Our featherweight wrestling match started about eight o’clock each night.
It began with a round of messy water battles, colorful plastic toys and slippery children. Then my husband and I attempted to brush all 60 of their pearly whites (which was easier said, than done). Finally, after a chaotic round of storytelling, we wrestled our three little children into bed. Sometimes, we repeated a quick, standard prayer and then cut out the lights.
But there were nights when we took the time to really pray with our children.
Sometimes, they made us laugh with their childlike requests. At other times, we had to discipline them.
But there were also special times, when their simple, honest prayers touched my heart and I left the room with tears streaking down my face, grateful that I’d taken the time to pray with my precious babies.
I wish we’d prayed with our children more than we did. It was hard to find the time—and the energy—but when we did, it was so worth the effort.
Maybe you’ve experienced the same joys and difficulties of praying with your kids or grandkids, too.
While we made plenty of mistakes, I’ve learned a lot over the years about how to pray (and not to pray) with children. Here are 12 meaningful ways to pray with your children:
1. Be specific. Praying longwinded prayers with my active children just didn’t work. Since children have tiny attention spans, brief, specific prayers are best.
If your prayer time is lengthy and unfocused, your kids will start to dread it. Rambling, marathon prayers usually don’t touch a child’s heart—or yours. And eventually, this can cause you to avoid praying together.
2. Ask, don’t tell. I wish I’d asked my children what they wanted to pray for, rather than telling them what I wanted to pray for. This would’ve helped us communicate better and it would’ve provided a great bonding opportunity. Andrew Sobel once said, “Telling creates resistance. Asking creates relationship.”
So ask your children what they want to pray for. Remember:
Recognizing a child’s requests makes prayer time more relevant and personal to him or her.
3. Pray as you talk. Sometimes, my husband and I talk to God as if He were sitting right there with us. We’ve found that praying conversationally is more convenient (especially in a restaurant) and it doesn’t feel as awkward.
If you’re uncomfortable praying aloud with your children, then simply include God in an ongoing conversation. For example, if your daughter has a math test, include God by saying: “Lord, since you know everything, you know about Caroline’s test. Please help her recall what she’s learned. Please enable her to make a good grade. Thank you Lord, amen.”
4. Pray a blessing. Briefly pray one of God’s promised blessings over your child, then ask him or her to pray a blessing over you. This will give you an opportunity to pray for each other, instead of only praying for yourself. (Click here for a list of God’s promises)
Here’s an example: “Lord, you promised to watch over us (Ps. 121:5), so please watch over Will as he sleeps tonight. Keep him in your perfect peace. Let him know that you are right beside him, always.” Praying about God’s promises makes children more aware of them. It will demonstrate how blessed they are to belong to God, and it may inspire them to pray a blessing over someone else.
5. Pray a Scripture. This is one of my favorite things to do when I pray for other people. I personalize a Bible verse by inserting someone’s name/needs and then I pray it back to God. Praying like this is powerful and it gives familiar Bible verses new meaning.
Here’s how to do this: take a Bible verse and insert your child’s name and needs, as appropriate. Write out the paraphrased verse with your child and then pray it back to God, together. This makes the Bible come alive, giving your little one new understanding of God’s word. (Is. 49:15-16 can be easily paraphrased)
6. Be real. I wish we’d taken the time to pray more authentically with our kids, rather than repeating standard prayers and catchphrases. Since prayer is simply a conversation with God, it’s best just to talk to Him.
Using repetitions, clichés and “churchy” phrases can prevent your children from connecting with God during prayer. Instead, use everyday language to pray about everyday things. Speak directly from your heart. Make each prayer personal and meaningful.
7. Add structure. If I’m not careful, I’ll rush straight to my wish list as I pray, forgetting to thank God or to even address Who I’m praying to. Since prayer is a real encounter with a real person, I don’t want to act as if I’m ordering from a catalog. Structuring my prayer to cover three “A’s” helps me remember that.
Here’s how to “pray the A’s:” first, Acknowledge the One you’re praying to. Then take a minute to Appreciate what God has done. Then Ask for what you need. Establishing a prayer structure, such as praying the A’s, keeps prayers focused on God instead of on requests. A prayer format makes it easier for children to follow along, and it lets them know when to chime in.
8. Resist handing out advice. Prayer is a conversation with God, not a time to give out helpful hints or a lecture. Often, I made the mistake of adding things to my prayers that the kids needed to hear, but I regret doing that.
Believe me, if you turn prayer time into lecture time, your kids will dread it. So, avoid lecturing. Never use prayer time to make your point. Be humble and authentic as you talk to God together.
9. Be silent, together. We often think of prayer as a time to talk, but it’s also a time to listen and to be still. In the Bible there are numerous references to stillness and meditation (Ps. 19:14), but sometimes I’m so busy talking, I forget to be silent. Maybe you can relate.
To promote prayerful meditation, I’ve written a set of biblical meditations in my latest study guide, A 40-Day Guide for Seeking God. Each meditation includes a Bible verse to be read aloud, followed by a few moments of focused meditation. Meditate (briefly) with your kids, so they can experience silence before the Lord.
10. Praise God in each prayer. Rather than starting a prayer with “Dear God, I want . . . ,” take a moment to praise God for who He is and what He has done. C.S. Lewis said praise completes enjoyment. So praising God as you pray, enables you to enjoy prayer more.
Help your children learn to praise God in prayer in their own words. If they can’t think of praise words on their own, let them borrow words of praise from the Psalms. Praising God deepens a child’s faith and it adds joy to prayer time.
11. Write it down. By the time God answers, I often forget what I prayed for. Writing prayers and answers down helps me remember. Making an “answered prayer list” with your kids can be a fun project, and it will build their faith.
Write out your children’s prayer requests and date them. If you receive an answer, write it beside the prayer and date it. Reading back over God’s answers is so encouraging! You may find that the Lord says “yes,” more often than you realized.
12. Go ahead and ask for things—it’s okay. Sometimes I shy away from asking God for too much at one time. If I pray for a neighbor, and for my career, and for my children, I feel like I’m being too needy. But I’ve learned that God doesn’t despise needy people (hallelujah). He invites us to pray for every need (Phil. 4:6).
In fact, there’s no limit to what you can ask. God is not like a genie in a bottle who limits you to only three wishes. Paul said, “God can do more than we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20). So encourage your kids to ask for everything they need, and even for extras. It’s okay. God loves to give abundantly and will do what’s best.
Now, my three children are grown. My husband and I don’t have the opportunity to pray with them as we once did, but we look forward to praying with our grandchildren someday. There’s nothing better than sharing your faith with a little child who you dearly love.