We talk about prayer. Most parents reading this article would say that prayer and communicating with God are extremely important. Many who are still reading know the verse in Jeremiah that says God knows the plans He has for us (Jeremiah 29:11). Readers may also be familiar with the verse in Psalms that says we are each fearful and uniquely made by God so that we can fulfill His specific plans for us (Psalms 139:14). That being said, do we as parents actually include the training of prayer in our parenting curriculum? Do we teach our children to pray?
What if we really believed it was important to communicate with God? What if we believed that communicating with God was more important than academics or sports? That being the case, our parenting schedules should reflect this priority.
Maybe it’s not a matter of knowing that prayer is important. We all know that praying, actually communicating with God, is extremely important. Maybe the challenge is how. How do we train our children to pray?
Training our children to pray must start with making sure our children know that prayer is a serious lifetime privilege. I can teach that by setting an example. Do my children see and hear me pray?
Recently, my son Robey talked about things he remembers from growing up in our home. One of his most powerful recollections is getting up each morning before school and seeing his mom sitting in a green chair. The green chair was (and still is) sitting in the loft of our home. Robey said, “Even when I was in college, far from home, I knew each morning Mom was in the green chair praying for me.”
We have to set the example. Setting aside the time for personal prayer establishes the priority of prayer in the minds of your children.
We need to do more than let them watch us pray, however. We need to expose them to the privilege and power of prayer. Find times when you can pray as a family as well as times when you can pray with each child individually.
Each morning at the breakfast table, my family read the Bible and prayed. We did this while we were eating breakfast. Yes, that does mean we had to wake up a little earlier each morning. Before you groan about that thought, think about the other things you find yourself getting up earlier for, such as swim practice, unfinished homework, or getting to school early for a field trip. These are all events we deem worthy of getting up a little earlier for. Surely creating a routine of spending 15 minutes at the breakfast table reading the Bible and praying are far more worthwhile than any other reason a family gets up early for.
And yes, even when there were others sleeping over, we had our prayer time with them at our table. Just ask Pastor Ryan Brasington of Rio Vista Community Church. As a high school student, he sat at our table sleeping through many of our family prayer times after spending a night with us.
It’s also important to find that personal time to pray with each child. Praying at the side of their beds at the end of the day seems the most obvious time to pray. This is a time to help a child or teen experience personal prayer.
Every night either my wife or I prayed with one of our children. We began by asking them if they had any personal prayer requests. “What do you want to ask God about?” we would ask. There seems to be a special connection between the innocent prayers of a child and the heart of God.
When our daughter Torrey was eight years old, she took piano lessons. We didn’t have a piano, so we made an arrangement with the church we were attending to let Torrey go to the church a few times a week to practice. One night, Torrey asked her mom if it would be okay to ask God for a piano in our home. Rosemary said it was certainly okay to ask God for a piano as long as she didn’t tell me about the prayer request (I would have felt pressure to try to purchase something I couldn’t afford in order to help God out) and as long as she was willing to hear the word “No” or “not now.”
Torrey and Rosemary prayed for many things each night for the next couple of weeks, but Torrey always included asking God for a piano. And no one told me.
A couple of weeks after this particular prayer request began, I got a call from a friend, Ed Shambo. He indicated that he was moving things around in his home and had an old upright piano that the family no longer wanted. Could I use it? I responded with, “I have no idea. Can I call you about it after I talk with Rosemary?”
That night when I got to the dinner table, I asked, “The Shambos want to know if we want their piano?” Before I could finish the sentence, mother and daughter were jumping up and screaming so loud I thought someone was having a heart attack. Then they explained that they had been praying.
We got the piano and Torrey still has it in her own home. But this was much bigger than a piano. This was God helping a little girl understand that prayer is important and prayer really works. This incident connected her to her real Father. As for me, her dad, I considered having her pray for a Corvette for me only kidding!
Dr. Robert Barnes is the president of Sheridan House Family Ministries. He and his wife, Rosemary, are authors and speakers on marriage and family issues.