Teach Your Children to Pray

It has always been interesting to me that Jesus’ disciples never asked the Lord to teach them how to witness. Or preach. Or cast out demons. They asked Him to teach them how to pray. Maybe they understood that Jesus’ intimacy with His Father was the power source. Someone has said that Jesus went from one prayer meeting to another and in between He healed the sick, preached to crowds, and even raised the dead. That’s a little simplistic. We know that on a few occasions Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God.” Ultimately, Jesus came to do what the Father had sent Him to do: to lay down His life to atone for the sins of those who would believe in Him as Lord and Savior. But even there, on the cross, Jesus prayed.

Teach your children how to pray. It was our custom for many years to have family devotions that begin with reading the Bible and end with each of us praying one by one. When our children were very young, their prayers would usually go something like this. Hands folded, knees on the floor, elbows on the sofa, eyes squeezed shut, the youngest would pray, “Lord, help us to have a good day, not to get hurt, and not to fight.” That was OK. It was a child’s prayer, one that focused on comfort, safety and security. Sadly, many adults pray in those same tracks. Their words and sentences get longer and more impressive to the ear, but the requests are the same: “Lord, bless me today. Give me everything I need. Protect me from harm or even from anything hard or uncomfortable. And help me to make it safely to death one day!” No one actually prays those exact words, at least I hope not, but many pray those same themes. Over and over. Day after day.

As my children matured, I challenged them to get outside the prayer box they were in, to look around them for needs in the church, the community, or the world. Or in their own hearts. “It’s fine to pray for your own needs,” I would say. “Jesus taught us to ask for our daily bread. But He also taught us to pray for forgiveness for our own sins and for grace to forgive others who have sinned against us.” Cindy and I taught them and led by example to pray for the sick and the hurting. We taught them to pray for missionaries around the world. We taught them to pray for those who are not followers of Jesus Christ. We taught them to give God praise and thanks in prayer. My children have learned through the years that prayer is to be a delight, not a duty. We have taught them that they can pray any time and under any circumstances. Someone said once, “As long as there are final exams, there will always be prayer in school.” True. Prayer is not a ceremony that requires equipment, rituals, special clothing, or even a place. You can pray in your heart any time, and God hears.

Susanna Wesley, though mother to 19 children, found time to pray for two hours every day. David Brainerd, missionary to the American Indians in the 1700s, prayed in the snow until it melted around him. The Apostle James, beheaded by King Herod in the first century, was called “camel knees” according to legend, because of the callouses he developed through hours of prayer.

We need their kind among us again. Teach your children to pray.