Praying with children
I remember a pastor, when giving his testimony, explaining that in his late teens he had an experience of being overwhelmed by a sense of sin. He had no Christian background and didn’t know what to do. He remembered learning the Lord’s Prayer at school and so he cried out to God to help him, using the words of that prayer.
That testimony underlined for me the importance of teaching and modelling prayer to children, including those with no Christian background. In fact among the highlights of my time as a Sunday school co-ordinator was leading a special prayer meeting for children during the church day of prayer. The impetus had come from the children themselves – they hadn’t wanted to be left out. To hear them talking to God in an unembarrassed and expectant way was a spiritual treat. Since God ordains that very young children should lift up their voices in praise to Him (Ps. 8:2) we can hardly refuse to pray with children as well as for them.
A simple model
I have always taught children a simple model of prayer, which follows the pattern of the Lord’s prayer. It’s easy to remember and a good topic for a quiz question, thus reinforcing the model.
This model lends itself to group work in Sunday school, or in a family. Older children can suggest items for praise and younger children can more easily find topics for thanks.
As I want to emphasise the reality of prayer, I have always taught children about how God answers prayer. I have used the tried and tested ‘Traffic Lights’ model – it isn’t perfect but it is easy to remember.
Occasionally, during times of disaster when a serious subject has been in the news, I have made a prayer leaflet for children. For example, during the Asian Tsunami we gathered news from CBBC, majoring on how children were being affected, found out what Christian aid organisations were doing and printed an A5 leaflet which left spaces for children to write their own prayers. In the weeks that followed, news and answers to prayer were reported to the children.
The dos and don’ts of praying with children
• Don’t pressurise a child to pray.
• Don’t put words in their mouths.
• Don’t use ‘pious’ language and jargon.
• Do pray enthusiastically.
• Do ask for prayer topics.
• Be real!
The best way of encouraging excitement about prayer is to be open about your own prayers and sharing answered prayer with children. Let children see that you pray about large and small concerns, about things affecting your own family and friends, as well as missionaries. For very young children, simple prayer cards with pictures or photos can be the best way to teach about prayer.
There are plenty of Christian books of prayers and about prayer for children. Some are very gimmicky and run the risk of trivialising prayer. A good read is Teach Your Children to Pray by Denise George (published by Christian Focus).
Just one closing thought – never underestimate the prayers of a child. The accounts of prayer meetings of children during times of revival are mind-blowing – but that’s another article!
Sheila Stephen lectures on Youth and Children’s Ministry at WEST.