Last week, I heard from my sister in Thailand some of the heartbreaking moments they’ve been struggling through in their community of refugees. An 11-year-old girl sent to possibly “work” in Bangkok with her mother. A stabbing. A man depriving his family of enough money to buy food. And I thought, my kids and I should pray.
Then I thought of our prayers the last several weeks: Mostly stuff about…us.
Of course it’s good to teach our children to seek God for all their needs. But at that moment I thought, I want to up the ante on teaching my kids to cry out to God for other people.
Spiritual disciplines are hard to practically teach kids. I, particularly, am Madame Non in my house—I’m driving/correcting the schooling, the chores, the attitudes, the dirty underwear cast 14 inches from the hamper.
I also don’t need more stuff to do. The good news: The goal isn’t to do all of these; or even to “do.” It’s about setting ourselves up to receive God’s grace–like a football player positioning himself for the catch. Pick one of these, and knead it into life (I think of it like adding flour to dough, a little at a time). I believe in what Richard Foster writes:
A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain…This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines – they are a way of sowing to the Spirit… By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done.
I hope to hand my kids the tools to cultivate God in their lives; to sow, waiting for Him.
If that’s true, then the heart’s more important even than the discipline itself. In teaching this stuff, I’m super-sensitive to how they’re responding so I—and eventually God—can have their hearts…and not just associate spiritual stuff with boredom, exasperation, and straight-laced have-to’s. I listen to the Holy Spirit a lot to know whether I should push through in what we’re doing, or leave it to a better time.
It’s similar to my philosophy in education: If kids can “catch the bug” for a subject when they’re young—having fun and being engaged—they’ll be self-driven to learn and experience that topic for the rest of their lives.
We don’t just have fun spiritual stuff for our kids to compete with Nickelodeon. We want them to pursue God out of the pleasure they’ve already experienced and enjoyed with Him.
So to jumpstart this series on spiritual disciplines for kids: 10 practical ways to engage your kids in meaningful prayer.
THE KEY: To communicate that talking with God is
- not a periodic act, but a constant conversation
- natural (not stilted)
- effective (don’t forget to keep track of answers!)
Help your kids, too, see how prayer changes us (say, when we’re trying to forgive someone, or giving us ideas how to serve). Prayer is one ultimate form of love!
- Taking a cue from Ann Voskamp, allow each of your children to pick out a “gratitude journal”, and take a few minutes at dinner or bedtime to add, say, five items to each of your lists. If your kids like this, move on to prayer journals that they keep in any way that works for them.
- On the back of an interior door, post a piece of tagboard and keep a pen attached with adhesive Velcro. Make it a family goal to fill the posterboard with the objects of your gratitude. Alternatively, Voskamp suggests covering a window with sticky notes of gratitude in this timeless, yes-yes-yes post, 15 Happy Ways to Teach Kids to be Grateful.
- Practice “popcorn prayer”–allowing kids to pray sentence prayers in your prayer time together.
- Use a guide like Operation World’s Pray for the World and their world prayer map to keep track of the countries for which you’ve all prayed.
- Take a prayer walk around your neighborhood, using the soon-to-be-released Pray A-Z: A Practical Guide to Pray for Your Community or these printable cards from Amelia Rhodes.
- Cultivate habits to pray with and for your child
- After a nightmare, or after dreaming about someone
- After an intimate conversation—say, about something going on at school (don’t forget to pray for the people who cause anger or hurt)
- When you see headlines on the news
- When you hear sirens or see emergency vehicles
- After a disciplinary moment, along with lots of cuddling (ahem: no preaching in the prayer!)
- When they’re afraid or worried—or you are
- Praising God when your kids have shown character
- In the car, for safety and the occasion you’re traveling to
- Thank God on the way home from getting groceries
- When you hear bad news—or good news
- On the way to/from the doctor or pharmacy or dentist, for health and for your health care professionals
- When you need prayer for something you’re struggling with (anger, lack of self-control, irritability), or forgiveness for something you’ve done wrong
- For the day ahead of you on the way to school/work/preschool — as well as love for those you’ll meet (teachers, too!), chances to share Christ, etc.
- When you’re facing a decision
- On the way to church (don’t forget teachers, pastors, and workers)
- When you hear of someone doing something wrong
- Before and after one of their games or sports events
- When your child is honored in school, or been successful somewhere
- Try the five-finger prayer method. Each finger can remind even little kids about how Jesus taught us to pray (print this poster for FREE here!):
- Make your own deck of prayer prompts to pass out at dinner, after breakfast, or at bedtime; think of it as “prayer roulette.” If you’d like, print this three-page FREE PRINTABLE PRAYER DECK (try paper that’s a bit jazzy on the other side) and laminate them for longer use.
- Help them pray Bible verses, perhaps one they’re memorizing. If it helps–and I’ll touch on this in the post on meditation–print out free adult coloring pages with Scripture verses your kids can pray!
How do you do it? How do you incorporate your kids in a life of prayer?
Join the discussion in the comment section!
Like this post? You might like
 Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988.