Can You Teach One to Pray?

Photo credit: David-O

His big blues search my hazels for a clue. And my heart is doing the very thing he is questioning.

“But, mom, what are you doing when you pray?
Why do you do it?
How come I can’t hear you when you pray and sometimes I can?
How do you know He hears you?
Are you talking to the guy in your heart again?”

I never would have guessed how much wisdom it takes to explain something so profound in terms a 4 year-old will understand.

Yet that’s what He expects from all of us. To know it so well we obtain the enormous faith a child is capable of.

“I’m talking to God. The One who made me and blessed me with you.
He’s all around us and will even live within us if we let Him.
Don’t worry, He always hears when we call. And stops everything when He hears His name.
God sees our heart. Where our feelings live. So He knows what we’re feeling before we even think it. I don’t have to talk out loud to Him. He knows it before I say it. So really, I’m saying it for me. That way, I know it, too.
I talk to Him every day. As often as I can. He helps me all the time.”

I smile wide and wink when I see his mind spinning, searching for more questions. Knowing he’ll come up with more, my prayers turn fervent. I pray that I can answer them for I have so many questions of my own:

How do I ensure He understands the power behind prayer?
How do I teach Him to listen to His voice?
Should I make him practice praying?
How do I show him the joy behind it?
If I push it on him, he will recoil. Where’s the balance?

And I quickly reflect on Jesus’ life. The example He’s placed before us. The one I strive to portray to this impressionable boy.

Sometimes I forget Jesus was a practicing Jew. He knew and abided by the formalities of ritual. I’m certain He prayed the Shema twice a day. And still He sought solitude. Would go out of His way to have alone time with His Father. Where He could lay His heart open wide and simply be.

It’s this very reason I try to emulate both practices of prayer in my own life. Those structured around ritual and those grafted from pure intimacy.

Friends, we can study to our heart’s content. I have. We can read the plethora of books on the subject. I’ve read a bunch. We can follow all the formulas, acronyms, rituals, written out examples every day and still miss the basic truth. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

Our God is a God of relationships.
And He wants nothing more
than to have heart-to-heart conversations with you.

Just you. Behind closed doors. Where you can let all your guards down and simply be with Him. Uninhibited.

So how do I show this to my children?

The alarm of sirens lead me back to my present reality. I glance down and see my boy setting his toy down, looking at his hands. I stretch in to hear his whispers, hoping I don’t distract him. And I hear him:

“Dear Jesus, please help the firemen
put the fire out and everyone be okay.”

And just like that he’s back to playing trains.

My throat wraps tight around the newly formed lump. I swallow hard as I hear His response to my unsettled heart.

Friends, my prayers were answered right then. He showed me the way. And reminded me it had been hanging around my neck the whole time…

I don’t need to defend my beliefs or become a Drill Sargent. I simply need to live for Him unabashedly. My smart boy’s watching. I can trust God to do the rest. Why, I can even talk to Him about it…

Father, what a gift you have given us through prayer. This open invitation to linger long in Your presence and discuss what’s pressing on our hearts. Thank You so much for the opportunity You give me every day. I so want my boy to know what a delight it can be. May my life resonate the power of prayer. So much so that he wants it, too. I know what You can do with little, Father. I’m offering myself to You to do just that. Work Your wonder, Lord. Show my boy the way…

How about you, friend? What steps have you taken to teach your child(ren) the power of prayer? What habits have you formed for your own prayer life? I’d love to hear.

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Simply striving,

Nikki

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27 thoughts on “Can You Teach One to Pray?

  1. I love how God gives you the opportunity to witness your son’s moments of growth. I bet when he’s older and he reads these stories he is going to have a great appreciation for his own journey with the Lord.

    I’ve always tried to teach my children that prayer is part of an ongoing conversation/relationship with our Heavenly Father. But, I remember, quite vividly, an incident where God gave us the same opportunity to teach our daughters about faith and the power of prayer.

    They were about 3, 5 and 7 years old. We were driving to Sesame Place in PA. We realized the sky was getting dark too early and we somehow got lost on a highway just as the warning lights along the highway were lighting up and signs were flashing telling us there was sever weather headed our way. We turned on the radio and the warning was issued to get off of the highway. The air in the car was thick and I could see the look of fear in their little eyes. You could say I made a mistake in allowing them to see our fear but God had a different plan this day. I turned around in my seat and we held hands as my husband continued to drive. I prayed a short, simple prayer for God to show Daddy where to go and to get us there safely. We agreed, said amen and sat back in our seats and waited. My husband turned off the highway where we found a pizza shop. We went in and as I was paying for food I noticed their back window and what looked like a giant rubber duck. I asked the server what it was and she said, “Oh, that’s Ernie’s rubber duckie. We’re behind Sesame Place.” I nearly dropped down on my knees. My girls eyes widened and we thanked God for not only keeping us safe but for bringing us right to our destination. We got back in the car, turned down the road and found a brand new hotel just across the street from Sesame Place where we were given a discounted rate and waited out the storm that night in the safety of a gorgeous family suite. They’ve never forgotten that story and I know that it wasn’t so much in a lesson but in a first-hand experience with God that they learned about prayer.

    I didn’t mean for this to be so long, but I had to share!

    • God is so good! Thank you so much for sharing that story! Oh the power of prayer…so grateful your children have witnessed it first hand!

      And the good thing? I believe my boy gets it about it being an ongoing conversation with our Father…as that’s why he was asking me the prayer questions, anyway — he asked me first who I’m talking to all the time when I’m not talking to him. Some may think I’m talking to myself, but really I’m not 😉

  2. Nikki, I love the way you are setting such a beautiful example for your child to understand how and to whom we pray. It is the way children learn, not by memorizing words. It is the way Jesus taught His disciples. I thank you because I am still learning too. How blessed we are to speak to the heart of God and know that He hears. Thank you and may you be blessed.
    Joy

    • Yes, my thoughts exactly! I don’t ever remember Jesus talking about prayer without being asked a question first…He just lived it. I was going to mention that in my post but didn’t want to misquote if I’m mistaken! Regardless, His example of the Lord’s Prayer was initiated with a question. And I can think of a handful of others. So thankful He gives us an example to follow!

  3. Nikki, when mine were small, the only way I knew or had to teach them to pray was by example, just the way Jesus has taught me. As you so beautifully shared, your bud showed you he has watched you the moment he looked into his hands and said his sweet prayer in a whisper. You are teaching him by example. Answering his questions is part of it too, just having that conversation. Letting him know you’re not afraid to talk about prayer and praying. Our example is what our children imitate . . . so keep doing what you’re doing — I think you’re on the right track. Remember we’re all still a work in progress in our relationship with Him and in our prayer life. I love this discussion about prayer. Thanks for starting it, and blessings on you, dear friend.

    • You know how to encourage me so well, Sherrey. Thank you for sharing with me. I can’t help but smile at how God is teaching me my new “One Thing” lately — to let go and let God… It seems to fit into every facet of my life! God is so good….

  4. Prayer is such a special way of talking, isn’t it? I was taught “rote prayers” as a child and it took me some time to get out of that habit. Now I try to show my girls that praying should be as natural as breathing. I’m not always sure that they understand always, but I pray the foundation is being laid.

    • Oh for it to be as natural as breathing…I love that, Aurie. Thank you for sharing! And you’re covering that foundation in prayer…I’m certain it’s being laid 😉

  5. I love the questions children ask and the way the Spirit works in their hearts. Prayer is intimacy with God, a time of sweet communion and laying our burdens down at His feet. May our prayer life reveal to our children the beauty of our relationship with Him. Great post, Nikki!

  6. This is a great post, Nikki. My kids are in college now, but we did what we called “arrow prayers” – as in shooting an arrow to God. We did it when an ambulance passed us in traffic or any other time something grabbed our attention. And pass a funeral home nearly every day, so any time the hearse was in position, we would pray for the grieving family.

    I’m with you in that I love the resources we have, but we can’t let ourselves be shackled to a formula or any other thing that takes our focus. Communicating with God in our most natural way: That’s what it’s about.

    Thanks for sharing, and for hopping over to my blog today!
    Hugs from VA 🙂

    • Arrow prayers — love that! Might have to use it if you don’t mind 😉
      Thank you, Susan, for stopping by and sharing with me. I’ve been enjoying our visits!
      Hugs to you from MN!

    • I’m so humbled and honored to have the chance, Michele-Lyn. You and I, we travel this SAHM road together and I grow more appreciative every day. Thanks for joining me here, friend!

  7. Our actions throughout the day are some of the most oft learned lessons of our child. So I pray. And sometimes, she prays with me. Sometimes, she asks me to be silent so she can voice her prayers… and oh are those cherished moments!

    • Oh, I pray, too, Dusty. So I pray as well. I’ve already decided–there is nothing sweeter than witnessing this relationship develop through a child’s prayers. ugh. I can’t get enough!
      Thanks for stopping by today!

  8. Oh Nikki what a precious moment with your little one!!!! We always pray as a family before dinner and I usually pray over Thomas as I nurse him to sleep–sometimes out loud, sometimes silently. When he’s struggling to obey and I’m at my wits’ end, I pray out loud for him. Just recently he started bowing his little head at the dinner table. I have to peek and watch him its just so precious.

    Thanks for linking up!

    • We are so kindred, Mary Beth. Yes, we pray at mealtimes and at bedtimes and times when we hear the sirens. This was the first day he instigated the prayer for the sirens! I nearly shrank into a puddle of joyful tears right there… There is nothing sweeter than watching a child with enormous faith bend low, is there! ugh. I can’t get enough!

      Thanks for letting me link up!

  9. I’m really enjoying reading your thoughts about prayer. And your experience in teaching your little one about it. 🙂 Last year for Lent, I wrote a 40 day (weekly) series on improving my prayer life. In that, I included teaching my children prayer. We used ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication + included intercession) as the formula for teaching our kiddos. Breaking it down and explaining each way to pray helped my 7yr old have a solid understanding for it. At least it seems she does. She also memorized the Lord’s Prayer and my heart melts when she says it aloud in church during the service prayer time. 🙂

  10. Our God is a God of relationships. And He wants nothing more than to have heart-to-heart conversations with you. In that statement you describe exactly what prayer is. As for your children, they will do what they see you do much more than do what you say. Just let them see you praying and they will learn how to pray. Very nice story.

    • Thank you so much, Mike. I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your wisdom with me. you’ve been through this I know! I’m seeing more and more this whole parenting thing is going to be more about letting go and letting God than anything else. A lesson I’m eager to learn!

  11. sweet, sweet…I do think if our kids see and hear a love relationship with our Savior…they will want to know our Friend too…you are leading well my friend…blessings as you love your little one to Christ:)

    • You bless me so, Ro. Thank you! I’m beginning to see it really doesn’t have much to do with me at all–this parenting gig. As long as I can learn to let go and let God take care of things. Be willing to follow Him instead of lead….

  12. What a precious prayer by your son. You are living out Deut. 4:9 as you model for him a life of prayer, and I agree there are different practices of prayer, but it is at its essence a relationship with God. Our children pick up on who and what we love, and your smart little one knows you love God. Love and hugs, Nikki 🙂

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