Generation after generation stands in awe of your work; each one tells stories of your mighty acts. - Psalm 145:4 (The Message)
As a mother to two little treasures, one of the greatest desires of my heart is to see them develop their own relationships with God. Sometimes I joke that I wish I could just tell them, “You will love Jesus, and you will like it!” Well, we all know that’s not how it works. We each have to choose God for ourselves, but as a parent, I can teach them, guide them and most importantly, create opportunities for them to experience God’s presence in their lives.
Of course, the single greatest thing we can do for the spiritual growth of our children is to be in relationship with God ourselves. Children have an uncanny ability to know when someone is saying one thing and doing another. As we honor God every single day, even responding to His correction and humbling ourselves to His authority, we teach our children more about Him than we ever could with mere words.
When it comes to helping them become people of prayer, there are some very simple and practical ways we can encourage them to be in constant conversation with God.
Make prayer your first response to challenges or breakthroughs that come up with your family or with your children individually.
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” - James 5:13
It’s so valuable for your children to learn that in every good or hard moment of the day, they can talk to God about it immediately.
If someone gets sick, pray about it. If someone is facing a challenge with a friendship, pray about it. Even as you also discuss practical solutions and ways of addressing conflict, teach your children the value of asking God for wisdom.
On days when my kids are having a hard time getting along with each other, I encourage them to consider taking a moment to ask Jesus to help them with the crankiness they are feeling. I want them to know that even in our less-than-perfect-moments, there is grace available to help us do what we struggle to do on our own; all we have to do is ask.
Let them have the opportunity to pray out loud, without censoring their prayers or shaming them if they don’t want to.
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” - Ephesians 6:18
During the Advent season last December, we set aside some nights for lighting the candles and discussing various significant aspects of Jesus’ coming. We would have a special reading of Scripture or other devotional books, and then we would pray, inviting the kids to pray aloud if they wanted to.
My daughter is a little more reserved and often prefers not to pray out loud, but my son, who is three, was eager to chime in. He began thanking Jesus for coming and thanking Him for Christmas and all the presents he was going to get. And then he added, “Please make sure there are no purple people-eaters under my bed, and please make sure there is no Monsters, Inc. in my closet.” Someone had teased him about this recently, and it had been on his mind.
Of course, we couldn’t help but laugh a little, which he didn’t mind because he’s a bit of a ham! But we were also able to reassure him that if he has a concern about anything, he absolutely can ask Jesus to take care of it.
Children’s concerns and requests aren’t going to sound like ours; they have different things on their hearts, including some that may seem small or silly to us, but I believe it delights God’s heart when they bring those requests before Him.
At the same, while we want to encourage our children to pray, we don’t want to force them—that will not help them desire their own relationships with God. As a matter of fact, I can recall from my own childhood a woman who not only tried to force me to pray, but tried to force me to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It was very upsetting to me and actually kept me from seeking God for any spiritual gifts for a few years!
God will draw the hearts of our children. My daughter, while sometimes reluctant to pray out loud if the whole family is together, has surprised me with the number of times she has come and asked me to pray with her about something, or has come out of her room and told me she was just talking to God about something. Simply by giving them the opportunity and the space to approach God when they are ready, we help their hearts to be open.
Teach them about different ways God might speak to them and encourage them to listen for His voice.
“I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” - John 10:15
My children love the story of young Samuel hearing God’s voice. It is a story I have told them over and over since they were infants because I want them to know there is no age limit on who God speaks to.
My brother-in-law and sister-in-law do something with their four children that they refer to as “soaking time.” They will put on some worship music, and everyone finds a spot around the living room to be alone with God. They soak in His presence, and they listen for Him. They’ve taught the kids—whose ages range from 4-13—that God might speak to them with a word or phrase, a verse, a picture and so on. After a while, they will ask if anyone has something to share, and the kids are given the opportunity to say what they think they are hearing from God. Sometimes it is funny, and sometime it is profound; either way, the children are being given a safe atmosphere to learn the sound of God’s voice!
Teach them gratitude.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” - Psalm 107:1
All of us can get bogged down with circumstances and frustrations to the point that we forget to give thanks in everything. We can teach our children to be self-focused, or we can actively help them develop thankful hearts.
One way we do this in our family is to keep a jar throughout the year where we write down good things—answered prayers, miracles, special moments and memories. At the end of the year, we go through the jar and read what we wrote, remembering God’s faithfulness. It is such a joy to see my children’s faces as they realize, even through some hard seasons, how God has been with us.
God wants to reveal Himself to children and draw their hearts to Him. As Bill Johnson says, “There is no junior Holy Spirit.” Encourage your kids to share their hearts with God and to be expectant for what He will share with them.
As they grow in a safe environment, it will become instinctive for them to turn to God throughout their day. And if for some reason, they should have a season of being away from the Lord, valuable seeds will still be planted in their heart. Perhaps the greatest truth we could ever instill in our children is that God loves them and is always delighted to hear from them—anytime, anywhere, anything they want to say. Let’s foster an atmosphere for them that is not about perfection, but about the joy of relationship with the Father.