would catch pieces of phrases like “you blessings,” “nourish our bodies,” and “in the hospital.”
She would end by saying, “AAAA-men. Dax, you turn.”
As her words have become more clear to me, it has also become clear that I have taught my daughter how to pray on accident, and I’m not sure it’s a bad thing.
Over years of ministry, I have taught about prayer hundreds of times.
I have preached through dozens of prayers in the Bible, exegeted instructional passages like 1 Timothy 2, and even taught children little prayer acronyms like ACTS (although I prefer CATS).
Yet for all of my instructions, the most compelling lessons have come from my example.
She has heard me pray hundreds of times.
She has developed a model of what prayer should be like from what she has heard from me, and to some extent that is as it should be.
When Jesus taught his followers how to pray, he didn’t just give them instructions, he gave them an example.
In Matthew 6:5-8 Jesus instructs how not to pray (praying for attention and heaping empty words), and then in verse 9 He said, “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven…”
See what He did there?
He didn’t teach us just by telling us, but by showing us.
He gave an example to follow when we pray. Obviously, Jesus’s example, in prayer (and everything else) is perfect. Mine, in prayer (and everything else) is not.
Still, an imperfect example is better than no example.
I know it is intimidating. For me, one of the hardest parts of being a pastor is praying in front of people. I grew up listening to pastors with voices of gold deliver prayers that sounded like poems.
By comparison, my prayers sound so ordinary, pedestrian.
Prayer is between me and God. In that time, I am completely transparent and vulnerable. I don’t worry about my grammar or my vocabulary or my accent. I just talk to God. That is what your kids need to see from you.
So push through the feelings of nervousness and insecurity because having children who are prayer warriors is worth the anxiety.
The flip side of this is that not praying with your kids will teach them as well.
You will teach them to not turn to God in times of worry. You’ll teach them to not pray before falling asleep. You’ll teach them to not pray to thank God for their blessings. You will effectively teach them to not pray — by not praying with them.
So in order to avoid all that negative, here are three things you can do to be a bit more deliberate in the example you set.
1. Pray often
The more practice you get, the better you become at something.
I’ve become much better at praying out loud since having children. We pray before every meal, before bed, whenever we get in the car to go somewhere, through out the day, and whenever we get bad news.
My kids will occasionally stop me and say that we should pray for God to turn our day around if things are going south. Not always. As they have gotten older they are more inclined to blame a bad day on my bad mood.
2. Hold hands when you pray
This becomes a Pavlovian physical cue of the behavior you expect.
In our family, we always hold hands around the table when we pray before meals and at night when we’re putting the kids to bed.
So the kids often reach for our hands when we pray in church.
Not every time. Sometimes they are busy doing kid things like coloring or dancing.
But when we stick out our hand, they put their hand in ours and cool their jets on the shenanigans. Which is great because teaching kids to behave in church is hard especially on the front row with rowdy pastor’s kids.
3. Keep a list and follow up
Show your kids that that you pray for others. Children are very quick to pray for their own needs. (That’s true of most adults, too.)
Teaching them to look beyond their little world is tough, but necessary. We keep a list of things we are praying for and review it often. We talk about prayers that have been answered and evaluate if our current requests need to change.
We also put action to our prayers.
For example, if someone in our church has surgery, we pray for them AND bring them a meal. We let them be involved in as much of this as possible.
We show them that it’s great to pray for somebody, but it’s also great to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We do our best to meet a need with love. This often meshes up really well with our 39 service projects to do with kids.
Praying with your kids isn’t complicated though it may feel like jailbreaking your Firestick.
And while It may be more intimidating, it is definitely more important.
If you’re kids are older and prayer hasn’t been a part of your routine, don’t freak out. Start where you are and just be honest. Apologize for not praying together more, and make an effort to start now.
Like right now.
Ask your kids to hold you accountable.
Kids LOVE holding parents accountable. (Especially for bad moods.)
What ways have you purposely or accidentally been teaching your kids to pray? Tell us in the comments!