Most people who become followers of Christ – nearly 85 percent, according to the International Bible Society – do so between the ages of 4 and 14.
That means that as parents, we have a brief, remarkably fruitful window to teach our children how to pray.
Over my years as a pastor, I have observed children praying with fervency and passion. Raising a child who prays is very much doable, even in our fast-paced and broken culture.
But it’s hard. My wife and I are pastors who have served in ministry for nearly 30 years. And even for us, teaching our daughters to pray wasn’t always pretty.
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Our kids were resistant. My methods were weak and boring. Our attitudes were less than stellar, to say the least. It looked like an unfixable train wreck. Tears, heavy hearts and sullen faces were the family portrait during those moments.
Yet if you take to heart Jesus’ exhortation that we “should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1), even during tough times God will show Himself faithful on your behalf. Just don’t quit! Parenting is a marathon and not a 60-yard dash.
And to make the race more fun, and more successful, my new book offers prayer exercises that you can try with your kids.
▪ Cellphone Prayers
Your cellphone contains a wealth of things that your child can help you pray about. Here are a few options:
Pull up the list of your “favorites” – the people you often speak with on the phone. You and your child can go down the list praying for each one, one at a time.
Pull up the last 10 or 20 photos you’ve taken, and pray for the people seen in each one.
▪ Prayer Board
To help your child visualize specific things he wants to pray about, get a large poster board, magic markers, glue and crayons. Together, clip out pictures that represent his topics of prayer from an old magazine or newspaper, or print them from the Internet, and glue them onto the poster board.
▪ Prayer by Height
Little kids are very observant. Use their natural bent as a fun way to have them pray for people in their lives based on the person’s height. One day have them pray for those in their life, starting from the tallest to the shortest person. The next day reverse the order – the shortest to the tallest person is the order of their prayers.
▪ Five-Finger Prayer
The five-finger prayer has become rather popular in children’s circles. Have your child hold out one hand. Each finger from the thumb to the pinky can be used to represent someone in their life. For example:
The thumb: Pray for someone close to them – perhaps a family member.
The index finger: Say a prayer for someone who points them in the right direction, perhaps a teacher or a babysitter.
The middle finger: Pray for someone who is in a position of leadership, like the president of our country, your governor or your pastor.
The ring finger: Say a prayer for a kid who is having family problems. Perhaps his mom and dad are experiencing marriage problems. Pray for the healing of their relationship.
The pinky finger: Pray for a friend and for himself.
▪ Prayer for the Nations
Your child needs to know that God loves the world. To help him see that, take a globe or pull up a world map on the Internet. Show him where he is on the map, while explaining that God loves everybody everywhere. Invite him to pray for people in different countries. Here are some examples:
Nation of origin: If you or a grandparent was born in another country, show it to your child on the map. Then pray for that nation to prosper and that the people may accept Jesus as their savior.
Kids of one nation: Have your child to pray for all the children the same age as her in a specific nation she’s selected.
▪ Family Photo Prayers
To get your children in the habit of praying for their family, pull out a family photo album. Pray for the people who appear in the pictures on each page. You may make this activity as short or as long as they can stay engaged. Even if there are family members whom you’ve not seen in awhile because of conflict, invite your children to pray for the healing of the relationship. This will help them see that conflict is not a good reason to stop praying for a person. It will also bring them to the reality that God cares about our building an emotionally healthy family.
It’s not good enough for us to have a strong spiritual life while our kids coast along in neutral. Our children must also enjoy a rich spiritual life. True Christianity is apparent when your life is filled with fire and zeal for the Lord. This only comes from the fuel of prayer.
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David D. Ireland is the senior pastor of Christ Church. He is a diversity consultant to the NBA and author of books including “The Skin You Live In: Building Friendships Across Racial Lines” and his newest, “Raising a Child Who Prays.”