Making Prayer Meaningful to Children

We each want God to be real to our children. “Now I lay me down to sleep….” “Our Father Who art in Heaven….” One of these was probably the first prayer most of us learned.  How meaningful was it at two or three years old?  Has prayer become more personal and significant or is it still a formal ritual?

We want our children to see that prayer is more than something to do at meals and at bedtime.  What steps can we take to make prayer more meaningful to them?

After first examining our own prayer lives, we can take these action steps.

Children learn by watching others.  When they see and hear Dad and Mom pray more often than just at mealtime and bedtime, children will learn that God is approachable, that He is involved in our daily lives and that we trust Him.

Times of prayer are integral parts of my childhood memories. I remember hearing Mom’s words of prayer as she stroked my fevered brow; listening to Grandpa name each relative, waiting for him – as I knew it would –  to bring my name to the God he knew so well.  These and many other prayers spoke to my child-spirit of a God Who tenderly cares for His own.

Pete and I have been praying together each weekday since 1973. We had been married by then about 15 years and prayed only periodically together, except for our “goodnight prayers.”

We began praying for our children’s spouses at that time…

Now we pray for our grandchildren and their spouses (even those unborn)

… and now our greats and their spouses.

All that are old enough are serving the Lord. It’s not uncommon for one of them to come into the room and find us praying. We stop, talk with them, then go on with our praying.

My grandparents…

My husband and I looked for a way to help our children participate in prayer for our own family and relatives as well as church families.  We asked relatives for snap shots, and we took pictures of each church family and unit.  Gathering them took several weeks, but it was worth it.

At our family worship time we distributed the snapshots or photographs so each child, though too young to read, could pray for those whose picture he held.

When certain very close friends visit me I can continue household tasks when necessary and still carry on a conversation without offending them.  It’s this kind of comfortableness I’ve enjoyed in my relationship with God.  Occasionally in the midst of a conversation with someone, one of us will begin a prayer–thereby acknowledging that He is with us anyway and bringing Him right into the conversation.

As a family we have stopped in the middle of a crisis or celebration to talk to the Lord together. Whenever an email or phone call comes that needs prayer, we stop what we’re doing. Whoever is present is brought into the prayer. Because our children have experienced this kind of awareness of God’s presence they, too, have learned to turn to Him with their needs.

It’s easy to pray general prayers. “Bless Aunt Peggy ….”  “Be with the missionaries….” But it’s hard to know when God answers them.  When we break prayers down to levels we can both comprehend and truly believe for, we know when God answers them.

I mentioned my grandfather’s prayers. When he died many gathered in the room for a last visit with him. All except 10 or 12 of them had accepted Christ. I recently received a letter from one of those…

We now pray much more specific prayers (show prayer card). It keeps growing…

When we pray specific prayers we can expect to see specific answers.  Often we forget to watch for those answers and may even fail to express thanks.

When our children were young we used a three-by-five-inch card file to record the date and specific prayer.  When the answer came, we recorded the date and answer beside the request.

Such a record has been a tool for God to increase the faith of each member of the family.  It also reminds us to thank our prayer-answering God for His faithfulness in our lives. We don’t want to be like the unthankful lepers Jesus healed who didn’t thank Him.

Too many people think only spiritual giants hear the voice of God. But He speaks even to new converts and children. He is willing to share His heart with anyone willing to take time to wait before Him, to carry His burdens, and to trust Him to answer.  We found that children usually find it easier than adults to set aside the cares of life and listen to God’s heart. They pray for the unbelievable because they don’t know “it can’t be done.”

We did not know how much these prayer principles had shaped our children until we were in Hong Kong on a short-term missionary trip. Because this was an unplanned side trip, no one at home knew where we were. We had spent the last of our money for a night’s sleep. We sat knee to knee on the beds in that time YWCA room. Fifteen-year-old Dave asked, “Have you ever been in this situation before?”

“Just what do you mean?” my husband, Pete, asked.

“In a strange county, with no ministry, no money, and no one knowing where you are?”
Discouragement was evident in Pete’s voice, “Not at the same time.”

“Well, then, let’s pray,” Dave said. He went on to pray a faith-filled prayer that astounded both Pete and me.

The next morning we had breakfast at a nearby mission center. We were introduced to the couple sitting across the table from us. They had just arrived from the missionary base we had left three months earlier. When they heard our name they expressed confusion. They told us they were on their way to Singapore and had been asked to hand carry a letter addressed to us. To our amazement the letter was form friends at home and had been mailed several months earlier. It contained a check–just the amount we needed to get us to our next place of ministry.

We’ve seen prayer become a vital part of our children’s lives.  We only need to be good examples before them, give them the right tools, and turn them to the One Who is waiting to hear from them.

Let’s review those tools:

Set a Good Example

Use Visuals

Pray Spontaneously

Pray Specific Prayers

Track Those Prayers

Understand God’s Heart

© Beverly Caruso

Originally Published in the Discipleship Journal

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