Children were a focus of Jesus’ ministry. He used the loaves and fish from a boy to feed the 5,000. He healed at least one sick child and raised another one from the dead. He told his followers to have the humility of a child. He even took children into his arms and blessed them when his disciples wanted to send them away.
I think about Jesus’ view of children often when my three children pray some of the most heartfelt, inspiring and even entertaining prayers I’ll ever hear.
Consider, for example, my oldest son’s prayers when he was 3.
When I told him we should thank God for everything in life, he took it seriously, even providing God plenty of detail.
“God, thank you for my train table and those two plates on the wall that are next to the smoke alarm,” he said one night while lying in bed, describing two colorful ceramic birthday plates that, yes, were right next to the smoke detector in his bedroom.
On other nights, he felt a bit more academic.
“God, thank you for the letter B, the letter D, and the number 3.”
And on some nights, he was feeling a bit theological.
“God, thank you for crushing Satan’s power,” he said, quoting, verbatim, what he had read in one of his storybook Bibles.
But there are plenty of times in which my children refuse to pray—when we go around the table at suppertime, finding no volunteers. Just like me, and perhaps you, too, they can be stubborn when facing spiritual matters. If we want our children to pray, we ourselves must first believe in the power of prayer (James 4:2-3)—and then set the example.
Here are three specific ways to do that:
Give thanks during “normal” times. Scripture tells us to pray “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), but you’ve got to begin somewhere. An easy starting point for children is—you guessed it—mealtime. (And after that, bedtime.) The Bible paints a vivid picture of food being a marvelous blessing, and it still is, despite our tendency to take it for granted. When my youngest kids were 1 and wanted “seconds,” they’d fold their tiny hands together and look around, as if to say, “We’re ready to pray again—and eat more food.”
Give thanks during “abnormal” times. What’s that? That’s the time between breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime—the 23 hours of the day when we so often place God on the back burner. If we rarely discuss God other than when we “say grace,” then what do we expect our children to do as they grow? Turn the day into an out-loud conversation with God and involve your kids along the way. “God, thank you for letting us make that stop light.” “God, thank you for that beautiful sunset.” Once I prayed out loud, “God thank you for that yummy ice cream we ate today,” to which my then-4-year-old son replied, as sincerely as could be, “And, God, it’s not really ice cream. It’s frozen yogurt.” He had mastered the conversation part.
Intercede for others. It’s one of the best ways to destroy selfishness in your child—and you, too. Pray for the sick, and do so immediately and out loud, if possible. Pray for those who are sad, for those who have lost loved ones, for those who are lost. And pray for your child’s friends and “enemies,” too. A few months ago when I sensed my oldest son was growing too self-centered in his daily actions, we launched a nightly bedtime tradition: praying for a classmate of his. He initially rebuffed the idea but eventually began volunteering information—even including specific prayer requests.
One final idea: Make it a big deal when God answers prayers—that is, answers it in a way that we can physically observe. My toddler son prays each time he’s sick. And if he’s healed, you’ll know it. “God made me better!” he’ll shout. We probably all could learn from him.
Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting and fatherhood. He loves his family and also really likes college football, midnight debuts of Star Wars movies and pretty much any 80s group that involved big, wild-looking hair. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog? Send me a message in the comments section below (the message won’t go public). Also, check out my video section.