Teaching Children About Prayer
By teaching children about prayer, even the very young ones, responsible parents are laying a spiritual foundation for the child to develop a personal relationship with God. A mom can pray as she rocks with her infant who responds to the familiar sound of mom's voice. A dad can cup his hands around those of his toddler and offer a grace as simple as "Thank you, God, for this food," before spooning the cereal into the baby's mouth. With this beginning by the parents, prayer becomes a natural and regular part of daily life for the child. Moms and dads will need to wait till the little ones can talk before teaching children the Lord's prayer, but even four- and five-year-olds can learn the words that Jesus first gave to his apostles when they asked him to teach them to pray.
Mealtimes and bedtimes are popular daily events for teaching children about prayer. At the kitchen table, before every meal, a child can say thanks for her food. In this way, she learns that God provides our daily needs. Allowing the child (and her brothers and sisters) to say the grace for the family gives children an opportunity to feel comfortable talking to the heavenly Father and showing appreciation for His provision. Settling into bed before going to sleep is a very special time for a parent to spend a few moments with each child, one-on-one, to talk about the day or to plan for tomorrow. Mom and dad can encourage the children, depending on the ages, to develop a strong spiritual grounding through learning to praise, confess, and petition God.
As part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen" (Matthew 6:9-13). These are the verses we quote when teaching children the Lord's prayer. Jesus' models a way to pray to God that is both simple and profound. Though the words are not long and lofty, the adoration and petitions show deep significance. Children can be taught each phrase separately and gain age-appropriate insight into its meaning by spiritually perceptive parents and teachers.
There are many methods for teaching children about prayer. Preschoolers love repetition and rhythm so music is a natural learning tool. Musical CDs of Bible verses are wonderful for helping little ones memorize short prayers that praise God. Of course, musically talented parents and teachers can create Scripture songs. The Israelites sang many of the Psalms and verses from this book of poetry are great resources for verses to sing to children. Elementary school kids can create prayer cards, posters, and collages by cutting pictures out of magazines or drawing pictures with markers and crayons. Adults can guide them by giving a topic such as "Thank you, God, for my family." Then the kids can draw or find pictures of family members, homes, and even pets to put on the cards and posters. Creativity in worship needs to be cultivated in young children so that they are comfortable praying throughout their lives.
Older children can go on nature hikes that encourage praise of God's creative power. Early scientists, noticing the order and mathematical "language" of nature, understood that the Creator designed the universe with specific scientific principles that could be studied and identified. Hiking leaders can be prepared to point out such fascinating wonders of God's creative imagination as photosynthesis, the nesting habits of birds, and the symbiotic relationships between different animal and plant species. After the nature hike, the kids can be given journals to write about the spiritual insights they gained about God as creator. Parents and teachers can also give the kids other prompts to write about in special journals so that they learn to express personal thoughts and feelings to their Heavenly Father.
In further teaching children the Lord's prayer, spiritual leaders can work with teens on deepening their Christian walks by meditating on each phrase. A careful study of the passage shows that Jesus opened and closed the model prayer by focusing on God the Father and the divine glory. In between, in only a few sentences, Jesus emphasizes God's sovereignty over earthly governments, requests daily provision to meet our physical needs, and recognizes our need for forgiveness of our sins and spiritual guidance. Older children and teens can expand on each phrase in when praying, using the outline that Jesus provided as a guide. In other words, it's appropriate in teaching children about prayer that the kids learn to focus on God instead of themselves. Of course, the heavenly Father is interested in the deepest concerns and needs of all His people. But the petitions, for themselves and for others, appropriately come between praise and adoration, and a heartfelt recognition of God's divine glory. By teaching children the Lord's prayer, phrase-by-phrase, they will more easily see this concept.
Parents don't need to worry about teaching the little ones entrusted to them to pray. By starting to pray with their sons and daughters during infancy, the little one will grow up feeling comfortable folding her hands to say grace before meals and kneeling beside her bed before falling asleep to thank God for the blessings of the day and to offer praise and petitions to the omniscient, omnipresent One.