of truth and power in my darkest of days. But at the very most elementary level I believe the best way to set our kids on the right path with growing in their own personal walk with the Lord is to not teach them prayers.
I cannot express enough the importance of helping your kids to develop their own “faith legs.” (Yep, totally just made that phrase up!) When they hit those young adult years and leave the house for the first time, if they have not made their faith personal, something they believe deep down for themselves, not just something they did because you said so, then they won’t have anything solid to stand on. It is crazy important that we encourage our kids to have their own, growing, personal walk with the Lord. This is something I try to keep in the forefront of my parenting.
I believe there are many ways to accomplish this, including ensuring they read the Bible for themselves on a regular basis (this is in fact the #1 way since we are told that the Bible is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12), and it accomplishes what God sends it out to do (Isaiah 55:11). Talk about taking the pressure off!), having them read great faith-based books, and sharing with them my own personal stories of how the Lord and His Word brought me through some tough times and proved full
Now, please don’t get upset with me. I am not saying that if your kids pray, “God is great. God is good.” And, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” that they are never going to have a personal walk with the Lord. I understand why this is done, and I don’t fault anyone who does it. However, I do have some pretty strong opinions about this. (I know…Me, strong opinions?? Insert sarcastic shocked face here.)
I firmly believe that if the very first thing we teach our children about prayer is to memorize something that someone else wrote just so it sounds cute and rhymes then we are immediately telling them that their hearts and their minds don’t really have to be in it. Then when it comes time for them to pray on their own, out of their own hearts because they truly need a personal relationship with the Lord they don’t know where to start.
Think about it. Once our children learn how to speak, do we have to teach them how to talk to us? Absolutely not! Out of their innocent, little hearts flows a wealth of humor, excitement and often extremely touching, gripping truths. There is such an honesty and joy in their naïve communication at that precious age. Often times many of the phrases that we look back on most often, those which bring the most joy to our hearts and provide us with the fondest of memories, come from the things that proceeded out of their little hearts when they were just learning to communicate.
And the more they do it the better they get. Why deprive our Heavenly Father of this beautiful beginning of their growth? Should not their relationship with their Lord be a natural flow just as their relationship with us? Kids will tell their daddy anything and everything. Why not encourage them to do the same with their heavenly Father? How much more comfortable and natural talking to the Lord will be as they grow into adulthood if they are taught that they can come to their heavenly Daddy with the same openness, genuineness and even excitement with which they come to us!
If we teach our kids from the very beginning that approaching God has to be an extremely formal thing with beautiful words and perfect rhymes how will they ever cross over to a natural relationship as they grow up? Yes, by all means, God is to be reverenced, but I truly believe that as a person comes to know the Lord and understand His character this reverence will naturally evolve.
Think how a little boy rambles on and on, saying everything to his daddy that pops into his little head. Think of how as he grows he comes to know his father more and more. Then in adulthood, this grown up “boy” comes to approach the same man with the respect and reverence that has developed over time as he has come to know his father on a deeper level. Since from the very beginning their relationship was open and close, through his intimate knowledge and growing affection for his dad, the son comes to see, respect and honor his father for the man he truly is.
So instead of teaching our children eloquent poems that, while cute may rob them of the simple pleasure of talking to their Daddy, Tim and I have always encouraged our kids to just say what is on their hearts. We firmly believe their reverence for the Lord will grow as they come to know Him more and more, but if they are taught reverence without first learning how deeply their heavenly Father yearns to grow in relationship with them they may never make the connection. Oh that they may be able to grasp how deep and wide and high and long is the love of Christ! (Ephesians 3:17-19) Encourage your kids to come genuinely and often to the throne of God with thanksgiving and joy in their hearts, to make their requests known…to taste and see that He is good! (Hebrews 4:16; Psalm 100:4; Philippians 4:6; Psalm 34:8)
Again, I’m not saying these prayers are wrong, but personally I never taught them to my kids. When setting down to a meal I just encourage them to tell God thank you for the food and to say whatever is on their hearts. Now, at ages seven and five, they have brought grown men to tears with their hearts being so truly open and speaking to the Lord over an everyday dinner. (A Catholic friend once commented that he was so touched by Holden’s pray that he couldn’t stop thinking about this “free-style” praying we do! 🙂)
It is such a blessing to our hearts to hear our children pray, and I can only imagine what it does to the heart of our heavenly Father. I’m sure the Lord is blessed by the precious sounds of little children quoting prayer poems to Him as well, but I have also witnessed my children as young as age 2, in the midst of a difficult situation, pray down heaven in a way that makes my heart skip a beat and sends chills down my spine. I want my kids to know there is no one “right way” to pray, so that they will never have a fear of getting it wrong. Instead, they see God as yes, an awesome and mighty King, but also as their loving Daddy in whose lap they can curl up and say whatever is on their little hearts, and there is so much power in that. As their minds grow their eloquence will grow, but this time of their hearts and spirits being so familiar and comfortable and open before the Lord is something I would never want to try to fit into a box wrapped up with a pretty rhyme.
Perhaps you feel you yourself don’t truly know how to pray. As our pastor often says, “If you don’t know how to pray talk to God about it.” There is so much truth to this. The Lord is not impressed or concerned with your words or your phrasing because He sees right through it all anyway. If your words are amazing and your mouth is full but your heart is void then it will accomplish nothing. However, if your heart is full and your spirit is open the smallest, simplest of phrases can move mountains. The fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (James 5:16)
Prayer is not difficult. It does not have to be fancy. It is just you, through the blood of Jesus, coming just as you are before the throne of God and completely opening up your heart…even when you don’t have a clue what words to say. Romans 8:26-27 assures us the Holy Spirit will do the rest. And don’t forget, Jesus is sitting next to God always making intercession for you, praying on your behalf! (Hebrews 7:25)
So just show up. Offer what little you have, and trust Him to do what His sovereignty compels Him to do. Make it real. Make it personal. Then and only then will it be made powerful by Him and His strength, not of anything our weak human minds and words can do. To God be the glory!
“that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19
“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;” 1 Corinthians1:27
“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strengthis made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9