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Teaching Children About Prayer

This post challenges Christian parents to help children grasp the depths and truths of what prayer really is by using fun games and a visit to a vending machine!

Most childhood prayers consist of grace before dinner, a bedtime prayer and prayers for sick puppies. While these are certainly important, Jesus instructed his disciples to not hinder the children from coming to Him.  Are we in anyway hindering our children from coming to Jesus in prayer?  Can we do more to open up our children’s understanding of the depths of prayer? Let’s take a closer look at this very important topic of children and prayer.

The Form versus Function of Prayer

Everything is prayer-worthy.  The Bible instructs us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) and “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Eph 6:18).  Children who pray for a DS or a hamster for their birthday are certainly praying along these lines.  But we need to do our part to teach them the difference between the function and form of prayer.

The form of prayer is the asking: what language we use, how we say it, where we pray, etc. Kids seem to grab this concept early on.

The function of prayer, however, is different. The function of prayer is to put the asker in a place of submission.

As an adult, when I want a drink of water, I don’t have to ask anyone for it – I just get it.  I am not in submission to anyone regarding this issue.  However, if I want a raise, I can’t just give myself one.  I would need to submit myself to my boss and ask.  When we ask for what we want of a Holy and Majestic God, we are submitting to Someone greater than ourselves.

We can teach our children about this concept of submission in a couple of fun ways:

  1. Play “Mother May I.”  This is a great game that can help children really grasp this concept of submission.  If you forget how to play, click here.
  2. Play “Cross the Room.”  Blindfold one child and stand him on one side of a large room.  Place some obstacles on the floor.  Instruct another child to verbally direct the blindfolded child across the room, avoiding any obstacles. The better the blindfolded child listens and submits to the instructions of the giver, the more successful the trip across the room will be.

After playing these games, talk to your children about the benefits they noticed that come from submission.

Correcting False Ideas about Prayer

One of the most spiritually crippling things that we can do is to teach our children that God wants them to be happy.  There is simply no biblical support for this assumption.  God wants His children to be holy (“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16).  If we think otherwise, we run the risk of teaching our children that God is their personal vending machine: put a quarter in (a prayer) and the item I select comes out (my answer).

There are two problems with this mentality.  First, when the answer is not provided as asked, the child can become disillusioned with God, thinking that God isn’t listening or that He does not care.  Second, unbeknownst to the asker, there are a whole host of other things in that “vending machine” that God really wants us to have – things like righteousness, self-control and patience.  The problem is that these healthy “fruits” don’t look as tasty as that Snicker’s bar we have our eye on.  We think we have all the information in front of us to make the right request.  But our sight is limited.  Our understanding is feeble.  God sees the bigger picture and as our Father, He knows what is best for us.  We need to teach our children to push a button and thank God for whatever slides out the bottom.

Create a Teachable Moment

We can illustrate this concept with our children the next time we have access to a vending machine.  Talk about prayer being like the quarter (who are we kidding? A dollar).  Before you push the button, you can ask: “What are you going to select?” “How would you feel if you got what was in C6 instead?” “How would you feel if you got something better than you asked for, like two candy bars or a jumbo sized one?”

You can then talk about how praying to God and vending machines have some things in common:

  • Both are available at any time of the day.
  • Both have good things to offer.
  • Anyone can use them.

You will also want to address some important dissimilarities:

  • We control a vending machine, we don’t control God. (Read Job 38-42:6 for a big slice of humble pie.)
  • Vending machines are limited in their offerings, God is not. (“If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14:14).
  • Vending machines give us what we want; God gives us what we need. (“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Matthew 6:31-32).
  • God’s blessings are free. (“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” 1 Corinthians 2:12)
  • Jesus is the way to the Father, not money. (“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6).

The next time you are near a vending machine, consider using it as a “teachable moment” to share with your children the truths about prayer.

Image by Marcia bispo Bença from Pixabay
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

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About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and moms in Connecticut. She is the author of More Than a Conqueror, A Christian Kid's Guide to Winning the War on Worry. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of the things she is most passionate about: God's word, parenting and mental health.

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