Christian educators know that one of the most valuable things we can teach children is how to pray. Many of God's chosen leaders learned to pray as children. King David learned to commune with God as a young shepherd boy on the hills of Judea. The boy, Samuel, heard the voice of God as he lay on his bed in the temple of the Lord. God still speaks to children today and wants to reveal himself to them through his Word, and through prayer. But how can we teach in a way that will not only instruct--but will inspire children to pray?
Inspired by Example
A good place to begin is with our own prayer life. Our students will sense the power of the Holy Spirit in our teaching if we have spent time in prayer through the week. In Luke 11 one of Jesus' disciples made a request, "Lord, teach us to pray..." The disciples saw the wonderful relationship that Jesus had with his Father through prayer--and they wanted this too! Likewise, children will have a greater desire to pray when they see evidence of an effective prayer life in people they admire. Parents and teachers who communicate freely with God are teaching by their actions that prayer is an important part of Christian living, and is a natural outflow of a close relationship with God.
It's important to use examples from Scripture as the foundation for our teaching on the subject of prayer. Don't underestimate the influence of a Bible story told with conviction, enthusiasm, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Stories such as; "The Boys Who Would Not Bow," "Daniel in the Lion's Den," "Hannah's Baby Boy," and "Peter in Prison," are all stories about prayer and God's intervention. Stories can be used to clarify the ways we can pray in a variety of situations. Follow up your lesson with discussions, Bible games, and developmentally appropriate learning activities. This will reinforce the lesson, and help the children understand how they can apply prayer in their daily lives.
Children also need to know that God has been working in people's lives throughout history.Stories of great Christians from our nation's history are an excellent resource for teaching children how prayer has influenced our culture. Add to this some current testimonies of Christian role models and testimonies from people in your own church. We don't have to look far to find examples of amazing stories of answered prayer.
Instruction is Essential
When we teach children about prayer we should take care to preserve their childlike faith. We should avoid making prayer seem too complicated, or give the impression that prayer is a formula, a ritual, or merely a church or family tradition. Prayer is really just talking, worshipping, and fellowshipping with Jesus our friend from our hearts. When children understand this they will be more likely to share all their feelings with the Lord, and come to Him with confidence. Children need to understand that they can talk to God about anything, no matter how big, or how small the problem. When we invite children to pray audibly in class we can expect many different kinds of prayers.
In the book, Children's Letters to God, there are many examples of how children see things. One example from the book is a letter from Jeff who says, "Dear God, It is great the way you always get the stars in the right places." Another one from Donny asks, "Dear God, is Reverend Coe a friend of yours, or do you just know him through business?" Children will pray in a natural way if they are not concerned about other people's reactions. Their prayers will also reflect their spiritual maturity, level of development, and their experiences with prayer at home and in church. It is the teacher's responsibility to set the emotional and spiritual tone in the classroom that will encourage children to pray, while at the same time gently guiding them into a greater understanding of prayer.
Although many of the children we teach have church backgrounds, we should not assume that they understand what prayer is all about. Many come from prayerless homes; others pray more out of habit, and some may even be influenced by false doctrine and have an erroneous concept of who God is. For this reason it is essential that we help students build a solid foundation for their prayer life.
• God wants his children to approach him as their heavenly Father.
• God's name is holy.
• We should pray for God's will (His plan for everyone) to be done on earth.
• God wants us to ask Him for the things we need each day. He cares for us.
• We need to ask God to forgive us for the wrong things we do, and to help us to forgive others.
• We should ask God to keep us from things that tempt us.
• We can ask God to deliver (rescue) us from evil.
• We should come to God with thankful hearts, and praise Him for the wonderful things He has done.
• We can come to the Father through Jesus. He is the only way to God. That is why we pray in Jesus' name.
• The Holy Spirit will help us pray when we're not sure how to pray.
• We can pray in the Spirit.
• We should pray for others. This is called intercession.
• When we pray believing--and according to God's will--we can expect the Lord to answer our prayers. We can expect miracles today!
• We can talk to God anytime and anywhere, because Jesus is with us all the time.
• We can trust God--even if He says no to our request because He knows what is best for us and is working out a good plan for us.
• When we have to wait a long time for an answer, we can trust that God is working things out for our good because He loves us.
Involve the Children in Prayer
As Christian educators we know that it's not enough to observe others praying, or to learn about praying; children need to experience for themselves the power of prayer. This is where we need good planning and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit to allow opportunities for children to enter into prayer during Sunday school and children's church. However, it's important to remember that prayer is a matter of the heart. As teachers, we can require respect and cooperation during prayer times, but we must rely on the Holy Spirit to change hearts and give boys and girls the desire to pray.
"Prayer is a matter of the heart."
Here are some ways to actively involve children in prayer:
• Ask volunteers to lead the class in prayer.
• Provide time for students to give praise reports of answered prayers. Make a class praise book with a page for each child to draw or write about something they are thankful for.
• Break up into small groups for a discussion on how God answers prayer. Shy children will be more likely to ask questions in this setting. Follow this up with small group prayer.
• Keep a class record of prayer requests and answers to prayer. Be sensitive to requests of a more personal nature that should not be recorded. Pray for the requests during the week.
• Have children make individual prayer journals in class. Then provide time each week for them to record their individual requests and answers to prayer. The journals can be sent home at the end of the quarter, and serve as a permanent reminder of God's working in their lives.
• Challenge your class to memorize key prayer scriptures using a variety of teaching methods that involve active participation. Make sure the children understand the meaning of the verses. Use these scriptures during prayer times to reinforce the application of the verse.
• Use a globe or world map when praying for missionaries to increase an awareness of worldwide missions, and compassion for people in other parts of the world. Have a child hold the globe as you pray.
• Invite children with special requests to come for prayer during your praise and worship time. In a large class you can have other teachers pray with children individually while the main teacher continues to lead the rest of the group in worship. This can also be done at the close of the lesson. Allow time for the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of the children, be sensitive to His leading.
• When a child requests prayer for a significant event, such as a family move, or surgery, invite your class to pray for the child by forming a prayer circle by joining hands and praying as a group, or individually around the circle.
As Christian educators we know that it's not enough to observe others praying, or to learn about praying; children need to experience for themselves the power of prayer.
Allow opportunities for children to enter into prayer.
This is where we need good planning and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit to allow opportunities for children to enter into prayer during Sunday school and children's church. However, it's important to remember that prayer is a matter of the heart. As teachers, we can require respect and cooperation during prayer times, but we must rely on the Holy Spirit to change hearts and give boys and girls the desire to pray.
Yes, prayer changes things and people! When we provide examples that inspire, instruction at the child's level, and opportunities for involvement, we will see spiritual growth and development in our children that will be the foundation for a lifetime of exciting adventures in prayer.
Written by Verda Rubottom
© Gospel Publishing House. All rights reserved. Used with permission.