Teaching Our Children To Pray
March 5, 2006 / No. 3296
Dear radio friends,
Among the many gifts that are purchased in the blood of Jesus Christ, there is none so precious as prayer. Through His suffering and death upon the cross, our Lord and Savior has earned for us salvation and all of its blessings. And standing among those blessings is the great and precious gift of prayer.
It is through our Lord Jesus Christ that we now have access to our heavenly Father. The apostle Paul celebrates this truth in various places in his epistles. Having told us in Romans 5:1, 2, that we are justified through our Lord Jesus Christ, that is, made right with God through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul goes on immediately to say that it is by Christ that we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Being made righteous by Christ, we have access into the courts of our heavenly Father and may come before Him in prayer.
The apostle again brings up this wonderful truth in Ephesians 2:18. There we read, “For through him [that is, through Christ] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” We have access to God through Jesus Christ! He has earned for us the gift of prayer.
The apostle Paul gives a further explanation of this wonderful blessing in Hebrews 10. Having spoken to us in verses 10ff. of the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross, which is sufficient to expiate, to take away, all our sins, the sins of the host of God’s elect, the apostle goes on to say, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” He is referring to Old Testament figures and terminology. The “holiest” was that part of the tabernacle and temple into which the high priest alone could enter once a year with the blood of the atonement, and then he had to make his exit. The apostle says that now, through the blood of Jesus Christ, we have boldness to enter into that holiest place, that place of intimate fellowship with the living God. He goes on to say in verses 20-23, We have access “by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised.)” Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith through Jesus Christ. We may pray.
But not only do we have the right of prayer through the blood and work of Jesus Christ and through His continual intercession at the right hand of God for us, but it is through Jesus Christ that we are made able to pray. For the Scriptures teach us that prayer is the life that Jesus has given to us returning to God. Of ourselves, we would not seek the face of God. As Adam and Eve, we would hide ourselves from the presence of the Almighty. But by the work of the Spirit in our hearts, a new life is planted into our hearts. And prayer is that new spiritual life returning to God. God bestows the life in our heart, and now that life seeks His face. What I am saying is that every child of God will want to pray. Belonging to the very nature of being a Christian is the desire to pray. The life that the Christian has, the life of Jesus, seeks the face of God. Do you?
Today I would like to direct our thoughts of prayer to a specific aspect of our calling — our calling to teach children to pray. Believing parents have the privilege and calling to instruct their children in prayer. I am referring not only to the fact that when they are little tiny infants in their booster seats or high chairs, that at the meal table we have them fold their hands and sometimes we cover their eyes with our hand and we teach them simple prayers. But I am referring to something beyond that. It am referring to the fact that an integral part of Christian parenting is to teach our children a full-orbed prayer life. The type of prayer life that your children are going to have throughout their life, the foundation of it, the building blocks, are laid by you as a parent. Your duty is to teach your child to pray.
You say, “Well, I don’t know that I can do that.” You say, “That’s a bit overwhelming to me.” I must bring to you, then, a fact. That fact is that regardless of how you conceive of your abilities, the fact remains that as you stand as a parent before your child, you are leading your child in prayer. You have taught, you are teaching, and you will teach them about prayer. That is inescapable. By your very life and conduct before them, you are teaching them. You are teaching them whether prayer is real or false, whether prayer is mere external words or whether it is the heart seeking God. You are teaching them whether prayer is really important or whether it is not important. Your prayer-life is making the stamp upon their prayer-life.
Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us in Luke 6:40 these words: “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect [or complete] shall be as his master.” He is teaching there the master/pupil relationship, the parent/child relationship. The student becomes as his teacher. The child becomes as his parent. We say it this way: The apple does not fall far from the tree. That is true with respect to prayer-life and the prayer-life of your child. The prayer-life of your teenager today does not fall far from you as the parent.
I may point out, in this connection, the importance also of the school that you choose for your children. The importance of that school is not simply the academics. But, of course, the importance of that school is the spiritual nurture and training that your child is going to be shown in that school. Therefore, you will want a school that prays, but prays as you do. I can change the saying that I just mentioned a moment ago to this: The apple does not fall far from the orchard — that is, from that collection of trees, that place, that community, in which your child is living. Your child is living in a spiritual community. Your child is living, associating with various people, in a school. And that school has a profound effect. It has a profound effect upon his prayer-life.
As parents we must be diligent to teach our children how to pray.
First of all, we must understand that this is done by our own example and by our own prayer-life. So the first rule for the master, the first rule for the parent, is to take heed to ourselves. We need to ask ourselves the question: Where are we at in our personal growth and development in prayer. It is very striking that the New Testament Scriptures, when addressing the leaders of the church will repeatedly begin with the words, “Take heed to thyself.” When speaking to pastors of their awesome calling to be ministers of the Word of God, when speaking to elders of their calling to guide and protect the sheep of Jesus Christ, the Scriptures say: “Take heed to yourself, first.” But this is also the word of God that is brought to parents. For instance, in Deuteronomy 4 Moses speaks these words to parents: “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them, thy sons and thy sons’ sons; specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children” (vv. 9, 10). Moses said, “You must teach your children.” How are you going to do that? Only take heed to thyself and keep thy soul diligently.
Where are you in your prayer-life? Is it mechanical? Then do not be overly frustrated with your teenaged son if prayer is a foreign, cold thing to him. How have you taught him? How have you mirrored prayer in your life?
Have we as adults and leaders in the church and parents forgotten the most important part of prayer, the heart? The prophet Jeremiah speaks these words in chapter 29:12, 13: “Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” With all your heart! Where is our heart as a parent? Have we fallen for the devil’s ploys to get our hearts? As parents, are our hearts encrusted with greed and materialism? Are they filled with the busyness of the present life? Are they given over to the desires for our own pleasures? Or do our hearts thirst and yearn after God? Read Psalm 42. Read Psalm 63. There the spirit of prayer is expressed — the intense longing of the spirit of prayer to seek after the face of God, for God alone can supply the inmost desires and needs of our hearts. Do we know that?
As parents, we must ask ourselves the question: Is there freshness, is there zeal, is there truth, is there warmth, is there adoration in our prayers, especially as we stand before our children? Do we give ourselves to pray before our children? Do we know real nakedness of the soul before God? Do we know what it is to stand naked and empty of ourselves as sinners before this great and glorious God in Jesus Christ who has so abundantly loved and forgiven us and to pour out our heart (all of our needs) to Him? I am not talking about perfect language in prayer. I am not talking about the right words and all the rest. I am talking about this: Do you pray as a parent? Is prayer the center of your life? Can you live without prayer?
As a parent, think back in your life. Who has made an impression upon you by their prayer-life? Think back. Who was the person who really struck you about prayer and how they lived in their prayer-life before God — their personal prayer-life?
I remember talking to a young woman in the church. This young woman was going through a difficult time, a time of rebellion and sin. I was talking to her about her spiritual life. And in the conversation another person’s name came up — an older person whom we both knew (in fact, it was her grandfather whom I knew also). We began to talk about him. And about how he prayed. She said to me, “Yes, he meant business with God!” Even when she was walking in a way of rebellion she could not erase the memory of a grandfather whom she heard pray, who meant business with God.
What impression do your children receive from you about prayer?
There is great and urgent need for growth and for improvement and, in many cases, for the beginning of prayer in the life of our children and young people. Whose calling is this, but the parent?
As parents, we must communicate to our children all the truth of prayer. Now there are many truths of prayer that are important. Certainly reverence is a primary and important truth of prayer. We must not communicate to our children that prayer is a stuffy, a merely formal, merely external thing. There is such a thing as proper spontaneity of prayer. We may, at any moment in life before our children, stop to pray. We may incorporate into all of our conversation reference to the Lord and that the Lord’s eyes are upon us. At any given moment, whether we are out in the yard working with our children or playing with our children or talking to our children — at any moment we can lead the conversation to prayer and say, “Isn’t the Lord great and good? Let’s go to Him! Let’s pray right now.” We can pray much more than we do as adults with each other. We can show to our children when we get together for good times and recreation and visiting with other adults that prayer is a normal part of it. Before the night is over, it is normal for us to say, “Before we leave each other, let’s go to the face of our Father and have fellowship there with Him and ask His blessing upon us.” Let us live the life of prayer before our children. Let us have spontaneity, let us have the willingness to pray.
Another problem, I believe, with our children and young people is what I call the “big ear problem.” We have it, too. By the “big ear problem,” I mean the ear of man. Sometimes the ear of man as it stands before us and our young people is fifty feet tall — a great big ear. What are other people thinking about me? I need to say this just right because I am in front of them. Thinking so greatly about the ear of man. We need to show our children that in prayer the ear of man is tiny and the ear of God is great. And that we pray for His ear and not for the ear of man.
As parents we need to see that it is our calling to equip our children to pray. What alone will keep them praying? What will be the power of their spiritual life? Prayer! Your daughter, that little girl now, she might be married soon. She might, in the course of her marriage, have a child that dies. She may encounter cancer. Her husband may die. They may go through financial difficulties. She will go through all the trials that you have gone through and perhaps some more. How is she going to stand? How are you preparing her? Prepare her by showing her prayer. Teach your children to pray.
Let me give some suggestions of a more practical nature about how we can improve our spiritual life of prayer.
First of all, a good thing to begin with your children even at their earliest age is a journal or a notebook of prayer where you jot things down in order that you might remember them. You keep a list of things that you must pray for during the day, of people that you must pray for during the day. You keep a list. Then at that moment of prayer, you take out that list to refresh your memory and pray over that list.
Another important thing is to establish in them a life in which there is at least one time during the day that they give themselves to coming to the heavenly Father in prayer — stopping all other things. Show them that they have the ability to turn off this life and go to God.
Teach them to establish their own times of prayer. Central to this is that we insist that the family is together for meals. The family is together for the evening meal. This must be regular, habitual. You must not, and we must not as parents, cave in to the pressure of letting this slip. We must pray then at that meal — before the meal with our children. We pray after the meal with our children. Make it regular.
Teach them how to have personal devotions. Various ways that you can teach them: You can show them that a good way to begin is with a song, a verse of devotion from the Psalter or from a good hymn that they sing, to put their hearts into a meditative and devotional attitude. Show them that in their prayer-life they need to pray over an open Bible, that is, that they should open the Scriptures and begin to mark out specific verses that they can meditate upon for just a moment or two before they go to God in prayer.
Teach them that when they are alone in their closet in their devotional life that it is a good practice to begin to pray out loud. That is a good practice. It keeps the mind from straying. It also gives practice and experience in verbalizing and forming petitions. Teach them to pray out loud when they are alone.
Tell them to keep a record of their prayer-life in their journals.
Another thing that we can do is that whenever we say to another person, “I will pray for you,” we see to it that we do that. How often do we say, “I will pray for you,” but we never get around to doing it? We are just saying, “I’m sorry for you right now.” But do not say that if you do not do that. Tell the person the time that you are going to pray for him. If your regular prayer-time is at 10:00, you say, “At 10:00 tomorrow morning — I’ve jotted you down on my prayer list — I will pray for you then.”
We must live in prayer. We must teach our children to pray.
Parents, I close with this verse. And I ask you, before the face of God, what you are doing with this verse of Scripture. It is Psalm 27:8. “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.” God has said to you: Seek My face, come to Me in prayer. How do you respond in your heart? What is your prayer-life? Do you say, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek”? Seek Him in prayer. Live a prayer-life. And in that way you will teach your children to pray.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. We thank Thee that through the blood of Jesus Christ we have access into Thy grace, and we stand before thee. Prayer is not a place that we may come to visit and, therefore, do not belong. But prayer is a place where we belong. It is now the home of our Father. We may come, arise, and go to our Father in prayer. Give us, O Lord, the understanding that we must teach our children to pray. We pray that our children may grow up to be strong and gifted in this grace of prayer. Now, hear us, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.