Practical Basics For Family Prayer
By Kim Butts
Some of my most poignant and gratifying memories as a parent are of the snowy winter mornings when our youngest son would quietly slip into our room and snuggle down between my husband and me as we were having our prayer time together. (In warmer weather, we find we stay awake better by getting out of bed to pray, but there has always been something special about winter mornings. Besides, by the time we are finished praying, the furnace has warmed the house to a temperature that allows my cold self to venture out from under the blankets.)
David would always lie very still and listen to us pray back and forth about one another’s day, about our ministry, our families, friends, missionaries--and he heard us pray for him and for his day as well. He knew that when we were finished, it would be time for all of us to have a devotion time and to pray together as a family. His alarm was usually set to go off about the time we were finishing up; however, many mornings he came in early because he wanted to be there with us and because it made him feel good to hear his name brought before the throne room of heaven.
As he has grown, we have been able to praise God for a child who believes wholeheartedly in the power of prayer and who still, as a teenager, willingly participates in family prayer times, aside from having a personal prayer life of his own. It is humbling to realize that he has learned to pray by our example and because it is such a big part of who we are as a family.
It was not just the morning prayer times that were instrumental in this training, but the times we prayed for protection before taking off in the car, or when we prayed for one of his friends who was ill. It was the times when there was a major decision to be made, or when he was afraid of the dark, or when we participated together in prayer initiatives such as Praying Through the Window or PrayUSA! David’s prayer life developed as did his daily walk with Christ: by consistent, daily communication with his heavenly Father, learned in the context of family prayer.
There is no magic formula. There is no step-by-step manual. There is no guarantee that everyone will be 100 percent in favor of it when you begin. In fact, it’s likely your children will look at you as if you have two heads when you introduce the idea. But if the desire to pray as a family is planted in the heart of one or more of your family members, this is a seed that can bear much fruit.
God gave these instructions: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates" (Deut. 6:4-9). Here are some suggestions to help prepare you to begin praying as a family:
1. No pressure--Let Jesus lead and the Holy Spirit guide.
One or both parents generally take the initiative to begin family prayer. Children, however, can also be the catalyst. Either way, it is the parents who will need to guide the family into this spiritual adventure. Probably the most important thing for parents to keep in mind at this point is that they don’t have to be "prayer experts." Moving obediently forward in the power and strength of Christ is most important here. He has called you to pray as a family, and He will be faithful to teach you as a family through the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is vital that you overcome the "pride" factor, especially if you are not comfortable with the quality or quantity of your own prayer life. Instead of worrying that your children will "see through" your lack of expertise, let Christ be the expert--the example and the leader. Explain to your family that Jesus will be the personal "prayer trainer" who will bring you all to the throne of God. Not only will this take the pressure off you, but it will also afford you the opportunity to learn along with your family.
2. Be an example.
While God does not expect parents to be prayer experts, He does expect them to be prayer examples. If you are not currently modeling a prayer life before your children, or if you do not have a regular quiet time, now is the best time to start. Your children need to know that you spend time each day with the Lord in prayer because that is what Jesus did.
Be determined to model prayer for your children, even if you are still learning about it. In addition to the individual prayer life of a parent, perhaps the most powerful witness to a child is to see his or her parents praying together. (Naturally, if two parents are not in the home, or if one is not a Christian, God honors individual efforts.)
Husbands and wives who pray together for one another, for their children, and for family issues make a clear statement to their children without saying a word. The marriage relationship is strengthened in mighty ways as each spouse hears the petitions of the other. Both partners are built up in faith and encouraged by hearing each other intercede on their behalf. If you are not always praying regularly with your spouse (don’t worry, you are in the majority!), you may want to get your hands on a wonderful book called Praying with the One You Love by Art Hunt (Multnomah).
3. Align yourselves with God’s plan and purpose.
Before you begin praying together as a family, it’s important to determine what your family purpose and plan are. Spend time in prayer, asking the Father to show you how He wants to use your family. If your goal in prayer is to honor and glorify God and to desire that His will be done on this earth--rather than to ask that your will be done in heaven --you are well on your way to powerful prayer that will accomplish mighty things in the kingdom of God.
4. Formulate a family prayer mission statement.
A prayer mission statement will give family prayer time a focus. Your statement should reflect why you pray together and generally what you will pray for during your time. This statement might be something like this: "We desire to honor and glorify God through our prayer, by seeking His will through His Word and by listening to His voice. Our goal is to join with Him in what He desires to accomplish in and through us for the advancement of His kingdom on this earth."
You might want to include your children in formulating the mission statement. Once you’ve written a statement that fits your family, you will have a clear focus as you pray together. Your prayer should always agree with your mission statement, which should agree with God.
5. Don’t make prayer harder than it is.
Prayer is simply "talking to God." In her book The Power of a Praying Parent, Stormie Omartian says, "Prayer is acknowledging and experiencing the presence of God and inviting His presence into our lives and circumstances. It’s seeking the presence of God and releasing the power of God which gives us the means to overcome any problem."
Don’t "superspiritualize" the process. Ask God to teach you individually and together to pray. Learn and/or teach the basics first. Take a little time when you get together to pray and teach one brief concept. Then spend the rest of the time praying. Be careful that you don’t talk about prayer more than you pray. The best way to learn how to pray is to do it.
Prayer transcends age differences. Parents and children of all ages can learn to pray together, each on his or her own level, because the prayers are not to please one another, but to please God!
– Used by permission of Pray! magazine.