When teaching kids about prayer, it’s important to teach them more than rhymes and recitations. For children to experience prayer as it is intended to be, they need to be taught how and why to pray.
This is where teaching prayer can get much more complex. There are a lot of competing ideologies about the power and purpose of prayer. We are going to dig into the core teachings from the Bible, especially surrounding Jesus and prayer.
5 Tips For Parents Teaching Kids About Prayer
Teaching prayer in a meaningful way is hard because communication is hard! God and all things unseen are difficult to explain to children.
Not only this, but we can have our own hang ups and confusion about prayer. I know I have. So, here’s some tips to keep in mind as you teach your kids about prayer.
Be An Example
Pray. Pray in front of your kids and with your kids. Tell them when you are going to go pray alone.
Talk to your kids about your prayers. Share your prayer requests and invite them to celebrate answers to prayer. Ask how you can pray for them.
Teach To Their Ability
A toddler, an 8 year old, and a teenager are all at different learning levels. Praying with your toddler for half an hour is unlikely to go well. Reciting nursery rhyme prayers to your teenager is likely to end up in eye rolls.
Meet your kids where they are at individually. Keep toddler prayers simple. Ask older kids if they have questions about prayer. Keep the vocabulary and topics age-appropriate.
Use Prayer Tools
Try reading from a formal prayer book, kids prayer books, and other tools to help you teach your child to pray. Acronyms like P-R-A-Y and A-C-T-S have become popular tools in order to guide our conversations with God.
One great tool I’ve enjoyed is having a prayer journal. So many times I’ve prayed for things then forgotten about them. Having a prayer journal reminds me of all the prayers God has answered. And yes, they do have kid’s prayer journals – but even a notebook will work just fine.
You can also use time structures for prayer. A mom mentor taught me a 30 minute prayer pattern that went like this:
3 minutes praising
3 minutes of resting in worship
3 minutes confessing
4 minutes reading the Word
8 minutes petition – ask, seek
3 minutes listening
3 minutes of praise
I found this particularly helpful during a time I was dealing with anxiety. It’s good to try out a variety of tools but not to put any particular weight on them as guaranteeing a result apart from connection to God. It’s important to not create superstitions or put more faith in formulas than God.
It is always the right time to pray (James 5:13-15). Paul said to, “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). If they want to to pray on the potty, let them pray. If your kid prays for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, tell them it is good.
There is no condemnation for those in Jesus (Romans 8:1). It’s all too easy to confuse them with ceremony and rules (bow your head, fold your hands, etc.). God welcomes awkward prayers anytime any place. He doesn’t require us to put our bodies in a certain position or say things eloquently.
It’s more important to emphasize to our children the boldness and ease with which we can come to God in prayer. Help your child discover how to connect to God in their own way.
Change It Up
Variety helps keep their hearts and minds engaged in real conversation. In his book, Prayer: Finding The Heart’s True Home, Richard J Foster describes twenty-one types of prayer. All of these could be summed up as taking a moment to acknowledge His presence and your relationship, whether listening, speaking, or in silence with God.
So, teach your kids to try out praying in different ways. Sometimes pray short and sweet. Other times, have a long deep conversation. It’s even good to “have an argument” with God in front of your kids. It models authenticity and shows them that we have a God who handle honesty.
Demonstrate speaking to God with day to day casual talk. Ask God for help, guidance, or to have a need met. Say thank you. Ask for forgiveness. And of course, make time to worship and honor God. The important thing is that they learn to connect to God in conversation.
One of my favorite quotes about prayer is from Charles Spurgeon. “True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.”
“True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.”Charles Spurgeon
How Do You Teach Prayer
The best way to teach kids about prayer is to follow in the patterns and words of Jesus. Modeling will be your most powerful lesson on prayer. More is caught then taught, as they say.
When a child enters our lives, it can become more difficult to set aside time to pray. The new responsibilities for a precious, fragile life can stir up a wealth of worries. Our natural response may be to become busy and anxious, not realizing the real solution is to pause and connect. As parents, how much more than ever do we need to call upon “Our Father in heaven.”
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t explicitly teach prayer. If you didn’t grow up in a praying household, you may have felt uncomfortable when you first tried praying. Perhaps you still do now. Fortunately, Jesus explicitly told us, “You should pray like this…” in Matthew 6:9.
How Jesus Taught Prayer
When Jesus taught us to pray (Matthew 6), he wasn’t just giving us words to recite, he was teaching us how to relate to God in a new way. In teaching us to pray, Jesus was guiding us in how to connect with God under the new covenant.
God ripped the temple veil when Jesus died (Matthew 27:50-51), opening up access to Him (Hebrews 10:20). So we can now boldly approach God with confidence, not as slaves, but as children (Galatians 4:7).
And so Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6 opens with “Our Father in heaven.” And now our prayers can start in likewise manner, addressing our Father.
I think it’s important to have the understanding that word for heaven here isn’t referring to a way off place up in the sky, but the kingdom of heaven that Jesus so often talked about as being “near.” We are praying to a Father in an invisible realm very near to us.
Teaching Kids How & Where Should We Pray
Jesus said in Matthew 6:5-6 that we should not pray “as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
The main issue here is not the location, it’s the heart. God wants us to pray to Him and for Him. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman, there’s no special place we have to go to worship (John 4:21). In short, pray anywhere you can focus on God.
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How Do You Pray – Kids Lesson
Below I offer one example of how we could teach our children about prayer. Breaking down the Lord’s Prayer is a great place to start. There’s a lot in there to teach us about how to relate to and talk to God.
This is how I would teach my elementary and older kids. Maybe it could helpful for you in talking with yours. It’s probably too much to teach in one sitting or the younger ones, so I recommend dividing it up.
Lessons From the Lord’s Prayer
Teaching from Matthew 6:9-13.
Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.
This teaches us to whom and how. Jesus taught us to pray to God as someone close but also someone very special and perfect. He is the ruler of the universe and we should talk to him as both a dad and super-power.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
These words show us that we should pray for things to be done God’s way, which is good an perfect. Part of our job as Christians is to bring God’s heavenly way to the world. Our prayers should be about God’s way above our own ways.
Give us today our daily bread.
Ask for enough. God is cares for us as His children. He wants to hear from us every day. God wants us to ask him for things and trust that He will give us what we need.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Ask for forgiveness. Loving someone means asking for forgiveness when you’ve done something wrong. When we do wrong it is important to ask God to forgive us. We also need to forgive others with God’s help.
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Ask for help. We live in a world where there is still evil and temptation all around us. We need God to guide us in the right way and protect us from the devil’s attempts to get us to make bad choices.
Prayer is a tool that empowers us against sin. Jesus also said, “Watch and pray, that you don’t enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
How Do You Teach The Holy Spirit to Children?
Jesus said we must worship in the Spirit, so teaching kids about prayer means teaching them about the Holy Spirit. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Prayer helps us “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). So how do we teach our kids about the Holy Spirit?
I like to talk about the Holy Spirit as our local translator or explainer. Paul said in Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered.”
A great way to talk about the Holy Spirit’s involvement with prayer is to talk to your kids about knowing their non-verbal cues and how you understand that communication. It can be a similar example to how the Spirit intercedes for us, knowing how to explain our needs when we don’t.
Here’s an example. You could say something along these lines to your child. “When I see you rub your eyes, I know you are getting tired. You don’t have to use words. Another person who doesn’t know you like I do, might not know. But I can tell them, Katie is tired.
The Holy Spirit is with you and knows you. He can tell God what you need, even when you don’t say it with words.”
Final Thoughts on Teaching Prayer
Whatever you do, just pray. Don’t worry about being perfect. God is patient! He doesn’t get easily offended. He knows how we are made. The Holy Spirit can translate.
In fact the Holy Spirit can guide and teach us how to pray. He reminds us of Jesus’ words and helps us understand them. Get into the word so that you know how to pray for God’s will.
And keep teaching your children all along the way. Teaching kids about prayer is an important part of being a godly parent. You don’t have to be perfect, just be honest and do your best with God’s help.
I’d like to leave you with thoughts from one of my favorite verses about prayer.
“The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand” Revelation 8:4.
In Revelation 5:8 it says there are golden bowls of incense “which are the prayers of the saints.”
Behind the veil of our temporary reality, our prayers are an appealing offering and a pleasing fragrance around God’s throne.
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