Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Luke 11:1 (NLT)
Jesus gave us the perfect model for living a prayerful life. Even so, the people who spent the most time with him still needed help developing their own habit of prayer. My wife and I are also still growing in our habit of prayer. While we wouldn't consider ourselves prayer-experts by any means, we've made a choice to make prayer a priority in our home. We believe it's much better to model prayer for our kids than it is to teach them "about prayer," because ultimately the goal is that our children will be comfortable praying to God, not just able to say prayers. I hope that this post helps you to teach and model a vibrant prayer life to your kids.
Create a Routine for Prayer
As my wife and I lead our kids in modeling prayer, here are some routines that we use to work prayer into our family life.
- Meals: This is an obvious time to pray. Maybe even too obvious. The danger is that we might say a rote, thoughtless prayer instead of authentic, real prayer to the Lord who gave us all of the grub on our plates. My family adds specific things to pray for at each meal. At breakfast we have a list of medical needs that we pray for. At dinner we pray for a missionary family or group somewhere across the globe. The specifics you choose aren't as important as looking for something to get us past the “Good bread, good meat, good Lord, let’s eat!” style of prayer.
- Bedtime: At bedtime we ask our kids to tell us about their favorite part of the day. We also ask if they have anything that they are worried or scared about. These are great conversation starters, but also natural connections to turn to prayer. We often ask our kids if they want to pray (sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t). We also make sure they understand that prayers don’t need to be fancy or long (just read Matthew 6:7-8). Sometimes, a one-sentence prayer from the heart is a huge win for my kids.
- Leaving: When someone leaves the house for the day (which is usually me going to work), we pause and pray for the day. We pray that we can all grow more like Jesus throughout the day. We’ll also pray for safety or protection depending on what’s going on. Bill Allison of Cadre Ministries has a Disciple-maker’s prayer that's a great “on your way” prayer to start your day.
When your routine fails, pray anyway
The reality of life, however, is that it isn’t always routine. Sometimes life smacks you over the head, and you have to do your best to stay afloat until it returns to normal. Modeling honest prayer during these stressful times is even more important than the routine times for prayer. Last fall my family went through a pretty stressful time surrounding a vehicle purchase. For two entire weeks, every prayer we said centered around God watching over our vehicle situation, restoring what was ours, and protecting us. Our kids learned that if a situation is causing you stress, you can bring it to God and ask for his help and peace. Your kids will notice if you turn to God when things are hard (and they'll also notice if you don't).
"Any-moment" prayers are useful when your kids are stressed or upset. We might gloss over an upset child by labeling their issue as "just a kid-problem." We might tell them to "get over it" when a sibling is mean to them or they scrape their knee. But in these tough moments, we should show them how to pray for God’s help. We can pause and pray with our kids right then, whether we think they are being whiny or not (and trust me, I’m still working on this one).
Prayer is both awesome and scandalous: We can approach the God of the universe with seemingly trivial requests or concerns. The best way to teach our kids to do that is to model it ourselves.
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11:9-11 (NLT)