During a Sunday morning service years ago, our pastor asked the congregation to gather in small groups to pray for one another. My group included a teenage boy and his mother.
We took turns expressing prayer needs, but when it came time to start praying, the boy turned to his mother and said, “Mom, you’re going to have to help me with this.”
His mother prayed aloud, one sentence at a time, and he repeated what she said.
Clearly, this young man had never learned how to communicate with God outside of religious rituals. He was certainly old enough and smart enough to talk to God for himself –but he didn’t know how.
So how can a parent teach a child how to pray? How do we pass on the habit of going to God with our needs, thanks, and praise?
It has to start with our own prayer habits.
Most of us have a tendency to feel vaguely guilty about prayer. We may feel we don’t pray enough (whatever “enough” is).
We may feel we don’t pray adequately. We think we lack the fancy terminology or deep theological insights which other folks seem to possess.
Good news: God doesn’t require eloquence. He just wants our hearts. The apostle Paul writes,
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
You have an ongoing relationship with your heavenly Father. He wants to hear from you. But when you’re relating to a Person who isn’t visible or audible, how do you structure your time together?
One helpful method employs the simple acronym ACTS:
- A is for adoration. We offer praise and worship to God for who he is and all he has made. Creation offers a great springboard for adoration, as do many of the Psalms.
- C is for confession. We agree with God when we have sinned and ask him to reveal any hidden sins we aren’t aware of.
- T is for thanksgiving. We thank God for blessings as well as specific answers to prayer. We express gratitude for the many ways he takes care of us.
- S is for supplication, an Old English term meaning to ask for something from someone who is greater than you (like a king). This category is what we commonly think of as “prayer requests.”
Another prayer term is intercession, which means to “stand in the gap.” Intercession is prayer on behalf of others.
Don’t worry about following the ACTS model religiously; it’s just a structure. Once you get the hang of it, you can easily teach it to your children.
Family dinner times and children’s bedtimes are great times to pray together.
Even a toddler can pray, “Jesus, you are great and wonderful (adoration). Thank you for giving us a sunny day today (thanksgiving). Please help my ouwie to heal quickly, and help Uncle Joe feel better (supplication/intercession).”
A good time to teach children confessional prayer is during discipline. Have them tell God they are sorry for their wrongdoing and ask for his forgiveness (and then thank him for it).
As your kids get old enough to read, help them take ownership of structuring their prayers. Encourage them to pray for immediate family, extended family, friends, church leaders, government leaders, missionaries, and persecuted Christians on different days of the week.
We created a simple prayer wheel cut from manila file folders. The top wheel had a window cut into it; the bottom wheel had sections with the day’s category and a list of people to pray for.
Our kids colored their wheels and used them for years. In this simple way, they developed a powerful, lifelong habit.
(In a subsequent post, we’ll talk about how to teach your children to listen to God, too –the other side of the conversation.)
How might you want to structure prayer time for your kids?