Teaching Children To Pray: Some Basics From The Scriptures
By Kim Butts
Children can be taught the basics of prayer from the Lord Himself, who has given us some very specific instructions. The simplest and most powerful way that children (and adults too) can grasp and understand prayer is to read and follow God’s How-To Manual of Prayer--The Bible. Study one of these prayer concepts together each week and put them into practice so that children will begin to weave prayer into the fabric of their every day lives. The Lord will be faithful as your children grow in their prayer lives.
1. Confess your sins before you pray. James 5:16 says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." Teach your children to keep "short accounts" with God. Before prayer, have each family member share one thing which was done recently that may not have pleased God, and for which you need to ask forgiveness. Remember to teach that once this is done, God "remembers the sin no more" according to Hebrews 8:12 and Jeremiah 31:34.
2. Forgive others before you pray and pray for your enemies. "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" (Mark 11:25). Have your child think of one or two classmates or acquaintances who may have done or said something unkind. After telling God that you wish to forgive them for any wrong they have done to you or others, pray blessing and peace into their lives. Matthew 5:44 says, "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..."
3. Don’t say the same things over and over -- talk to God as your Heavenly Father and as a friend. Matthew 6:7-8 says, "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." Give children opportunity to have conversation with God. Try not to teach "memorized" prayers, but encourage them to pray from their hearts. Don’t discourage them in their attempts -- very young children will pray things which may seem to be inappropriate to you, but which are very much on their hearts.
4. Pray with faith, believing that you will receive. Matthew 21:22 says, "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." In Mark 11:25 we read, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." When God’s people pray prayers of faith, truly believing that God is able to accomplish His will for us and for others, He can do amazing things like this: "And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up" (James 5:15).
Parents, it is very important to talk about prayers that are not answered "Yes." If God doesn’t answer your prayer the way you expect, help your child to consider that God has a perfect plan for every person and situation. Sometimes God’s plans are very different from ours, and He sees the bigger picture when we can’t. He knows that there will be times when the prayers we pray will be answered with a "No" instead of a "Yes." It is our job to remain faithful, knowing and trusting that God is in control, and that He knows what is best for us, for those we pray for, and every situation for which we intercede.
5. Learn how to pray the things that are on God’s heart. By knowing God’s will through His Holy Word, and by being obedient to His Word, we will begin to pray things that are on the heart of God. For example, it is God’s will that all people will have an opportunity to come to a saving knowledge of the truth -- to know Jesus. Are you praying for this? Is it on your heart too? Matthew 9:36-38 says, "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’" If you and your children pray this prayer, God will always answer "Yes!" because His heart and yours will be in agreement. What are some other things that are on God’s heart?
6. Watch and pray so that you will not be tempted by the enemy to do the wrong things. Luke 21:36 says, "Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." In Matthew 26:41, we read, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." What situations and things are you tempted by? Talk about how the enemy can use those things to tempt us to sin against God.
7. It is important to pray on your own, but God wants us to pray with others too. Here are some examples from the early Church: "They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers" (Acts 1:14). "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). "When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God...." (Acts 4:24). Give your children plenty of opportunities to pray with others (including adults) at church, in small groups, in Kids Prayer Clubs, etc.
8. Pray instead of worrying. Philippians 4:6-7 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Ask your children to name one thing they are worrying about. Give these things to the Lord in prayer so that His peace can take the place of worry.
9. Be devoted to prayer. "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful" (Colossians 4:2). Romans 12:12 says, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Teach your children to daily read, study and pray so that they will remain faithful to the Word of God. "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples" (John 15:7-8).