Christ taught His disciples to pray. But have you instructed your children in this important part of life? This article will show you how.
"AND THE child Samuel grew on, and was in favor both with the Lord, and also with men" (I Sam. 2:26). Put your son's or daughter's name in this verse. Would it still be a true statement? Is your child growing in favor with God and man? He can if you teach him (or her). Many great men of God — such as Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, David, John the Baptist, Timothy, and of course Jesus Christ — were enabled to become the men they were because they were taught God's way from their youth. You should be teaching your children also — including teaching them to pray. Like those men of old, your children can be in real contact with God — and actually growing in spiritual character — years before they are old enough to be baptized and receive God's Holy Spirit as His begettal to sonship. You can give them a "headstart" to receiving greater rewards when they will be given eternal life in God's Kingdom.
What God Is Like
First of all, your children want and deserve to know what God is like. They need this knowledge even before learning how to pray. Be sure you give your child a true picture of God — his potential spiritual Father. God gave us — His children — the first two of His commandments to help safeguard us from forming unrealistic and impractical concepts of Him — to keep our eyes focused on the real and literal Being who watches over us. Teach your children that God would look basically like a man if we could see Him — but is much more powerful. Teach them about God's personality. Let them know God has emotions and is happy when we pray to Him — even smiles! Above all, tell your children that God is our Father, not a mechanized robot-like "eye-in-the-sky," a harsh drill sergeant or a slick executive who has no time for little boys and girls. Your children should realize above all that God is a Father who is able to listen to every one of His little children and who loves them very much (read them Luke 18:15-17). Stress God's basic attribute of love. Teach them also how trustworthy, fair and merciful He is. Of course, we human parents must display these qualities in our own actions with our children and show them BY EXAMPLE our Eternal Father's character (Phil. 2:5).
What Is Prayer?
Next, teach your children what prayer really is. Remember that poetic "little child" prayer? "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep." When you were a child, this or similar prayers imprinted on a plaque may have hung above your bed. I remember, as a youngster, customarily repeating it on my knees by rote, just before jumping into bed. Frankly, your children need to realize that real prayer is not composed of poems or cute jingles, but just talking to God. Christ cautioned His disciples against vain memorized repetitions of prayers in Matthew 6:7. Teach your children to think when praying — and to say what's on his or her mind. Once your child knows what prayer is, then show him or her why prayer is so important — teach him that God both hears and answers sincere prayer requests. Show your child that we pray to God to ask for various needs — whether they be others' needs or ours. In explaining this to your child be sure to use the comparison of him or her asking you as a parent for various things. Remember to teach your children to ask God to heal when either they or you are ill. This will teach them to trust God and look to Him as their Healer. Also, teach your children that we talk to God to thank Him and to give Him credit for the many asked and unasked blessings and needs He supplies. David demonstrated his gratitude to God abundantly in the Psalms.
Exactly How to Teach
You can teach most effectively by example. Let your children hear you pray simple prayers either upon arising in the morning, before meals or before retiring at night. You may find mealtime brings the most practical opportunity. You will find it best at first merely to teach your little Johnny or Janie to bow his or her head when you pray. Later, assuming he or she is old enough to be able to speak reasonably fluent sentences, you may have little Johnny say a simple one, two or three sentence prayer in which you help him. Here is a very elementary prayer which could be varied: "Father in heaven, thank you for the food. Please bless it. We pray in Jesus's name. Amen." Of course, this is just a start. But as the months fly by and Johnny's mind continues to develop, he will gradually be able to pray in more detail, with you still helping him as necessary. A little more advanced prayer might be something like this: "Father in heaven, thank you for mommy and daddy. Thank you for my meat, my peas and my milk. Please bless them. In Jesus's name, Amen." As your child progresses, you will find he can add other thoughts to his prayers. Always be sure to encourage his efforts. As he prays simple prayers you will find he gets "stuck" or runs out of thoughts. When this happens be sure to help him — we've all been at a loss for words at one time or another!
Keep At It
Continue your children's training. Don't stop with merely getting them started. Give them several opportunities a week to give God thanks and ask His blessing at mealtime after you pray. You'll probably find that your children become increasingly eager to pray and usually enthusiastically volunteer to do so at even three or four years of age. Use the same principles and approach in teaching them to pray before they go to bed. As your children reach school age, take advantage of family prayer times. They will benefit from nearing father and mother pray as well as the opportunity to participate themselves. If prayer is a vital part of your life, it will come much more naturally to your children as they mature. They will then know how to talk to God as a result of your patient, thoughtful training and your consistent example. Of course, as your children mature they will understand to a greater degree to whom they are praying and what they are saying. But the foundation must be laid — preferably at an early age.
Pitfalls to Avoid
There are a few concrete "do's and don'ts" which you must heed. Not to do so can actually cause your child to dread and deplore prayer — thus negating all of your teaching efforts! 1. Never embarrass Johnny while he is praying. As he learns to pray, he will undoubtedly express himself in funny phrases or words, or make humorous requests. Don't laugh at him or allow anyone else to "make fun" or snicker at his efforts. Give your boy or girl the same loving support and loyalty God gives you. Be encouraging and respect his or her efforts — God certainly does. 2. Keep children's prayer times short and enjoyable. A void forcing your child to pray for long periods of time. A young child's prayers may consist of a half dozen short sentences; a five or six year old's a few more. But NEVER shut a child in a room and force him to pray a certain number of minutes — don't make prayer a burden or task. Make it a delight! 3. Remember also that children vary in their growth rates and abilities to express themselves. Don't expect your three-year-old to pray exactly on the same level as other three-year-olds. A void comparing children. Some can begin praying at two years of age, while others might begin at three or four. Teach them based on their ability to learn, not according to their ages. 4. Be sure your children approach prayer respectfully. Don't allow them to make a game of it. If you find them praying in a "sing-song" voice or intentionally saying silly things, simply stop them and remind them that God does not want us to talk that way to Him. Then allow them to continue praying — respectfully. 5. Always be fair, understanding, and above all patient. God allows man approximately seventy years to learn His ways and the lessons of life. Let's work with our children patiently as God does with us. And remember, when you have questions, doubts or problems about teaching this vital subject, seek the counsel of your local minister.
It's Up to You
To a considerable degree you hold your child's future in your hands. You as a parent are the potter — the young boy or girl is a piece of very malleable clay. God will judge each one of us according to how well we mold and teach those little minds. In Proverbs 10:1, God inspired Solomon to write, "A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother." We all want children we can be well pleased with as the years go by and we see them become young men and women before our eyes. Let's teach our children to pray early in life to get them headed in the right direction from the start. You will also reap benefits for yourself as Proverbs 23:24-25 shows: "The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him. Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice." And even more important, you'll help your son or daughter to walk with God so he or she will receive the good things of life that God promises in Proverbs 3:13-17 (The Living Bible): "The man who knows right from wrong and has good judgment and common sense is happier than the man who is immensely rich! For such wisdom is far more valuable than precious jewels. Nothing else compares with it. Wisdom gives: a long good life, riches, honor, pleasure, peace." What greater gift could you bestow upon your children than to diligently teach them how to pray and to be close to their Creator so they can receive these truly "good things" of life?