C'mon everybody, we get to pray now!" shouts 7-year-old Jeremy. Jeremy's siblings, Jason, 12, and Allison, 4, drop everything and come running to join Jeremy and their parents in a time of family prayer.
Kids excited about prayer? Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? But in my work with young children all over the world, I've seen that kids can get excited about prayer. In fact, I believe God equips children with a special ability to pray that we grown-ups can learn from.
Most of us have shared a mealtime or bedtime prayer with a child and been moved by the directness and honesty of her prayers. But for whatever reason, we tend to limit our children's prayers to "God bless Mommy and Daddy" or "Thank you for the rain." Yet if we really believe prayer changes things, we need to allow our children to be part of the Body of Christ and offer their own prayers.
When Jesus was on earth, he enjoyed spending time with families, and he absolutely loved interacting with children. Prayer is the best way for our children to experience that same closeness today. When we give our children the chance to be themselves and pray in their own unique way, we open up their hearts to a deeper, more personal relationship with their heavenly Father.
As I talk with parents and teachers, I give them these tips for empowering children to pray. Try them with your own children and tap into their God-given potential for prayer.
Believe in your child's desire to pray.
Children love to talk to God. I've seen them pour out their hearts in amazing, powerful ways when given the chance to pray on their own. Your child will surprise you with her excitement about prayer when she's given the go ahead to let loose with what's in her heart.
Talk spiritual talk with your children.
It says you recognize and respect their spirituality. Saying things like, "You are a mighty man/woman of God" (kids love it when I tell them this!), or "The Holy Spirit's power is so big in you," lets them know that God is alive in them right now. Asking questions like, "What is God saying to you or showing you from his Word?" or "How did you experience Jesus' presence and love today?" encourages them to look for God at work in their lives.
Let children pray?without prompting.
They want to pray on their own, so resist the urge to guide their words. Their refreshingly non-religious approach to God, I am convinced, is their greatest gift.
While it might be helpful to have a designated time and place for family prayer, make sure your children know they are welcome to pray anytime, anyplace. One mom told me that her family of six often piles into the car after dinner, gets ice cream, and then drives through their neighborhood praying for the community.
Remember Jeremy? He loved to gather his family in his less-than-tidy room for family prayers. Let the kids decide where and when to pray, and they'll be a lot more excited about it.
Today's children are the most informed generation in history, and they have concerns about world issues. They face grim realities?sexual predators, kidnappers, kids killing kids. To articulate their feelings to God about these and other undeniably troubling matters?drugs, murder, abuse, abortion, violence?is a great source of peace.
Have your children pray for countries they're studying in school. A song like "Jesus Loves Me" (change the "Me" to "You") can become a prayer for children living without Jesus or who are suffering because of war, hunger, poverty, or illiteracy. Use a globe, maps, souvenirs from foreign countries, or magazines like National Geographic to help your children understand that God's people are all over the world.
Make it personal.
I teach something called "Identity Prayers" to nurture compassion for others. For example, 5-year-old Mary can pray for all the Marys or all the 5-year-olds in the world.
The "50-50 Principle" works wonders, too. If your child has problems in school, pray for him. Then, have your child pray for all the other children having problems at school. That's half the prayer for him, half for others. You can use the same idea for any situation?illness, a move, a new sibling.
Let your children pray for you.
Tell them your needs. It reminds them you're human, too. It helps them see that even adults need God. Most of all, it confirms that their prayers matter?to you and to God.
Celebrate every prayer.
Affirmation goes a long way toward helping a child enjoy prayer. Say, "Good, job! God hears and answers your prayers!" Applause is good, too. Expressions like this welcome more of the same.
God's ear is indeed bent low toward the prayers of children, and I believe he uses them in mighty ways. So stand back and listen to God at work in your child's heart and soul.
Esther Ilnisky's books, Let The Children Pray (Regal Books) and The Kids in Prayer Manual (Creation House), are available in Christian bookstores or through the Esther Network International Children's Global Prayer Movement. For information about ENI, visit their Web site at www.cpgm.org or call (561) 832-6490.
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.
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