Nurturing Spiritual Development and Prayer in a Child

Children have a natural sense of wonder about God. It is through relationships and experiences that we nurture this tender heart towards God and the things of God. Love, consistency, and trust form the fertile soil for their image of God to grow into a healthy relationship and a firm foundation for faith.

My God Is So Big!

Children respond best to understanding about God by the relationship they have in those early years, especially with their parents. Their image of God is formed by experiences.

Children are concrete learners. They can see, hear, touch, and feel Mommy and Daddy. Mommy and Daddy are big. Mommy and Daddy love them, care for them, provide for them, and protect them. Then they learn that God is bigger still, so God must really love, care for, and protect them.

Their image of God continues to be formed by their experiences, and as they grow, and their experiences change, their image of God is reshaped and redefined.

God Is About Relationships

God is about relationships—that is why He gave us Jesus. God is love. Children learn about God’s love by the way parents cherish them in these early years.

Young children have a natural sense of wonder about God. Children are born with a readiness for faith but need an environment of love and care for that faith to grow with them as their developmental understanding grows. Children who receive consistent, loving care see God as the one who loves them.

Are You Qualified to Teach Your Child Spiritual Truths?

Studies show that parents often feel they are not qualified to teach their children spiritual truths. The good news is that it is here where parents have the home court advantage. What children need most is what parents do best, and that is to simply love their children. This provides the soil for spiritual development and maturity to take root.

When parents love and genuinely cherish their child and show that they are trustworthy, children attribute these qualities to God as well. Deuteronomy 6 encourages parents to be teaching God’s Word to their children as they go about all of the normal activities of family life.

Parents Are the Mirror

As parents, you are the mirror that reflects God to your child. You don’t have to be a theologian; just be who you are, the one who loves your child the most. God is love and loves relationships, and that is what you are to your child.

A Tip for Single Parents:

Establishing consistent patterns with prayer is important. Children learn about trust by having relationships and traditions they can trust in. However, many children go back and forth between the homes of two parents who may have different schedules and priorities. You might pray with your child each night, but the alternate spouse does not.

So for example, you may want to try to pray at 8:00 each night as often as possible. Then say to your child, “I will be praying for you each night at 8:00 even when you are at your other home. We can still pray together at the same time if you want to join me.” It increases a child’s sense of trust to know that a parent is praying for him or her at a predictable time each day and that you don’t have to be physically together to join hearts in prayer with one another.

A Final ‘Take-Away’: LAL

Love your children deeply and sincerely because this is what forms the spiritual foundation for their faith as well as their prayer life.

Answer their questions. We know children ask lots of questions. Some simply reflect their developmental curiously like, “What does God look like?” Or here’s a good one, “Does God go to the bathroom?” But children can throw us a curve ball with some pretty deep questions that would stump even the best of theologians. As a parent, be willing to be transparent and say, “Good question. I don’t know. I wonder about that as well.” Or ask them, “What do you think?” Encourage dialogue with your child about his or her questions.

The main thing to remember is to not put down the questions from children or they will stop asking, and the WONDER of God will begin to go away.

Listen to your children; that is, truly listen. Show them how to listen so they will recognize the still small voice of God when He speaks. Don’t be quick to react if your child says something that may at first seem inappropriate. Children are close to the heart of God, and if you listen closely, you will hear their heart. For example, one child said, “I think I would rather go to hell than heaven.” Rather than trying to ‘fix’ her child’s theology, this wise mother gently asked, “Tell me why” to which the child responded, “So I could tell all of them about Jesus.”

Here’s another. “Jesus isn’t in my heart anymore.” The mother responded, “Why don’t you think so?” “Well, He had to leave my heart and go to my knee to fix it because I fell down.” Listen to your child, and you will be amazed at what you can learn!

Try some LAL with your child on this National Day of Prayer: Love, Answer, and Listen.

May you continue to be amazed as your child grows in the wisdom and stature of the Lord.

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Jody Capehart
Jody Capehart has more than 40 years' experience as a children's minister. She's the co-author of The Discipline Guide for Children's Ministry and the author of numerous other books. She currently teaches Sunday School at Stonebriar Community Church.