Recently in the prayer class I lead at our church in Oklahoma City, I was explaining to the new children why we take one Sunday a month from their regular lessons to focus on prayer. "We want you to know God, not just know about Him, and hear God, not just hear about Him," I explained.
Eight-year-old Andrew, who has been in prayer class for several years, piped up to help get the idea across: "It's like me and President Bush. I've seen him on TV lots of times, especially since 9-11, and read about him in the newspaper, and heard my parents talking about him. But I have never had a conversation with President Bush, so I don't really know him, do I?"
Andrew was exactly right. If we want our children to know God and not just know about Him, we need to teach them to pray and pray with them. Children could do all kinds of worksheets about God and hear stories about Him, but it is when they talk and listen to God that they begin to know His heart.
Children need to know early in their lives that they can talk to God just like they talk to Mommy, Daddy, or a best friend. They need to understand that God is there and attentive to what they have to say. Instead of putting them on hold or playing a recorded message, God is always willing to listen - whether they are on the playground, at a friend's house, in the car, or at church.
You can pray ...
Heart to heart - Share with your child a time that you prayed and received the answer in a surprising or dramatic way.
On the spot - The next time your child comes to you with a problem or worry, instead of saying, "I will pray for you," do it right then. Even if it is a short prayer, you will be demonstrating the important principle that God wants us to cast the care of all our concerns on Him and pray about everything.
Through the newspaper - Pass out sections of the newspaper and ask each child to come up with one concern to pray about.
Modeling: How to learn prayer
One of the first ways children learn the importance of prayer is hearing their moms and dads pray. Since Josh was born, his dad would pray for him each night at bedtime, asking for God's protection and love to fill his heart. When Josh turned 2 years old, his parents added a short nightly reading from his Bible. Shortly after age 2, Josh began to join in by looking around his room and naming everything he could see to thank God for - blankets, puppy, Mommy, Daddy, new shoes, toys, the nightlight, eyes, ears, nose. He thanked God for the most interesting items! But it was not only Josh that was growing spiritually. Hearing her son's simple prayers, Josh's mom, Sandy, could not remember the last time she thanked God for her sight, hearing, shoes, clothes, and all the other blessings in her life.
Get out of the ruts of prayer
One way to banish the "nothing to pray for" or "prayer is boring" complaint is to get out of the ruts of prayer by using prayer targets and making prayer active. Use a game I call "Musical Prayers." Place a chair for each participant in a circle. Tape a prayer target to each chair. Begin playing music and have everyone walk around the chairs. When the music stops, each person finds the nearest chair and prays for that need.
Use an inflatable world globe and pass it from person to person. When the music stops, the person holding the globe can choose a country and pray for the children in that country to know about Jesus.
Take your children on a prayer walk. Children are terrific prayer walkers because they enjoy movement and being "on site" makes the prayers more meaningful and concrete. To begin, walk around your neighborhood and ask God's blessing and salvation on each family. Pray for the children in each home.
Give children the freedom to talk to God in different postures: sitting, standing, kneeling, marching, or bowing. When you have family prayer time, allow each person to choose a different posture in which to pray.
Pray a blessing
Praying a prayer of blessing on your child's life each night at bedtime (or other times of the day) can bring comfort, reassurance, and hope to your child's heart. Pray for God's favor, protection, and peace. Thank the Lord for something specific - a gift, talent, or quality in your child. You can use a Bible blessing such as Psalm 5:12 or Numbers 6:25 or speak from your heart. When you pray scriptural blessings, you are speaking words that match God's desire for your child.
An essential part of prayer is simply saying, "Thank You, God."
Blessing basket - Fill a small basket with little slips of paper. Encourage family members to write or draw pictures of things for which they are thankful.
Best part of the day - Ask each child to say a sentence prayer, thanking God for the best part of her day.
Family journal - Keep a notebook full of things for which the family is thankful.
As you try different ways of connecting with God, children will learn that prayer is one of the greatest adventures in life - to call on the God of the universe and then to hear from Him. As Jeremiah 33:3 says: "Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and wondrous things you do not know."