Teach Them To Pray

I am currently reading Timothy Keller’s book, Prayer. I am the kind of reader who reads the last chapter when I am about halfway through a book, the anticipation of the last words is the kind of anticipation that causes me to read the end before the middle. I cave. Every book, every time.

Keller’s last words on Prayer say, “Why are we settling for water when we could have wine?” 

This question rips through me. Prayer can be something that we as human beings just spin around on the circle of what we have always known. We know to pray when we are in trouble and need help or we pray and ask God to give us what we want. That is what I have always done and this kind of prayer is right and biblical, “give us this day our daily bread” simply means give us what we need, help us Lord.

When I get stuck on the wheel of the “I want” and “help me” prayers, also known in the church as supplication prayers, I find myself settling for water instead of wine. Prayer becomes very much about me and what I want and less about God. The relationship of prayer is one-sided and I become the main event. When I make prayer about me, I am settling for water.

I can have access to wine when I seek to have a two-sided relationship with the God of The Universe. When my prayer requests for everything that is wrong around me become only a part of my prayer life instead of the only thing I pray for is when I will break the hamster wheel of spinning around what I have always known about prayer.

This is hard to do. In the world of weight lifting it is recorded that “It takes 3,000 to 5,000 repetitions to burn a movement into your body’s muscle memory.” a minimum of 3,000 times at the generous amount of praying three times a day (Keller’s book suggests two) would take you 1,000 days to change the muscle memory of your prayers. This is three years! Three years of forcing yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and feel the soreness and pains of a new workout.

As adults it is much harder for us to change our ways. Most of us are already set in the way we do things. Especially when we do not live in community with others who are committed to the process of walking in this life as Christians and committed to growth and change in their watery prayer lives.

As I read Keller’s book all I can think about is, “What if my kids just always knew how to have a vibrant prayer life?” What if my kids just always heard prayer as a two-sided relationship, a conversation of the peeling back of our hearts and praise to the One who desperately wants them?

At night I pray with my sons and around 18 months I will begin to pray with my daughter at night time by their beds. Sometimes I am tired and I settle for the watery prayers of safety while they sleep and protection over their thoughts and their dreams. But I never forget to say, “Lord, please change the hearts of my kids so they know you and love you with all their heart and give them friends and spouses that love you with their whole hearts too.”

I say this so often that while talking to my youngest son (3) about the gospel just the other day, I went through the normal questions…

1. What did Jesus do? (He died on the cross)

2. Why did Jesus die on the cross? (For our sins)

3. Did Jesus stay on the cross? (No, He rose again and He lives forever in heaven)

4. What does it mean if you believe Jesus died on the cross for you sins? (We can live forever with Him in heaven where there is no more crying and no more bad guys)

Instead of the answer I normally get from our children to question two, Jesus died for my sins, my three year old confidently said, “Jesus died for my heart.”

My three year old basically smacked me in the face with the same words I have been praying over his bed since he was 18 months old. “Jesus died for my heart.” What a beautiful picture of the gospel to see in that moment. Jesus wants our whole hearts, not just the pieces we offer to give Him when we feel like we need Him. We need him all the time, the chaos of our hearts just prevents us of seeing that clearly.

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What if we could teach our kids to pray so we could break the “settling for water” cycle and our kids just always knew how to have access to the wine: the rich, full-bodied relationship that you can find in prayer if you choose to train your muscles differently.

What if our children just always knew that Jesus wants our hearts in prayer? 

Here are a few suggestions. I am not an expert so I know there are more legitimate resources out there for teaching children how to pray. I am just a mom, not a theologian or a parenting expert, these are the tools that are working for me to teach my kids to pray. 

1. Pray so often that it isn’t something they feel like they have to do but they feel like prayer is something they can’t live without.

2. Pray when you discipline them before they leave time out. Ask for forgiveness and thank Jesus for paying the penalty of sin on the cross.

3. Pray for them on the way to school. Turn the radio off and ask what they need Jesus to give them for that day. On the way home, ask if Jesus helped them and if He did pray in praise to God so they can see the tangible work of God in their lives.

4. Pray scripture with your kids. Teach them to access God through His words, not just our human words. Let the words from the Bible saturate your words when you pray with them. Recently, my six year old was struggling with seeing scary images from a television show at night time. He was working on memorizing Philippians 4:8 (Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things.) We just prayed those scriptures at night and then I followed up to see if God answered His prayers.

5. Use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework to teach them to pray:

Adoration prayers: prayers about how awesome God is. (Our Father Who Art In Heaven, Hallowed Be Your Name)

Confession prayers: specific ways about how we fall short of the glory and holiness of God. (Forgive us our debts)

Thankfulness prayers: thankfulness for things but also salvation and the rescuing of our hearts (This gives us the recognition of the Giver of all things, 1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Supplication prayers: prayers asking God to help us, heal us, protect us (Give us this day our daily bread and deliver us from evil, )

6. Model going to God in prayer and praying full bodied prayers rich with relationship.

7. This may be a harsh one but when I find my kids asking for material things or wanting things in the store that they don’t need, I ask them to think of the things God has already given to them and pray with thanksgiving for what they already have.

As I read Tim Keller’s Book on Prayer, I can only dream and hope that my sons and my daughter will one day pick the same book up twenty years from now and think, yeah, my parents taught me to pray like this.

The next generation of believers could be so great and full of faith if we simply changed our water for wine and  taught our sons and daughters to grow more deeply in their prayer life.

May my kids, your kids and the kids of every tribe, tongue and nation never know a day without giving God their hearts in full-bodied prayer.

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