When my daughter was two years old, we taught her to say thank you. She had just finished when Keith leaned over and whispered, “Tell Mommy she’s pretty.” Katie hurriedly clasped both hands, closed her eyes, and said, “My God, make Mommy pretty. Amen.”
But most of my girls’ prayers tend to this: “Thank you that we had a good day today. Help us have fun tomorrow! Amen.”
And I have decided that this is not good enough. So here is our plan to really teach them to pray:
A. Model prayer for your children
Children are not going to learn sincere prayers until we say them in front of them. So every night after dinner, have a little prayer session in which you fervently pray for something important to your family: a family member in need of God, a financial situation, a personality conflict. Something. When they hear you pray for someone, they learn to do it too!
B. Teach different types of prayer
We are starting a new program in which we encourage you to branch out in prayer. There are different variations for this, but here I am working. Look at your hand. If you notice it, you have five fingers. Have the children raise their hands and, for each type of sentence, raise one finger until they raise their whole hand.
Thank God for who he is, for something about him, for something he has done.
Thank God for something He has done for you today. Encourage children to make this as specific as possible. Not just “Thanks for my mommy”, but “Thanks for giving me a mommy who comes to my hockey game” or “Thanks for mommy who hugs me”.
3. Request for another person
Ask God something. Again, make it specific. No “feeding all the children” unless they are very young. It is better to ask God to give money to a family you know, or to help your sponsored child and family, or to help someone you know who is sick. If there is an ongoing need, pray for it every night. But try to encourage them to pray for something new as well.
For example, we have a close friend whose five-year-old daughter is undergoing treatment for leukemia right now. We pray for her every day and then we add other requests as well.
What did you do wrong today? Tip: Children are much more willing to pray this if you model it. Whenever you make a mistake, immediately confess to God in front of them. If they see you doing it, they won’t feel as uncomfortable doing it either. And don’t let them say, “Forgive me for being selfish.” Always encourage them to use “when” phrases: “Forgive me for being selfish when I would not share my lego.”
5. Application for you
I think this should always be the last, because the other prayers help to get our hearts in line with God. Then you are in a better place to make your own requests.
But this one can be difficult. It is okay for children to ask for something for themselves. But make sure you are not treating God like Santa Claus. No “God, please give me a new bike.” Ask them what their biggest struggle is. Maybe it’s getting along with a brother or teacher they don’t like, or learning math. Pray for it.
Now all five fingers are up and the kids haven’t said, “Help me have fun tomorrow!” So you are on your way to raising prayer warriors! Congratulations and don’t give up!