If you want to teach kids to pray, answer these five important questions.
The class ends, and you plop into a chair to quietly ponder the morning.
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I started class with prayer. The kids recited the Bible verse. They even knew all the answers to the questions about the Bible story. They loved today’s craft and game. They all remembered to take their Bibles and papers home with them, and every child left smiling. Yes, it was a good morning.
Then a quiet but nagging prompting pops into your head, You taught the kids about me, but did they talk to me?
So often we focus on the lesson, but we miss the importance of getting kids to focus on talking to God. Think about it. When you have a relationship with someone, you talk to the person. It’s hard to imagine a wonderful, close relationship where the two people never talk or rarely speak to each other. Then why don’t we help kids talk to God?
Children’s prayers need to be more than asking for blessings on their food or begging for help in a crisis. Children need to spend time with God as they learn about, listen to, and talk to him. As we encourage kids to have a real relationship with Jesus, we must lead them to talk regularly with him.
Since prayer is so important, you may wonder why the kids in your classroom or program aren’t praying more. If you’re honest, you may realize that the answer may have more to do with you than with the kids. Consider these five questions.
Do you give kids an opportunity to pray?
Curricula today are geared to tell teachers everything they need to say and do during the lessons. And getting through an entire lesson may cause teachers to find few opportunities for kids to pray. Typically the lesson encourages teachers to say a short prayer at the end. When teachers fall behind in the lesson, or the service is shorter than usual, the prayer at the end gets skipped. Some weeks the children might not have any exposure to prayer at all in their Sunday school class.
My advice: Don’t be so tied to the curriculum that you miss God-appointed opportunities to let kids talk with God.
I had a dramatic example of this happen while I was teaching Sunday school and an ambulance pulled up to the church. My classroom was right next to where the ambulance parked. Needless to say, the children were at the window curiously watching the excitement. The children’s pastor popped in to tell me that one of the older people had chest pains.
Armed with the specific information, I gathered the children to pray for the situation. The children spontaneously prayed for the man and his family, the ambulance attendants, safety as they drove to the hospital, and the doctors. This unplanned interruption to the lesson became our prayer focus for the morning.
Not every prayer opportunity is obvious; some opportunities take sleuthing. You can usually find a prayer opportunity from conversations with children. Let’s face it, kids love to talk about things that are happening in their lives. As the children enter your classroom, chat with them about how their week went or what’s happening in the coming week. You can turn conversations into a prayer time on the spot. If something really special or fun happened, pray and thank God for blessing the child. Remember to give the child the chance to pray also. If something difficult or worrisome is coming up, pray together and ask God to help the child through the situation.
2. Do you value kids’ prayers as much as adults’ prayers?
Nobody really comes out and says, “Adult prayers are more powerful and important to God than the prayers of kids.” Yet that’s the impression we often give.
A church may decide to hold a special prayer time for adults to pray. While the adults meet to pray, children go to a child-care area. Doesn’t this imply that the adults’ prayers are more important than the children’s prayers?
Often adults assume kids wouldn’t want to or be able to pray for an extended amount of time, so the kids are rarely invited to participate. If it’s important enough for the adults to gather in prayer, it’s important for kids to gather in prayer also.
My advice: When adults change their attitude from child care to child prayer, our churches will see amazing results.
Children’s pastor Bill Walton of Colorado Springs probably knows the power of kids’ prayers better than most people. When a forest fire raged near his home and he was evacuated, he immediately put in a phone call to the church’s children’s ministry. He asked to have all the kids pray for his house to be saved. Right then, hundreds of children interceded for his request.
When Bill was able to return to his property, he found a completely burned forest with one untouched structure still standing-his house. The fire had parted and gone around the house. The heat of the fire was so intense, it had even melted the lamppost near the front door, but the home was completely spared. Just a coincidence? Or the answer to children’s prayers?
3. Do you model prayer for kids?
Kids need to see and hear prayer modeled. Not all kids are fortunate enough to have prayer modeled in their homes, so they need prayer models at church. Even kids who have prayer modeled at home can benefit from hearing other people pray; they’ll learn that there are lots of styles of prayer. As adults model prayer, it helps kids realize the importance of prayer to all Christians.
My advice: Never shy away from praying with children. Your prayers may be the only ones they ever hear.
Just like adults, kids have different talking and praying styles. Kids are great impersonators. They’ll copy what they think is successful or “right.” I remember as a child hearing my dad pray. His prayers sounded like something directly out of a King James Bible, full of “thee” and “thou wouldst” phrases. I knew there was no way I could pray like my father, but I wanted to pray “the right way.” Fortunately, I heard enough other people in my life pray and realized that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to pray. God would hear my prayer, whatever lingo I used.
4. Do you share answers to prayer with kids?
So often in our churches, we ask our congregation to pray for a request, but the people never hear how God answered the prayers. As adults, we may forget to ask or we just might forget all about the request. Not kids! They often have great memories. If a child doesn’t hear how a prayer was answered, it can give the dangerous impression that God doesn’t answer kids’ prayers. Sadly, kids can get disillusioned and think that prayer isn’t powerful. Nothing could be further from the truth.
My advice: Keep a list of kids’ prayers. Regularly update the list with the answers God has given.
When children hear how God answers a prayer, it excites them and fuels their desire to pray for more things. My 6-year-old daughter had prayed something very specific for me while I was at a conference. Exactly one month later, I had a miraculous answer to that specific prayer. I immediately sat down with her and explained how God had just right then answered her prayer. She jumped up and down and quickly asked what she could pray for next.
5. Do you let kids pray for you?
One way to show kids you value their prayers is to share your prayer requests with them. Tell kids what’s happening in your life or what (age-appropriate) struggles you’re facing. By letting kids pray for you, you’ll be the recipient of amazing answers to prayer.
My advice: You have untapped powerful prayer warriors sitting in your classroom. The good news is it’s not impossible to get kids to pray. In fact, it’s a lot easier than we think. Start encouraging kids to pray and let God take it from there.
A Christian school kindergarten teacher in California shared with me how her class prayed for her to get a car. She was surprised one day when a student told her that God had told him the class should pray for a new car for her. Her car was doing fine, but she took the time to let the kids pray for a car for her. A few weeks later, her car broke down and needed costly repairs. She then received a phone call saying she had a won a brand-new car as a result of a contest she’d entered. This kindergarten teacher will never doubt that God speaks to kids and honors their prayers. Now she regularly shares her prayer requests with her students.
Nancy Sutton is the editor of the former PrayKids! Magazine.