Have you ever had someone start talking over you while you pray for them? And not by accident—like, forcibly demanding your attention with zero care for your gracious prayer on their behalf? If the answer is yes, you might be a parent. My almost two-year-old displays some serious impatience when I’m praying for her at bed time and she has other plans. While I’m cautious of smothering her in religious ritual, I know how formative that time will be for her. Nothing will impact our children’s worldview and habits more than what we as parents model and nurture. Here’s some insight I’ve gathered from working in youth ministry for the last decade. As a parent:
Thank God for who He is, not just for the things He’s given us
If your default prayers with your kids are like mine, you probably thank God for tangible things like your cozy house and the food you just ate together. It’s easy to look around their bedroom and thank God for all the nice things they have. Yet if we’re not careful, we’ll tie God’s goodness to the things we have rather than to who He is. When we thank God for His provision, it’s important to also thank God for what He’s promised, even if it’s hard to see. God promises to provide for those who love Him. He’s also providing for more than just our physical needs. God provides for our emotional needs, our mental needs and our spiritual needs. When was the last time we prayed with our kids and thanked God for rest (Matt. 11:28-30)? Have we ever thanked God for helping us with our mental health or our anxiety (Psalm 57:1)? Our children are learning how to pray based on how we model it.
Openly repent of your failures as a parent to God and to your kids
What were some of the most endearing times for you with a parent? Some of the most heartfelt and binding moments with my parents were when they openly repented for messing up. When parents admit to their failures and ask God and their kids for forgiveness, there’s something tremendously powerful about it. For kids of all ages, it gives them a sense of dignity and maturity. How cool is it that mom and dad could apologize to me like I’m an adult? The alternative is a devastating miss, not modeling what true repentance looks like. By not openly repenting to God and our kids, we run the risk of fostering selfish kids who don’t take responsibility for themselves and their actions.
Pray that God would help make us new, everyday
One of my pastor friends, David Hertweck, shared this idea with his audience a few years ago. If we tried to explain sanctification to our kids, we’d probably be pretty lost. To be fair, I’m not sure I fully understand how the process works myself. One thing we know for sure, however: we’re messed up and God continually helps to make us into a new creation. One of the most beautiful and teaching things we can pray for with our kids is the desire for God to make us new. We’re broken, wandering and selfish. We thank God for His ability to turn our affections to Himself and for the new people He inspires and empowers us to be. Thank you, God, for making us new.
Speak from the heart—you won’t impress anyone with lofty words
“Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for this food and we pray that you would nourish this food to our bodies, amen.” This is quite possibly the worst prayer ever. Yet, it’s one I’ve repeated myself and have heard over and over from some of the people I love most. What’s the big deal? Well, praying for God to nourish you with a meal of strictly pizza and soda is a prayer request I’m not sure even God can meet, considering the lack of nutrients! More importantly, though, the heart of our prayers often gets lost in the comfortable repetitions we pray. When we’re hungry and want to eat, it’s easy to skip over prayer as a time of genuine gratitude. I thank God for parents who prayed at every meal, and I’m inspired to pray from the heart as I continue to build on their faith legacy.
Whether you’re praying before a meal, with your kids at night, or any time in between, it’s easy to get caught up in taking an extra-reverent and serious tone with God, using fancy words. Just remember that your kids are experts at identifying your authenticity or lack thereof. There’s nothing much more embarrassing than a parent who prays differently around others than how they communicate in real life. Your kids can tell if you pray regularly based on how comfortable you are communicating with God publicly. The best prayers my parents prayed were from the heart, unscripted and often messy. Pray from the heart and have a genuine conversation with God. Your children are learning from you how to have a lifelong relationship with their Creator.
By praying on a regular basis with our children, we have the privilege of modeling what it looks like to actively engage with and respond to our Creator. What a beautiful gift to pass on. By thanking God for who He is, repenting openly, praying for new affections and speaking from the heart, we can help our kids understand how to connect with the Savior of the universe—a path to lifelong fulfillment as they live dependent on God’s spirit.
For More Resources, see:
Attributes of God Infographic by Visual Theology
How to Teach Kids to Live a Prayer Filled Life by Sam Luce
On Mission to Your Children by John Murchison