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Prayer for the Ages

Nurturing conversations with God and children at every stage.

Prayer is as simple as a conversation with a best friend and as powerful as asking a king for help. How can we help children embrace the amazing gift of prayer with our living God? Read on for expert tips.

Ages Birth to 2

Just as babies and toddlers learn to crawl, walk, and talk, they can learn to pray. How can we cultivate an enthusiasm within each child for the holy moments of talking with God?

Thank Yous - Giving thanks to God can be a healthy part of each child's prayer life. Thank you, God, for my teddy bear. Thank you, God, for my Goldfish crackers. Thank you, God, for my church. Thank you, God, for your Son, Jesus. Saying a genuine "Thank you" at various and frequent times during the day is a great way to cultivate the understanding that God hears our words and deserves our gratitude.

Saying Grace-Most of us pray before we eat together as a family, but do we encourage our little ones to pray with us before snacks? This is as simple as teaching them to follow the behaviors that are modeled: fold hands, close eyes, and say "Amen" as the prayer is closed. This is habit-forming and a reminder that we can talk to God about our daily needs.

Echo Time-Pray one brief sentence at a time and teach each child to echo. Begin by addressing God. Continue right away by thanking God for his love. Then mention the blessings and needs in life.

Singing-Sing the campy prayers from your childhood with your toddlers or make up your own prayer songs like David did. Music is relevant and age-appropriate!

Rhyming-The whimsical nature of rhythmic words captivates kids. "Dear God, thank you for the color blue. We love going in the canoe. God, we love you!" Add motions, too.

Silliness-Allow prayer to be goofy sometimes so kids see it's fun to talk to God. Have you ever shouted or whispered a prayer?

Kristine Wendt is the early childhood pastor at Eagle Brook Church in Lino Lakes, Minnesota.


Ages 3 to 5

Do you remember the first time you ever heard a child, any child, pray? Sometimes there aren't words to describe the innocence or the simple faith heard in the few words uttered out loud by children. Even a simple "Thank you, God, for my toys," moves the heart of God. So what can we do to develop a heart for prayer like nothing else in our children?

Influence-Like sponges, children soak up everything around them. This is especially true of younger children. Their world is a huge place full of influences, both good and bad, that are continuously shaping and reshaping their lives. Every weekend in children's ministry, a child's perception of God is shaped by the influences in his or her life. As leaders, we have the opportunity to make an impact in children's lives as we model prayer for them and lead them in prayer. Teaching them that God loves them and wants to be their friend is only the beginning.

Partnership-Much of what children this age see, hear, and experience happens in their homes, making parents the most powerful influence in their lives. Parents can be the defining factor in whether their children develop a love for God and a heart for prayer. Our partnership with families must include teaching children that God wants an ongoing relationship with them, that he cares about every area of their lives, big and small, and that no matter what, they can talk to God wherever and whenever they want. That's prayer.

Power-You've heard this statement before…"Don't underestimate the power of prayer." Try this one on…"Don't underestimate the power of children praying!" Kids love to talk. In fact, between the ages of 2 and 5, a child's vocabulary can go from 50 words to thousands of words, so who better to talk to than God?

From the time a child is born and begins to make his first noises, parents are standing by ready and waiting (most times coaching) for that all-important first word to be spoken. Then, fast forward a few years, and you see those same parents longing for the days of peace and quiet! God, too, waits to hear from us every day, but unlike us, God never tires of hearing our voices calling out to him. He never tires of hearing the voice of one of his children for the very first time.

Laura Murphy is area director of children's ministry for birth through first grade at Central Christian Church in Henderson, Nevada.


Ages 6 to 9

They read! They write! They do long division! Is there anything these kids can't do? Actually many struggle with praying on their own. What questions hold them back from embracing the faith practice of prayer in the way they energetically explore so many other activities?

How do I use this thing? Many kids lack biblical literacy that roots them in God's Word. As kids become readers, they need support so they can read their Bibles with confidence. Handing them gift Bibles in third grade won't deepen their faith in Jesus any more than giving algebra textbooks will make them mathematicians. So teach kids to look up Bible verses. Point out prayers that people in the Bible offered to God. Share how regular Bible reading and prayer strengthen your faith.

What will my friends think? The influence of peers begins long before the teen years. Kids at this age pick friends because of similar interests, values, and abilities. If kids don't have friends who pray openly and talk about prayer, they may think prayer is only something done in their families or by grown-ups during a worship service at church, not by kids their age at any time in any place.

Ask kids to lead prayer during your time together. Role play what it would be like to offer a prayer before a game, concert, or other event with peers. Arrange with your pastor or worship planner for kids to offer prayers during worship.

Well, what do we believe? Kids' prayer lives benefit when they see prayer as part of their family's daily life. When table grace and bedtime prayers become as expected as fastening a seat belt, kids witness how prayer is a cornerstone of faith. Knowing about the faith of families of kids in your ministry may help you understand why some kids seem secure about prayer and others are uncomfortable.

Teach prayers kids can lead in their families. Pray for your kids' families. Never judge a family who seems to be struggling with faith.

As elementary-age kids move beyond unquestioned acceptance of adult authority, they're going to have questions. Your role isn't to provide all the answers; only God has those. Instead you can listen and encourage questions, exploration, and wondering as kids grow in faith.

Dawn Rundman edits children's resources at Augsburg Fortress Publishers in Minneapolis.


Ages 10 to 12

By age 12, most children reared by Christian parents and taught by Sunday school teachers know that God loves them and Jesus died for them. They also know that prayer is a special relationship with God. They've probably also learned that prayer is a two-way talk with Jesus. Prayer may've become as natural to them as breathing, eating, and sleeping -- an essential part of each day.

The Little Things-While they may feel comfortable praying for the "big things" in life (Grandma's upcoming surgery, Mom's pregnancy, Dad's job, an ill neighbor), preteens might wonder if God cares about the "little things" in their lives. For instance, should they pray about their fear of the school bully? or how nervous they feel about their role in the school play or an upcoming exam? or their sadness about not being invited to a friend's birthday party?

They may ask: "Does God really care about the 'little things,' or should we just go to God with the 'big, important things'?"

All Things-You can be confident in telling preteens that God does, indeed, care about everything that concerns them-even the "little things." Read to them God's Word about the birds of the air (Matthew 6:26). Tell them that God knows when a small sparrow falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29). In the days of the Bible, sparrows could be bought and sold for a penny. They had little value to society, but God loved and concerned himself with each one. Even the smallest sparrow was important to God. Ask preteens to recall their last haircut. Tell them that God counted every hair on their head that fell to the hairdresser's floor (Matthew 10:30).

Does God want children to come to him with problems and concerns that may seem insignificant (or even silly) to others? Yes! Surely, if God cares about the birds of the air, if he knows when a sparrow falls from its nest, and if he keeps an accurate count of the hairs on their heads, then they can pray about everything-big or small. For if it concerns them, it concerns God.

Denise George is the author of Teach Your Children to Pray (Christian Focus Publications).




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