Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Teaching Them How To Pray

Have you ever sat down to a meal with someone who asked their child to lead in giving thanks and the prayer was spoken so fast that you didn't even hear it? Did you ever do that when you were a child? Did you have a specific prayer that you said at every meal or when you went to bed? I did a Google search on children's prayers and was surprised at how many little poem type prayers for children there were. Here are a few examples you may be familiar with.

Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.


God is great,
God is good.
And we thank Him
For our food. Amen.


Lord, Bless this bunch, while we munch our lunch. Amen.


Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
God bless our family and our friends.


(And the politically correct version.)

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
May angels watch me
through the night and
wake me with the morning light.

While these are cute, ammusing, and poetic little prayers, they miss the mark of what prayer actually is. Prayer is talking with God. It is relational not religious. When we teach our children to pray a memorized prayer that was written by someone else, it becomes a set of words that can be recited at the speed of light without a thought. It's important to teach even the littlest child to talk to God from their own heart.

As adults we should also participate in the prayer and not always let the child take the lead. We are the ones who need to model prayer to our children and grand children. Jesus modeled prayer for us in Matthew 6.

"This, then, is how you should pray: " 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."  Matthew 6:9-13

In the same way, we need to model prayer with elements of praise and adoration for God, prayer for God's Kingdom and His will to reign on earth, requests for our provision, forgiveness for our sins and for those who have wronged us, for protection against temptation and against Satan. Not that all of these elements need to be included in every prayer but that they all are frequently modeled in our prayer life. In doing this we will teach our children how to develop relational prayer with God, and as we listen to them pray we will also gain insight into their hearts.

Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth. Psalm 54:2

...but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer. Psalm 66:19

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Matthew 6:7

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Jody said...

Really like this post. Very helpful.
Happy Wednesday.

From the Heart said...

A very good post. Yes, I prayed some of those prayers growing up and taught my girls the same prayers. However, my youngest daughter prayed for "everybody" after saying the "now I lay me down to sleep". I think I always prayed over them also. I use to hear my Mother praying every morning before she went to work.

You should hear my granddaughter's prayer at meal time. She not only blesses the food but everyone else. I'm sure she has heard her dad pray and models after him.

Blessings and love,

RCUBEs said...

Guilty here...That prayer "God is good. God is great. Thank You for the food and all of the blessings." Prayed that before. I knew there was something wrong because it was so short. As if people praying it are rushing so they can start eating right away. :) Sometimes, I didn't even know we already had prayed it.

Sometimes, when I don't even know what to utter, I'm grateful that the Spirit does help us out. I don't want to sound like a robot when praying. I'm glad Jesus had modeled how it's supposed to be. Blessings and love to you sister.

Sue J. said...

It is interesting that you quote "The Lord's Prayer" here. This is certainly the Biblical model for how to pray, but it is also probably the most rote-said prayer when it comes to folks praying in church. Difference being that this is a prayer offered by a congregation united in worship.

Still, even in that example, prayer is a matter of the heart. We may all say that prayer together, but what do our hearts say?

I think these children's prayers make the most of words that very young children can say and establish a discipline for when to consider praying. But, as the Spirit moves in them, and their training in righteousness grows, they should move on in their understanding--give up the "milk" for the spiritual "meat" of prayer--and we can guide them in that way.

Where did the idea of "saying grace" come from? Now that I understand grace quite a bit more, that phrase doesn't work for me.

And, I have to add, we say "God made the fishies...." when all the cousins get together. One of the 9 is not being brought up through the Church. This kind of prayer does allow him to be involved in a family worship experience, albeit very small. But this may be the kind of opportunity that God will use one day down the line to reach him.

Anonymous said...

Great post Edie - I need to pray about how to encourage my nieces (eldest is 12) to pray more thoughtful and relational prayers. Right now they are extremely simple and repetitive - never changing.

Kelly Combs said...

This post especially hits home for me, because (embarassingly) I didn't realize we could pray for anything at anytime until I was in my mid-20s. We always did rote prayers growing up, so I just thought that was what you do. I missed the boat, so to speak.

I try to be careful to do both rote & personal prayers with my kids. I think the rote rhymes are good for little ones, but as Sue said you feed them milk before meat.

Great post, Edie!

Sonya Lee Thompson said...

I agree, rote prayers aren't "it" when it comes to praying. We should teach our children how to talk to God but use the model Jesus gave us, and both begin and end with giving Him glory. As well as praying for His will in our lives.

I agree with Sue J., why do we pray for our meals? Jesus simply thanked God for the food. I suppose that is our reason.

My children know how to pray from their hearts and that is a blessing. We also have had them memorize the Lords Prayer and we often recite that one together.

Being able to communicate with our Heavenly Father, and then teach our children is a sweet blessing.

KrippledWarrior said...

I don't want to sully this thought with my remarks. So let me say; "I CONCUR."



As you and I both know from all the grandkids we have - it is soooo important to get them praying in the reality of life as early and as young as possible. Teaching them to pray to God as if He were sitting right with them in the room - and to speak from their heart is most valuable. Memoized prayers become stale and bland - often left without thought or meaning. Yet we CAN teach our children to pray with earnest expectation very early by simply saying, "Let's see HOW God will answer that prayer."

My one daughter encourages her children to "think about what you are saying," which nips the 'cliché prayer' in the bud.

We must TEACH our kids to DEVELOP a daily PRAYER LIFE - and we do that best by example... when they hear us pray with eager expectation.

Great post and thoughts to ponder!

Choosing JOY, Stephanie
JESUS ONLY in 2010

Nezzy said...

Amen sister, a prayer not a ritual. Just talk from the heart.

Have a greatly blessed day!!!

Irritable Mother said...

Yes, "God is great" and "Now I lay me down to sleep" were the two prayers I prayed while growing up. Not much thought, no relationship, just words.
My Matthew will say the exact same prayer at dinner if we let him - his own words, true, but rattled off thoughtlessly nonetheless. But we have asked him before to not say the same prayer, and it was so neat. Essentially, he said the same prayer but he used different words to communicate the same ideas. And it was good to "see" him really thinking about what he was saying.

Warren Baldwin said...

Thanks, Edie. We always prayed with our children for the meal, and often at night before bed. I need to make a conscious effort to pray with them at other occasions, too. We can't do that enough. Thanks.