“...In 1988, the Congress, by Public Law 100-307, called on the President to issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a “National Day of Prayer.” Today, on this National Day of Prayer, we once again come together to give thanks to Almighty God for the bountiful blessings He has bestowed on our great Nation and to ask for His unfailing counsel. We also acknowledge our dependence on God’s love to guide our families, communities, and our country away from harm and toward abundance and peace.”
- Excerpt from the Presidential Proclamation on the National Day of Prayer, 2019
You know, as a believer, on one hand I am so grateful to live in a nation that has a National Day of Prayer, and a government that still acknowledges God and upholds our rights to worship Him. It’s a privilege of which, tragically, too many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world can only dream.
On the other hand, shouldn’t EVERY day be a day of prayer? Nay, every MOMENT of every day, as Paul urges us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to pray without ceasing? Oh what a grace to be able to boldly approach the throne of our Abba Father in moments of thanksgiving, sorrow, confusion, fear, and happiness!
How crucial it is then, for our children to see the importance and the JOY of making prayer a priority, not just one day a year, but each and every day!
No matter where you are in your spiritual walk, whether you are a family of prayer warriors from youngest to eldest, or you struggle to even remember to pray before digging into dinner, we are all called to strive for a closer and deeper walk with the Lord. So, in that vein, here are 5 ways you can help your kids learn to pray.
5 ways parents can help kids learn to pray
1. Mealtime and Bedtime
This is a perfect opportunity for your kids to practice praying out loud. Whether you have a recited prayer, or you just pray what’s on your heart, this is a regular time of every day when kids can see prayer modeled and expect it.
Truly, these two times of day offer excellent reason and chance to pause and acknowledge the Lord. At mealtime, simply the basic act of recognizing how blessed we are to receive nourishing food is enough reason to pray in thanksgiving! Going beyond that, though, while you’re at it, it’s a chance for everyone to think of more reasons to be thankful at that very moment. And that, my friends, can press the “reset” button on even the worst day and the worst moods sometimes.
The quiet moments of bedtime also give us time to process our thoughts about the day’s activities and consider what’s to come the next day. Inviting God into that conversation together brings clarity and peace.
It may begin with you simply praying for your kids as they lie there quietly, or them reciting a bedtime prayer. If you want to go deeper, you can begin asking them questions to help them learn to pray for others (“Is there anyone in your class that you think is having a rough day?” or “How do you think your teacher needs help?”), to repent and grow in their own walk (“Is there anything you think you did today that was sinful and you haven’t asked for forgiveness?”), or to ask for help (“Is there anything that’s worrying you or bothering you right now?”). Eventually, it can transform into a time for your child to pour their heart out to the Lord before drifting off to sleep.
2. Reciting or Memorizing Prayer
Sometimes, it’s hard to know exactly what to pray. Our tongues get tied. Our minds are clouded. Or, if we’re with other people, we get shy. If it happens with us as adults, how much more so does it happen with little ones?
Yes, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings we cannot comprehend (Romans 8:26-27), and so when we seek the Lord with our hearts we can be assured he hears and helps. But yet, sometimes, there is still power in reciting a written or memorized prayer. One that has been thoughtfully and wisely crafted to encompass both our deep needs and God’s deep truths.
It may seem less heartfelt and too “stiff” to recite a memorized prayer or read a prayer written by someone else. But consider this: we sing hymns and worship songs, right? Songs that were written by other people? Yet, when we sing those words, do we not mean them with our heart? Do the lyrics not awaken our souls to the Lord’s goodness, character, power, and love? Consider also the Psalms. We read them and treasure them in our hearts, yet many of them are also simply the psalmists’ heartfelt prayers.
If you want to have a treasury of prayers that you and your child can read or memorize together, you may want to purchase a prayer book for children. Remember, too, that Jesus gave us a prime model of how to pray in the Lord’s prayer. Memorizing that with your child, and talking about the concepts behind it, is a great start.
There’s a prayer that our students have memorized that we often recite at Veritas, and that is our school prayer. Here it is:
Almighty God, we earnestly request
that by Your gracious favor
You would look upon Veritas Academy;
that goodness, truth, and beauty
may be increased for Your glory.
as our minds are enlightened with knowledge,
so our hearts may be
drawn to love you more.
Bless all who teach and all who learn,
that with humility we may ever look to You,
who is the foundation of all wisdom,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
3. Writing Prayers
Just like taking notes in class helps make our learning more concrete and cement it in our minds, writing our prayers can do the same thing.
Put up a bulletin, magnetic, chalk or dry erase board up somewhere in your home where your family can post prayers of thankfulness whenever they come to mind. It can be a constant reminder of how the Lord is working in and providing for your family, friends, and community. Smaller children can draw pictures of things they’re thankful for to add to the thanksgiving prayer board.
Have another board, or a journal or notebook, where you can also record prayer requests. Here, your family members can write not only things that they are personally struggling with, but also intercessory requests for friends, the church, and the world as a whole. Be sure to leave room for updates and answered prayers! Then, your requests can be transferred to the thanksgiving board when they’re answered!
4. Spontaneous Prayer
This can perhaps be the most powerful way you can teach your children to make prayer an integral part of their days: by modeling prayer throughout the day yourself.
Maybe you find yourself whispering prayers quietly, or meditating on prayer in your heart. If your children are around, don’t hide that from them. They should know that their parents have regular communication with the Lord, and see it as natural thing. I realize that we certainly don’t want to stray into the realm of making a show of prayer (lest we become like the admonished Pharisee who prayed before the people to make himself look good), but praying aloud around our children when practical helps them to also feel comfortable praying no matter where they are.
So, use car rides as a chance to pray. When you’re talking with your kids about your days and someone shares something that is frustrating them or making them sad, instead of just talking it out, pray it out with them! If something delightful happens, include God in your celebration by thanking Him together with joy!
One thing that our family does (and a few other Veritas teachers and parents have said the same thing) is pray any time you hear a siren or see a fire engine, police car, or ambulance go rushing by. Take a moment together to pray for the people who are hurt or in trouble, and to pray for the helpers who are working in the situation. So often now, my young children will initiate this even when I am too distracted to notice the sirens. They immediately pray for the people involved, and it warms my heart to see a piece of theirs go out to someone in need at that moment.
5. Pray First
Patty Ploutz, our sixth grade teacher, put it perfectly. She said that our kids need to see that we as parents use prayer as a first line of defense, not a last resort.
All too often, she muses, people will approach a problem with every other potential solution possible, and when all options are exhausted, they throw their hands up and say “Well, I guess the only thing left to do is pray.”
That is utterly backwards. We must all get into the habit of hitting our knees first. Before we hit the pavement running, or hit up Google looking for web wisdom, we should hit our knees and seek the Lord’s guidance. As we model this type of dependence on our Father, our children will learn to do the same.
The National Day of Prayer gives us a great reason to recommit our families to growing in prayer, not just on the first Thursday in May, but every day of the year. That is how a family, a community, a nation, and a world, will be transformed for the better in God’s truth, beauty, and goodness.
Want more resources to help shepherd your family into a closer walk with God? We've gathered lots of great ideas from our community of parents and teachers and compiled them into a Family Discipleship Toolkit, which includes FREE printables like a weekly prayer poster, bible study journal pages for kids, a family hymnal and more! Click the button below for more information and to get your kit!