“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
It’s a familiar passage, and it’s also my goal for my children. This month hear from two other parents who share the desire to pray continually and hear their thoughts on how God can use us to build up our children’s prayer lives.
– Nicole Balza
I RECALL SITTING in a friend’s basement discussing how to help kids have a strong prayer life with a group of young moms. We got together every week for Bible study while our brood of preschoolers played. We shared tips like the five-finger prayer (each finger reminds you of a group of people to pray for) and the ACTS acronym from confirmation class (Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, Supplication). I shared that I nudge my children along with the prompts I remember from morning prayer meetings at Camp Phillip: “God, thank you for . . .; God, you are really great because . . .; God, please help . . .”
These tools are good and helpful, but in the end, the desire in our kids to talk to their heavenly Father will grow just as their desire to talk to their father on earth. They’ll come to God the Father in prayer because they love him—a love that grows because he loved them first—just as they come to their dad because they love him. They’ll come because they know God cares; they’ve experienced how he meets their needs; they know he wants what’s best for them; they want him to know everything going on in their lives and in their hearts; they feel guilty when they do something wrong so they confess to him, knowing that he will surely forgive them and still love them.
But how do we teach our kids to know God so well—his love, his will, his commands, his perfect track record—that they desire to talk to him like they do their earthly fathers? We model. Just as our children pick up on our likes, dislikes, interests, and habits, they also pick up our spiritual habits and learn to value what we value. So as they see us in God’s Word and hear us pray—whether it’s out loud with them at bedtime or overheard by them as we pray with our spouses, friends, or Bible study groups—they are encouraged to get to know God better and talk to him more often.
My fifth-grade daughter still remembers those basement Bible studies. She remembers the chaos, noise, and snacks, but she also recalls observing my friends and I chat, laugh, cry, and study the Bible together. She remembers being shushed or shooed away while we bowed our heads and prayed aloud for each other and for friends, family, acquaintances, and the world. More recently, she thought it was cool that my husband and I let her use a video messaging app so that she could have devotions and pray with her friends while being at home during the pandemic.
The majority of prayer time at our home takes place at bedtime. Some nights words flow freely, and some nights the kids need those prompts. Some nights the kids are so tired that we just encourage them to direct their thoughts to God as they fall asleep. Some nights so many thoughts are swirling in their heads that they can’t put them into words, and we reassure them that God knows what they need before they ask him and that the Holy Spirit will intercede for them. We pray that our children will learn to pray by practicing and grow in their desire to pray as they learn more and more about God’s great love for them.
I REMEMBER HUGGING her small body in my arms. I’d take her chubby little hands into mine, clasping them together for her. Only after I was holding her like I knew her Father did would I speak God’s promises to her and pray them back to God for her.
I did that because that’s how I imagined Zechariah did it. Another man, who like me thought he’d never have a child, ended up holding his child in his arms. Can’t you just see John in Zechariah’s arms, hearing words from the Spirit pouring from his fatherly heart? What promises! Read them there in Luke! “You, my child . . . ” (Luke 1:76).
I have tried, in my daughter’s life, to wrap up her whole life in that kind of prayer. Before we go to school, we pray together. Before we take trips, we pray together. Before eating, we pray together. Before bed, we pray together. Before surgeries, we pray together. While sick, we pray together. While enjoying a sunset, we pray together.
Prayer punctuates our lives. We call on God, bless God, thank God, and claim his promises. It’s the capital letter and the period of the sentences we live in our family life.
We work hard not to make it hard. Our daytime prayers are short. At night, we take more time, and we all pray. We started that early. As her father, I wanted my daughter to know from the earliest age that she had the privilege to talk to her Father. At first, we had to wait a bit for her to form something or just give her words to repeat, but after a few months, she started to get the hang of it. Now she’s always ready with something. Sometimes she prays something from her heart. Other times, she likes to read the prayer at the bottom of the Bible book we just read. Mom goes next. I pray last.
Prayer punctuates our lives. . . . It’s the capital letter and the period of the sentences we live in our family life.
I always close with the same prayer: Luther’s Evening Prayer. I’m intentional with that. Traditions are important. They create habits that are invaluable for doing the work of prayer. They also have the power to run so deep over time. I want that for her, not to mention for myself and my wife. The Lutheran church is a rich resource for that. In the Small Catechism, there is a whole devotional routine proposed. We follow it. You know how far I go? After I say Luther’s Evening Prayer, my daughter now repeats with me the words that follow in the catechism with a huge grin on her face: “Then you are to go to sleep quickly and cheerfully.” Not a bad thought for a child who needs to get to bed for school the next day!
Are we perfect? Nope! We must believe at our house as much as anyone else has to that our Lord Jesus Christ prays for us when we’re not praying and should’ve been. “We have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).
Right now, we’re working to lead her to pray all on her own at school. She went back just this week. I asked her yesterday, “Did you pray at lunch?”
“Yeah, Dad! I remembered! Mom sent me a note in my lunchbox to do it.”
Authors: Multiple authors
Volume 107, Number 11
Issue: November 2020
- Special offer: April issue free - 2020/03/24
- Parent conversations: Dealing with stress - 2019/12/07
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: Nurture a proper view of stuff? - 2019/12/01
- My Christian life: WELS nurse lives out faith through her vocation - 2020/09/28
- My Christian life: Camp BASIC - 2020/03/31