How can we make family prayer a priority? We're a Christian family and my spouse and I are eager to raise our kids in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Can you give us some helpful pointers in this area? Our children are small, and it's been a real struggle to make prayer times engaging for them. Do you think we should keep trying? Or should we just wait until they're older?
Prayer is the life-breath and heartbeat of a truly Christian home. It's also one of the best ways to help your family thrive. When you pray together, each member of the family learns what it means to be intimate with God. When you see answers to prayer, you experience His love and His presence in your daily lives. For this reason, we'd suggest that there's no time like the present to introduce your children to the mystery, joy, and excitement of prayer.
To say this another way, prayer is vital because it provides a practical demonstration of the importance of faith. Indeed, praying together is one of the most critical things you can do to pass your convictions on to the next generation. Kids need to see genuine faith acted out in their parents' lives. Actions speak louder than words. So let your children hear you bringing your needs and requests before the Lord in an attitude of humble expectancy. When they do, they'll get the idea that our Heavenly Father can be trusted to guide us through every situation we encounter in life. This can lead to some important and deeply meaningful discussions about spiritual things.
The benefits of prayer don't stop there, of course. In addition to strengthening each individual's connection with God, prayer has the side effect of deepening interpersonal relationships. It encourages family members to become more sensitive to one another's feelings. Prayer is all about intimacy – with the Lord and with one another. The familiar, time-worn saying is true: families who pray together stay together. That's because shared experiences of prayer quickly become opportunities to express mutual love, forgiveness, and grace. It's hard to hold on to grudges and cherish resentments when we're on our knees together before the Lord. As an act of shared intimacy, prayer creates family cohesiveness and strengthens the bonds between husband and wife, brother and sister, parent and child.
Your family prayers will be successful to the extent that you can gear them to your children's immediate needs and interests. This doesn't have to be a difficult assignment. Just keep their level of maturity in mind. Use language they can understand. Remember that simplicity is the key at every stage of the developmental journey. As Bible scholar and teacher Dale Bruner puts it, "A little bit will do it. Prayer isn't a 'briefing session' for God."
Teach your kids that prayers don't have to be long, formal, and fancy. When you're together, offer up short, spontaneous, conversational prayers. Emphasize the importance of relationship rather than religion. Make generous use of words like please and thank you. Do everything you can to help your children fall in love with Jesus. Cultivate an awareness of God's presence in the details of everyday life. Touch the flowers and pet the kitten. Marvel at the beauty of the snow-capped mountain. Spend time celebrating the creative brilliance of the One who made these wonders.
It's also important to look for chances to bless your kids in Christ's name. Model intimacy with the Lord. Show your children by example what it means to talk to Him as a person speaks with a familiar friend (see Exodus 33:11). Use bedtimes, mealtimes, disciplinary actions, conversations in the car, and discussions about childish fears and phobias as opportunities to help your kids trust the Lord and get comfortable in His presence. As they grow, pray with them about their personal struggles (Philippians 4:6). When answers come, draw attention to them by thanking God for what He's done. Keep a list of answered prayers on the refrigerator door.
If your family is new to this kind of thing, avoid the temptation to manipulate or push. Remember, prayer is about relationship, and relationship is something you can't force. So keep your early approaches to family prayer as light and casual as possible. Start by talking about your kids' achievements, accomplishments, and positive experiences. Let times of prayer and thanksgiving flow out of sharing your joys. If a child doesn't want to participate, don't overreact and make a scene. Instead, wait until later and look for a chance to sit down and talk with him about it. Ask why he's uncomfortable taking part in family prayers. If it's appropriate, be vulnerable about your own doubts, fears, and feelings of inadequacy in the presence of God.
For some practical ideas to get you started, we suggest you take a look at Parents' Guide to the Spiritual Growth of Children, published by Focus on the Family and Tyndale House. You can also gain some excellent insights into creative ways of enhancing the spiritual aspects of family life from Gary Smalley's and John Trent's classic book The Blessing. Both resources are available through our ministry and can be ordered by way of Focus on the Family's Online Store.
If you think it might be helpful to discuss these ideas and suggestions at greater length with a member of the Focus team, our staff counselors would consider it a privilege to speak with you over the phone. They can also provide you with a list of referrals to trained therapists practicing in your area. Contact our Counseling department for a free consultation.
Inviting God Into Your Marriage: Gary and Barb Rosberg tell how you can invite God into your marriage by praying and sharing together.