Teaching Kids how to Pray Biblically
Prayer is an essential practice of the Christian life. God is the God who hears prayer and answers the cry of the afflicted. Through prayer, we as believers in Christ express our dependence, adoration, confession, intercession, thanksgiving, and supplication to God. But how should parents and teachers instruct their children about prayer? What truths about prayer must be taught, and what errors must be avoided?
First, parents and teachers must define prayer rightly. Prayer happens when someone approaches God in reverence and speaks to Him. In prayer, we express our hearts to God. This is extremely important to get right because some children’s curricula falsely teach that prayer is a two-way conversation between us and God—that is, they teach that God speaks back to us through prayer. But prayer is not a two-way conversation. God does not speak to us through prayer, whether in audible or inaudible ways. God has spoken in His Scriptures and in His Son (Heb 1:1–2, 2 Pet 1:16–21, Ps 19:7–11). Therefore, children must know that prayer is not a practice whereby God talks to us. It is a practice whereby we talk to Him.
Second, parents and teachers must understand that true prayer is an evidence of regeneration and not the cause of it. Scripture testifies that sin separates man from God so that God does not hear the prayers of the wicked (Isa 59:1–2; Ps 66:18). When God regenerates a person’s heart, he or she will joyfully and truthfully cry out to Him in prayer. Does this mean that parents should discourage their children from praying until they have assurance of their child’s salvation? Not at all. Jesus accepted all children who came to Him and rebuked His disciples for turning them away (Mark 10:13–16). However, parents (and teachers) should understand that a child may pray to God for many reasons. They may pray because they love their parents, want to please them, or want God to bless them apart from true faith. Parents need much patience as they seek to discern God’s work in their child’s heart. There may be a temptation to produce a practice of prayer in children when their hearts are still far from God. Therefore, while a child who desires to pray to God must never be discouraged from doing so, parents and teachers must be careful to teach (and show by example) that true prayer is an overflow of a changed heart. Jesus Himself is the best example, for He maintained a pure and devoted prayer life throughout His ministry and taught His disciples how to pray.
Third, children must be taught that God is sovereign over all things. Prayer does not change God’s wise purposes. When we pray to God, we are not asking Him to alter His perfect will or change His mind. God is perfect—any change in His purpose would admit error in Him! Yet while God has determined the end from the beginning (Isa 46:8–10), He has also ordained the means to achieve His purposes. God has designed that His perfect purposes are accomplished by His people praying to Him. What an incredible truth! God has ordained that Christians participate in the working out of His will on earth in their prayers. In other words, God does answer prayers because He is determined to accomplish His will through those answers. As parents and teachers seek to encourage prayer in their children, they must foster a love for the biblical God who is in control of all things. Because He is in control, we have the confidence to pray to Him all the more.
Finally, children should be taught that God will answer the prayer of the repentant sinner. Jesus told the story of the tax collector who was unwilling to raise his eyes to heaven toward God, but he beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” Jesus declared that this man went home justified before God (Luke 18:9–14). All who humble themselves and cry for mercy to God through the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved. J. C. Ryle wrote in his work, Do You Pray?, “But that a man can have salvation without asking for it, I cannot see in the Bible.” Therefore, parents and teachers must hold the doctrines of regeneration and faith together. God grants the new birth, but when He does, the sinner will believe and cry out to Him in prayer. Children must know from their earliest memories that God will answer their prayer for salvation through repentance and faith. Christ will not cast out any who come to Him (John 6:37).
Parents and teachers must model believing prayer for their children and pray themselves that God will grant them new hearts to believe in Jesus. When God gives new life, all of the seeds sown by parents and teachers in prayer will begin to bear fruit in their children’s lives. Until then, may God be pleased in our prayers on their behalf, and may He be pleased to continue to welcome all child-like faith in Him.