It can be heartening and welcoming for Christian parents when their child begins to show an inclination toward. It is important, however, that such children receive instruction in exactly how and when to pray. If your child comes to regard prayer in the wrong way, then they will likely become disillusioned when the practice does not yield the expected results.
What is prayer?
As with most things, it is always best to begin from first principles when teaching a child about prayer. Prayer is not only the act of addressing God. With practice prayer becomes a form of meditation, leading to greater self-awareness and a better understanding of others and the world around us.
Prayer comes in many forms. There are formal prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer; there are also informal prayers – private words in God’s ear which believers engage in periodically. Both require explanation.
If you take your child to church, where everyone recites the Lord’s Prayer in unison, they will become familiar with its words. But this is pointless without an appreciation of the meaning behind these words. The language of the bible is steeped in metaphor – not to mention myriad ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s – which a child will have difficulty deciphering. The Lord’s Prayer is no exception. Your child might conceivably have questions:
– What exactly is “daily bread” and why isn’t it included in my packed lunch?
– “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” What will be done? What does ‘thy’ mean?
– What does ‘Amen’ mean?
If your child is particularly young, you might not be able to explain that the word ‘will’ can be a noun. For this reason, you might wish to buy your child a book of prayer written in more contemporary language. This will be far more forgiving and more easily understood. Eden and Scripture Union have a wide choice to choose from. There might be words and ideas that you can also use at home with your children. Your church might also have special activities to help.
Informal prayer also requires a degree of instruction – though it is far more intuitive and direct. Those that pray do so according to their own ideas of what God is and how He would prefer to be addressed. You don’t need to talk in sixteenth century English – you can, if you’d like – talk in much the same way that you’d talk to a friend or family member. Indeed, God will likely understand your meaning better than you do. After all, a God that didn’t wouldn’t be much of a God.
It is not sufficient, however, to say ‘talk to God about whatever you’d like’. Children must also be taught why they should be praying – and what for.
Why should I pray?
There are three main reasons why someone might wish to pray to God.
The most common use of prayer is to make requests of God. Such requests, however, come with a number of conditions. A great many misguided prayers are rooted in selfishness. This is especially true of children. Needless to say, prayer is not a route to a lottery win, a promotion or a romantic liaison; neither is it a means by which your child will procure a videogame or sway the outcome of school sports day. To regard it as such is to invite disappointment.
Children might, on learning this, come to question the efficacy of prayer. It is important to treat these doubts honestly. There have been a myriad of empirical studies into the efficacy of prayer, all of them following much the same methodology. A large number of sufferers of a potentially fatal disease are polled to find out whether they pray. Those polled are divided into two groups – those that pray, and those that do not pray – and then the mortality rates between the two groups are compared. The hypothesis beings that, if prayer were ineffective, then those that pray will be far less likely to succumb to their illness. Of course, in all of these studies, those that pray are no less likely to die than those that don’t bother.
It is crucial to be honest with your child about this. The foundation of Christianity is faith in Jesus Christ. If a belief in God were to hinge on evidence, this faith would not be required. Whatever God is, He is not a magician who will swoop to the aid of his followers at every invitation.
Christians believe that God exists and that he knows everything and sees everything. If this is true, it follows that He will hear prayers – even if you don’t pray out loud. Of course, you might wish to pray out loud anyway – and this is fine, too. God will be able to discern everything you might possible want to say before you’ve even said it.
As human beings, we have a great deal to be thankful for. We enjoy unprecedented access to food, shelter, as well as technological wonders like smartphones and the internet. Some things, however, require a thank you which is more spiritual in nature.
If your child has a particular affection toward the music of One Direction, then there are a number of people whom they might want to thank for its existence. Your child might want to write them some fan mail. If, on the other hand, your child is struck by the majesty of mountains, forests and the night sky; for their capacity to love and joy. This is a gratitude for which there is no obvious recipient. Prayer forms a conduit for that gratitude.
Children, like adults, may feel guilty from time to time. Prayer may represent a worthwhile avenue for their contrition – though parents should also ensure that their children feel comfortable confessing their most concrete crimes. If your child feels envious from time to time, then they might take that up with God. If your child has inadvertently fed the dog anti-freeze, you will want them to tell you about it.
When should I pray?
Once you have impressed on your child what prayer is and why it is done, there is the more practical business of finding the time and space in which to do it. There are many occasions in which your child may wish to pray. Prayer requires seclusion. As such, the best opportunities usually occur immediately before bed, or immediately upon waking. Prayer might seem most necessary during times of great stress – in children, this may be before starting at a new school, or immediately before exams, or during minor bouts of depression.