How to Teach Children to Pray

Prayer is an adventure—a life-creating, life-changing journey into a closer relationship with God. Prayer is the main avenue God uses to change us and to guide our lives. Richard Foster says it well: “Prayer catapults us into the frontier of the spiritual life.”

As Christians, we know the importance of prayer in our own lives. But are we using  prayer as God intended it to be—the way to plug into His power in our lives? Corrie Ten Boom gives us a good word picture: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”

The Heart of a Child

The heart of a child is tender to the teachings of God and young children are eager to pray. Prayer becomes a spiritual security blanket where they learn to turn to God and trust in Him. Jesus is real to a child as they get to know Him as their friend first and then, their Savior.

Jesus Modeled Prayer

Jesus modeled prayer for us. Children need us to model prayer for them because that is how they learn best. Nothing is more effective than praying with and for your children each day. In John 17 we see the progression in prayer that Jesus modeled. He prayed for Himself—that He might bring honor and glory to the Father. Then He prayed for those closest to Him, the disciples. Finally, He prayed for all believers.

Jesus modeled prayer for us with what we call The Lord’s Prayer.

Partnership in Prayer

In the Bible, we read in 1 Samuel about a child, Samuel, who heard the voice of God. Yet he still needed the loving, encouragement of Eli to guide him and teach him how to obey what he heard from God. As parents and teachers, let us embrace the God-given partnership we have in training our children to hear and obey God. It is more difficult today because as a culture we are immersed in activity and our senses are saturated.

How, then, can we hear the still, small voice of God? How can we train children to listen quietly when we are bombarded in sound? We need to show them how to listen to the silence so they can hear God. We also want children to learn to pray scripture. A good way to achieve both may be to read Psalm 46:10 to the children and invite them to take the first part of the verse to pray quietly.He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

How Should We Pray

Set aside time each day in your home or classroom for prayer. Begin by simply being quiet, helping children become comfortable with silence, to begin reflecting upon the presence of God, the person of Jesus, and  the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. Give them a short Bible verse to reflect upon, or a quality of God, or something that Jesus said in His teachings. Or, you may want to sing a short hymn or song, and then ask the children to think about the words during a brief time of silence. Remember, the attention span of young children is short and so, keep the time for reflective silence short and age-appropriate. Perhaps 15 seconds at first, then 30 seconds, to 1 minute, and gradually add short increments of time as you see the children grow in maturity. After a quiet time of reflection, lead the children into spoken prayer.

In my book Cherishing and Challenging Our Children I share some specific techniques and examples. A simple one to teach children also serves as a reminder for adults.  That is:

“Wiggle our thumbs and say something in praise to Jesus.  This is our J.

“Wiggle your middle fingers for O for others and pray for others: family, friends, teachers, pastors, missionaries, etc.”

“Finally we wiggle our little finger for Y and Y is for you.  We pray for ourselves last.” (That can be confusing for little ones, so you may have to explain the “y” is for “u” which is how they will hear it.)

There is JOY when you remember to put Jesus first, the needs of others next, and finally, yourself. I must confess that I have to remind myself of this simple method on a regular basis as my prayers begin to sound like a “To Do List for God.” This system helps me to keep my priorities in order as an adult also.

Prayer Tree

To develop a deeper relationship with your class, I suggest making a PRAYER TREE. It develops during the school year as you watch it transform reflecting prayers that are answered with God’s sovereign “yes” or “no” at the bottom of the tree, and His “wait” remain on the tree branches. (Cherishing and Challenging Your Children, pages 159-160)

How Should We Pray for Our Children and Students

Of course, we should never forget the power of praying for our children and students. Teaching them can only go so far. Praying for them is a must.

Our hearts often feel burdened for the many things we want to pray for regarding our children and students. Years ago I made up a prayer card to guide me as I prayed for my children and later made copies for the moms at school and church. It listed requests such as to know Jesus as Savior, to be a prayer warrior, love the Word, to be disciplined, and more. I would add scripture verses, and other items of daily concern that I had for them around the concentric circles. For a class of children, I would copy them on paper and hole-punch to put into a binder. For my children, I copied them on smaller card stock to fit into my Bible. These cards became a record of the spiritual journey with a child. When a card or sheet was full, I would start another. (Put the child’s name in the center and a start and stop date for each one.) You may download this prayer card to begin this spiritual journey of prayer.

Prayer Requests

I have also had my older students write requests on 3×5 cards. I found that often they felt comfortable sharing such requests with me that they did not want known to the class. Not only did this help me know what to pray for, but it also strengthened my relationship with that student as well as gave them more confidence in sharing their burdens and believing in the power of prayer.

Praying God’s Word for Our Children

Here are just a few of the many items we can pray for our children and students. There is great power in praying the Word and inserting the child’s name. For example, if you have a daughter who is struggling with gossip you may want to pray:

“I pray for _______ to know that without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” Proverbs 26:20

If you have a child who is having trouble forgiving someone, you may want to paraphrase Ephesians 4:32 as you pray: “I pray for _________________ to be kind and compassionate to others, forgiving______________, just as Christ God has forgiven him/her.”

May God bless your prayer life as you grow and deepen your walk in Him.  

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jodycapehart@churchleaders.com'
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.