My granddaughters are visiting from overseas this month. It is amazing to see how much young children grasps these days. I have had some interesting conversations with the four-year old. She has asked such interesting questions including ones about God, Jesus and Heaven. I cannot say it enough, start them young. Children learn so much early on in life and can grasp far more than you realize. You set their course and ‘patterns’. Everything from keeping socks and shoes on, to baths, brushing teeth, combing hair, cleaning up toys and bedtime is a pattern you teach your child; something they get use to as the ‘norm’. We also have to set their ‘patterns’ for their spiritual life early on. I do not mean rituals or set in stone practices. I mean raising them with God in their life daily. Times to Pray, to sing His songs, to read His word and to praise Him.
One of the most important parts of their life should be prayer. From infancy children need to hear you pray and need to learn to pray as they learn to speak. Many teach, “God is Great, God is Good” at meal time, or “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die …” at bedtime. Not a fan of teaching children the bedtime one … “if I should die?” OK, I understand the concept of wanting children to know God’s care, however, I believe they would better understand a different approach. Teaching children to pray should be like teaching them to talk to you. You know how you hate it when they ask the same questions 1000 times, or tell you the same thing over and over and over again? Don’t you think God feels a little the same way about His children (which includes us adults)?
God wants conversations with us, not patterns and rituals. When we teach repetition, when we use repetition ourselves, we are not communicating, we are programming. There is nothing wrong with teaching your children those prayers, or the Lord’s Prayer (John 17:1-5) and Disciples Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). God gave us those in His word to teach us HOW to pray, not WHAT to pray. Memorized prayers should NOT be the only way of praying your children learn. Praying to God should be natural and real, not programmed or forced. I know you have heard adults that when they pray you know what is going to come next.
“Dear God (or Heavenly Father, Lord, etc.), Father thank you for …. Father God bless this ….. Father give this …. In Your name Father.”
Same prayer every time. I can think of a few that insert “Dear Father, or Dear Lord into every sentence about three to four times.” Reverence is one thing, but repetition must be so tedious to God. Do you think we bore God with our prayers? Can you think of someone who when you talk with them the conversations are usually the same? They go down their lists of kids, problems, wants? God wants us to talk WITH Him, not AT Him. Of course there will be some concerns you voice daily (maybe several times a day), but, could God press a button on a recorder and get the same message from you daily, or is it fresh and new as the day He has given you?
Our family grew up with Bible reading and prayer everyday (even if we missed the school bus) from The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos. We all knelt after dad or mom read the Bible and went around the room praying. We learned to pray in conversation with God. So when I had my own girls we always prayed in conversation. They learned God is Great at the church preschool to pray as a group over snack, and that was great. But, at home they learned to talk WITH God and not AT Him. “Thank you for my favorite food … for mom that cooked it … for the dessert I see …”, is much more real coming from a child’s mouth towards Heaven then, “God is great” or “Dear God, bless this bunch as we munch our lunch” (one of my cousin’s favorites). Talking with God is not a duty. It is a privileged, a way to praise Him and help us grow to know Him.
When my children were little the preacher called the children forward once a month to share with them before leaving for Children’s church. After his little talk he would ask if one of the children would want to pray for them before they left the sanctuary. One Sunday my three-year old walked over and took the microphone. (OK, so shyness is NOT in our genes). The pastor was a little surprised but handed her the microphone, (I held my breath), everyone was going ahhh. And then she prayed. Not God is Good … not Now I lay me …, but she just sweetly talked to Jesus, a real prayer in three-year old terms. I do not remember word for word, but it went something like, “Jesus please take care of us, we love You. In Jesus name. Amen.” She already knew to start by addressing WHO He was, JESUS. She knew to tell Him she loved Him. She asked Him to take care of them and she knew how to close the prayer. Honestly, that was not anything we did other than always praying in front of the children. The Holy Spirit works in our children’s lives drawing them to Him. Make sure He is the one at work in their life because if you leave the void empty, satan* will fill it.
Prayer … it’s talking with God, not at Him. Are you talking with Him in front of your children and teaching them the great value of conversations with the Lord?