John Fuller: Here at Focus on the Family, we routinely receive prayer requests from children and they go something like this - uh, one girl wrote us and said, “Dear God, help me have a good education in life because I’m only 8, so I just started out in life.”
Jim Daly: John, I love these prayer requests. One of my favorites - and when I speak, I’ll often repeat this one - was a little 9-year-old boy who wrote a prayer request right here in our Welcome Center and said, “Please pray for my brother. He wets the bed,” which is a great prayer. Then he added, “And also pray for me. I share a bed with my brother.”
Those are heartfelt prayers. Uh, maybe even some more serious ones like a boy who is 8 asking that uh, if God would help his dad stop drinking so he could become healthy again. Um, really heartfelt things.
John: Yeah. Kids - kids are dialed in to life.
Jim: They know what’s going on. And to hear these prayer requests and to read them is such a life-changing moment.
John: Well, we’re going to be talking about children and prayer. And uh, this is Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim: And like we said, John, uh, children have such a capacity to connect with God in ways that we adults forget. You know, we forget to just be childlike...
Jim: ...With the Lord. And I think the Lord loves the heart of a child. And I think He even instructs us as adults to have more of that heart in coming to Him. Um, at the same time, a child’s spiritual life has to be nurtured. And we as parents have a role to play in that, probably the most critical role, to help nurture prayerful attitude toward the Lord. And I know many of us struggle with that because our lives are busy, we’ve got a lot on. But to stop and actually teach our children how to pray - I really uh, applaud my wife, Jean, because she is so good at getting the boys to pray over the meal and participate in that way. And uh, we’re hopeful as parents of two teenagers that that’ll continue in their adult life - that they will be praying young men.
John: Mmhmm. Yeah. This is an equipping program for us. This is a nuts-and-bolts kind of how-to-do-it prayer program. And uh, as you said, Jim, a lot of parents wrestle with this kind of responsibility. And we hear from so many moms and dads who want to equip their kids uh, in their spiritual development but just don’t know where to start.
Jim: That’s true. Uh, you know, for more than 40 years, Focus has been here trying to do that - equip parents. Today, we’re gonna talk with Dr. David Ireland. He’s the founder and pastor of Christ Church, a large multisite ministry in northern New Jersey. I didn’t know there were such a thing in northern New Jersey...
...As something spiritual. I’m just kidding, everybody in New Jersey.
John: Oh, man. We’re gonna hear from people now.
Jim: But uh, he’s the author of over 20 books. And he has often written and speaks about prayer, leadership, racial diversity. And uh, David, it’s a pleasure to have you here at Focus on the Family.
David Ireland: My pleasure, Jim. Thanks for the opportunity to come and speak to you and the listening audience.
Jim: And your wonderful wife, Marlinda, is in the audience as well, so...
David: Yeah. So I appreciate Marlinda coming with me. She said uh - when she found out I was invited - she said, “I have to come on this trip.”
Jim: Well, hopefully for Focus, but maybe because Colorado’s scenery is so nice. I don’t know. But it’s great. You’ve written this book,. Uh, I guess the simple way to start this is say why is this so important to you?
David: There’s no junior Holy Spirit. And our children - the best legacy we can leave them is a legacy - what I call a God legacy. Certainly, we can leave them money. We can leave them lands and houses. I don’t uh, knock that. But something far more important and more substantive is leaving our children a God legacy. Leave them an opportunity to have an encounter with God and to know how to talk with God.
Jim: Yeah. That is so good. Uh, let’s start with the role of Mom and Dad. Um, a lot of us think the church will fill this void. It’s the church’s role. You’re a pastor. You know, we take the kids to Sunday school, they’ll teach them how to pray. That’s not a good approach to this, is it?
David: It’s not. I mean, the church has the child or the children, maybe about 90 minutes once a week. And that’s not going to be the greatest influence in the life of the church, no matter how good that church is. And I’m a pastor, and I think that the role of a parent is a daunting role, and I don’t want to add another burden on a parent’s life because it’s already overwhelming when you think about, how do I mold and shape this little one? And when they become teenagers, how do I run away from them all of a sudden?
Jim: Hey, are you talking to John and me? What are you talking about?
David: How do I mold and shape them so that they can become, not only productive in society, but individuals that are expanders of the kingdom of God? And Marlinda and I have raised two children, and they’re adults now. And we’ve - thank God, we have been successful with the help of the Lord. And sometimes, we were successful because we stumbled on it accidentally. And I think the idea of training children how to pray, not in this mechanical, academic sense, but in an organic kind of lifestyle sense is something very essential.
Jim: And it’s so important for us as parents not to give that over to others. I know we’re busy. We can make excuses. I think, at times, I’ve done that. You know, they’ll get this at school, or they’ll get that at church. Um, but we need to be the primary caretakers of their spiritual development.
David: Absolutely, Jim. In fact, nowadays, a lot of parents are abdicating their roles. And they’re - they’re paying companies to teach their children things that - that we taught our children and - and other generations did. Like child-proofing your home - you could pay 1,250 bucks to a company and they’ll do that. Or you know, two sessions on how to prevent your child from - stop sucking their thumb - $4,300 if you want to have a two-session experience.
Jim: There’s an industry here.
David: And, you know, two-week potty-training with live instructor - $3,700.
Jim: Okay. That one might be worth it!
John: I can’t imagine a live instructor for that. That’s crazy.
David: Yeah. They’ll come and live in for a while. And then, you know, if you want to teach your children how to have manners - “Yes, Sir. No, Sir. Yes, Ma’am. Yes uh, no, Ma’am” - or to shake hands - $85.
Jim: That - now that’s astounding. The cheapest one of all is the manners training.
David: I know. So - and people are trying to now tell the church, you - “I’ll bring my child to you, and you train my child how to pray, and you train my child how to be godly. But I’ll do whatever I want to do.”
Jim: Well, that’s an interesting, uh, phenomenon. What you’re describing there is that in a country where we can now afford to pay others to do the things that traditionally was a parent’s role, we’re opting for the easy way - the comfortable way. “Hey, let’s just pay them to teach our kid not to suck his thumb.”
David: And - and it seems good when we think about it on a surface level. But when you think about it on a deeper level, a substantive level, we’re not only just thinking about what we’re doing to our children by abdicating our roles, but what we need to think about is the future of the church. And so we’re creating this church that is, what I would call, a cruise ship mentality versus a war - a warship. And Christianity is a warship and not a cruise ship. And when we don’t understand that, we’ll - we’re raising up individuals who are, quote, unquote, “Christians” to take over the helm of the church - the Lord’s Church globally - who will really have a cruise ship mentality.
Jim: I’ve never heard it put that way.
David: On the cruise ship, I’m here to be entertained. On a warship, I’m here to fight. I’m fighting against a culture. I’m fighting against the enemy of our soul. On a cruise ship, I look at - at the captain as the entertainment director. On a warship, I look at God, the captain, as the General of the Army. And it’s a different mindset. The cruise ship docks during wartime. The battleship sails during wartime. And when we abdicate our roles of being able to be parents that can raise up children that can engage the culture and be thriving and vibrant in their spiritual walk, we’re creating this cruise ship mentality. And we can never fulfill the Great Commission with that kind of perspective.
Jim: David, I really appreciate that. I think that’s an incredible insight - motivating, really, to think of it in those terms. But there are parents who feel guilty. Now I want to flip the coin and say, you know, what about the parents that haven’t had that revelation? They haven’t understood that that is their role. Maybe they didn’t have it modeled for them growing up, and they’ve kind of relaxed and thought, “Okay, God’s in control here. These kids belong to God. God will find a way to make sure they pick these spiritual disciplines up.” How do we not berate ourselves? How do we do our role? But how do we also trust that God is in control here?
David: That’s a great question, Jim. I think that the one way is that a parent must be able to acquiesce - acknowledge the fact that, “I’ve not been the greatest example or have modeled the aspects of my praying in front of my children, or even by myself.” When we ask God to forgive us, scripture teaches that He cleanses us from all unrighteousness. But then, when we do that, we create this new slate. We - if we have to - based on the age of our child, we have to say to our child, “I’ve not modeled this for you, and I realize I’ve done you wrong. And I want to correct that. Forgive me.” And I think that having that kind of sincerity in front of our children is another way of modeling authentic Christianity. And then saying, “Let’s learn together how to be individuals that have power on bended knees.”
Jim: That is so good. And my mind is just racing. Um, I love the concept here - raising a child who prays. So often, I think we as parents, who are hopefully more mature spiritually than our children - our teenagers - we can expect a lot out of them. And we forget this is a process. And what were we like at 13, 14, as a child with uh, you know, not a fully developed emotional brain yet? And they’re gonna make mistakes. We make mistakes. So how do you settle down and, I think, sidestep the fear trap that Satan can lay there for a parent who doesn’t see all the right behavior in their child? Or you know, they forget it’s a process. They’re wanting to see instant gratification.
David: And I think that when I talk about raising a child who prays, I talk about the sociological side of child rearing and the process - their mentality, and I talk about the spiritual side. And then I have a lot of prayer activities that engages the child based on their age. And so I tell the parent, “Parent, children don’t want perfect parents. They want real, authentic parents.” And likewise, parents don’t want - want perfect children. They want real, authentic children. So when a child makes a mistake, even when it comes to prayer, don’t stumble. And God doesn’t stumble.
In our children’s church, before the class starts, the teacher would invariably ask the child to pray, or children to pray, and pick some children. And I remember one of the teachers told me that in this 5-year-old class - 5, 6-year-old - they asked, uh, little Jimmy to pray. And Jimmy prayed, and he deepened his voice when he prayed, like a baritone voice.
He’s 5 years old. Somehow, he thinks that prayer requires that. And - and then afterward, Sally prayed. And when Sally prayed, she said, “God,” and she prayed specifically, “God bless my mom, and meet her needs. And then bless Elmo and Big Bird.”
She wanted the Sesame characters. And I think God has enough wisdom to be able to bifurcate the childishness of children, but yet also accept their prayers.
David: And so we must not stumble, as parents, with that.
Jim: What I would add, too, uh, especially for parents of younger children not to make fun of that ‘cause that can be a tendency. I could do that.
John: Yeah. To dismiss that.
Jim: Say, “Wait. What do you mean pray for Big Bird? What are you doing?” But be thoughtful about how you handle that in that moment because you’re teaching your children how to have an attitude of prayer. And if you tease them at that time, they may kinda go into a shell when it comes to prayer ‘cause they don’t know how to pray according to your desire.
David: And also, as parents, we are our children’s world...
David: ...During the developmental stages. And our evaluation of them, it really makes them and shapes them. If we affirm them and build them up and to give them their high-fives after they pray or just as they’re making any baby steps towards ongoing progress, it means a lot to them.
David: It’s not like a stranger’s words. Our words - our words have significant weight and heft in the mind of our child, and we have to be conscious of that.
Jim: Yeah. The other thing in - in the book that I really caught, and that is to create times of solitude for your child.
Jim: I thought, you know, for the most part, we’re still back on the cruise ship - that great analogy you just used earlier - as, uh, parents fear, I think, almost, is to keep your child entertained, engaged. And to give them times of solitude to think about these deep things, these spiritual things, what a great way to do that. But how do you achieve that as a parent?
David: I think we have to - it’s like a muscle you have to develop. If I go to the gym, I can’t just start off trying to bench press 300 pounds. Let me start off with - with 15.
Jim: John, when did you get to 300? I never hit that mark.
John: Um, still working on that. Bucket list kind of thing.
Jim: Yeah. We’re still progressing in that.
David: So am I. So am I. But - and I say to parents, based on the age of the child - the maturity, start off with, maybe, five seconds of quietness and solitude. Then go to 30 seconds.
Jim: Just take baby steps?
David: Take baby steps.
Jim: I like that. And then by the time, hopefully, they’re teenagers, they can spend 10, 15 minutes in solitude with the Lord.
Jim: And that’s a normal experience for them. That is really good.
John: Yeah. We’re talking to David Ireland today on Focus on the Family. He’s got a great book, one of many that he’s written. This one is called. And we have copies of that at our website, and we can also tell you more over the phone: focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And I will add, we’re gonna have more online from Dr. Ireland about his own journey and about how you can equip your kids. So make sure you stop by that website for more.
Jim: David, you speak about parenting, uh, with Mary and Joseph. Uh, what a daunting task they had to raise the son of God.
Jim: I mean, we don’t stop and think of it in those terms - that Mary and Joseph had to raise the son of God. So when Jesus is 3, 5-years-old, we don’t have much of a record - any of a record of - of that. Um, you know, what an amazing thing for Mary and Joseph to know what they’re doing there. How did you translate that into practical parenting advice?
David: Well, I think that I had to, first, humanize scripture because we seldom think of the human, practical aspects of Mary and Joseph mentoring and nurturing Jesus. And in this case, how do you mentor Jesus? He’s - he’s the son of God. And my answer came from looking at - you create a stable home, create a peaceful home. You create an environment where you - you know who you are, your identity, and you’re secure in who you are. And that brings a greater security to your children. So I looked at it from that vantage point, and then looked at scripture when Jesus was 12. And Mary and Joseph didn’t berate him. They didn’t belittle him, but they observed. They made note of - and that, again, further stabilizes. So I think sometimes parents - we have children that have personalities that are different than ourselves, or perhaps skill set and gifts in the elementary stages, but yet we can see that they’re gonna outgrow us. And as a parent, you want your children to outgrow you. And so we create a safe place for them and value them and affirm them when we see those differences.
Jim: Now here is the - the question of the day - and I - I’m sure if you go to Facebook - go ahead and post your personal opinion about this as a listener. So running in the house is not a sin.
So think of Jesus, who’s sinless. He’s running in the house. Mary having to say, “Jesus, stop running in the house.”
Now I know people are gonna respond to this, right?
John: I hope so.
Jim: “Running in the house is a sin.” It’s right there. But that’s the kind of thing that I just - your imagination can go with, you know? How did Mary discipline Jesus? How did Joseph discipline Jesus?
David: And I think that our - our - our banter and the lightness of - on some of these points is really speaking to a deeper issue that there’s this, what I call, the “4-14 window”, and that’s between the age of 4 and 14. According to the International Bible Society, 85 percent of people become Christians between that age.
David: And so as a parent, when you’re nurturing and training your children, you have this incredible window that influences them. And the stats are alarming. And so if we don’t seize the moment, then we may miss the moment. And that’s why it’s so necessary to encourage them that these spiritual values are essential to their formation.
Jim: Yeah. And I love that for parents to keep that in mind. That’s a wonderful, uh, statistic for us to be reminded of. You have a great story, being in South Korea and seeing children step up to this prayer callout. What happened there?
David: Yeah. I was invited into this International Leadership Conference. And so there were about 5-6,000 people from places like Mongolia, Indonesia, Vietnam, you know, what’s referred to as the 10/40 window countries, for the listeners to understand. And those countries that Jesus is not the friendliest person to them, or they are to him. And after the evening meeting, they had this prayer room that seats maybe about 300 people. So I decided to go to pray. It’s around 11 o’clock at night. So when I walked in - you can just sense the presence of God envelop you as I walked in. And then I heard these hearts open for the Lord. And I heard it. I knew it was open because of their words. And their words were, “God, give me Indonesia. I will serve you there. God, give me the nation of Iraq. I’ll go there. Give me, you know, Saudi Arabia. I want to spend my life there for You.”
And when I followed the trajectory of the voice, John and Jim, it was little kids laying on the floor - 8 years old, 10 years old - in their pajama outfit - Superman outfits and Cinderella pajamas. And they were crying out before God with tears rolling down their faces. And when I heard that, my knees hit the floor. And I said, “God, help me to really understand in a greater way who You are and the essential need to build a generation of children that love You.” And out of that came this book,, because I recognized God is not a grandfather. He’s a father to all. And there is no junior Holy Spirit. And these little kids, they were children of missionaries, but their parents were living in these countries. And these children were saying, “God, I’ll serve You there my whole life. Give me that nation.”
Jim: It’s such a convicting example, uh, where we aim so low for our children here in Western civilization.
Jim: And then you see and hear about stories like this...
David: They’re praying...
Jim: ...Where 8-year-old kids are praying for the nations.
David: Yeah. And our children praying for Nintendo items and new bicycle and - yeah. We - I look at that, I take part of the blame, as a - as a church leader, because I need to then create a culture and a confrontation so that our children, as well as their parents, have a greater perspective as to who they are and their value. I love what Rick Warren says. He says that one little boy said, “My father stands tallest when he’s on his knees.”
Jim: Wow. That is really powerful.
David: That’s all we need to get our parents to recognize, that you stand tallest before your children when you’re on your knees before God.
Jim: David, your personal, uh, spiritual journey was a rough one in some ways. Speak to your issue with your grandfather, who you did not meet until late in life...
David: I was...
Jim: ...And how that was profoundly impacting to you.
David: My family migrated from the small island nation of Jamaica and came to the States. I was 8 years old when I came to America. And - and I’d never met my paternal grandfather. And my maternal grandfather had passed. So I’ve never met any of my grandparents for that matter.
At 12 years of age, my dad brought all four of us Ireland children back to Jamaica because his dad was passing away - had a stroke, and he was just days away from slipping into eternity. And so I looked on this bed, and I saw this man. And I had never, as a 12-year-old, never seen anybody at that state before. And he looked very ashen, uh, discolored. And - and I was afraid. And he’s - half his body’s paralyzed. He couldn’t speak.
And with his good arm, his only functioning arm, he points to this chest of drawer on the other side of the room. And there are four black-covered books on top of it. I didn’t know what it was. And so his nurse brought those four books to his bedside. And then my dad lined up each of the children based on their age, and I was the third of the four. And when it was my turn, he - I didn’t wanna go forward and receive this gift from my grandfather. I was afraid. I didn’t - I was 12 years old. When I got closer and my dad pushed me forward gently, and when I went forward, he handed me this Bible. I didn’t even know what it was, didn’t understand it, had no reference point. And it said, “To David, from Grandfather.”
When I got back home to New York, uh, I didn’t really do anything with it. I put it in the, uh - my, uh, chest of drawers - the bottom drawer. And it didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t have a concept of it. But at age 20, when I came to know Christ as Savior was July 6, 1982, at 10 p.m. ‘Cause I had been an atheist, and so I had no concept of God, didn’t believe in God. But I had this powerful conversion. And when I said, “Lord, if you’re real, change me.” He changed me. And I remember I was - just finished my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at that point. And when I went home after the semester break, I just opened up that drawer, and there was that Bible from my grandfather. And all of a sudden, it meant something to me.
David: And so he didn’t leave me money or land. He left me this God legacy. And so it said - I read it maybe a hundred times where it says, “To David, from Grandfather.” And that’s what’s indelibly imprinted on my mind when I think about the scriptures and leaving a legacy for your children.
Jim: Hm. Yeah. And that is such a powerful story, David, of the impact a man can make. I mean, you knew him for minutes.
Jim: Not days. Not weeks. I mean, really, this is the first time you met him.
David: Just minutes.
Jim: Just minutes. But it made an eternal impact on your life. Um, let’s turn to some of the practical advice for moms and dads. Uh, you have some great ideas on how to make this really simple for parents who are listening. So let’s get to it. You list, uh, three ways that children can develop the healthy habit of daily prayer - one, having a place to pray.
Jim: A time. And then take it from there, place and time.
David: And an agenda. So I have three things to develop a habit of prayer - set a place of prayer, set a time of prayer and set an agenda of prayer. And when I say set a place of prayer, your children need a private space - a place where they can call their own. And you may say, “Well, I have so many kids, I - there’s no private space.” But let’s take a play out of the playbook of Susanna Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley. She had 19 children.
John: Not many of our listeners have 19.
David: I know. I can’t even count that high when it comes to kids. That’s like, wall-to-wall children. But yet, she had - every day, she had her own private place to pray. She had an apron that she’d wear around her waist, and she would throw it over her head.
Jim: Oh, man!
David: And she taught her children, “Whenever you see Mom in her place of prayer, never interrupt her.”
David: So we can teach our children, get a place of prayer - a private place. It could be part of the closet. They just push some of the clothing away, and that’s their place. Or it could be their favorite chair. Or it could be a favorite sofa. And they can take that place and - and pray when they’re there.
Then when I say set a time of prayer, I want it to be some formalized way, whether it may be right before they go to school for five minutes, or when they come home before they start homework or - or some time where it’s a formal meeting with God, where it’s an official time with God. The discipline of prayer is so important. And so they set that time. And so based on their age, again, I draw from Susanna Wesley. When her children were young, she taught them the - the Lord’s Prayer. She taught them to memorize it. And she taught them to then say it. Twice a day they had to say it. As they aged, she taught them then how to branch out in prayer in specific things - praying for your dad, praying for your mom. And I think we need to say that and teach that to our children.
The third thing, uh, Jim, I would bring out is this - and, John - is to set an agenda of prayer. An agenda is specific topics that - it’s important to us. It’s important to others. And when it comes to the agenda of prayer, that’s where I come into practical ways of habits and styles to make prayer engaging based on the ages - age of the child. Sometimes I say, “Let’s take the tallest person in your family.” Have your child pray for the tallest down to the shortest.
And then the next day, from the shortest to the tallest. And that’s one exercise...
John: Mix it up. Yeah.
David: Yeah. Mix it up.
Jim: That is good. You also talk about the five fingers of prayer. I really think this is helpful. What is it?
David: Yeah. If we take the thumb, which is the closest to us, and we’re saying, “Who’s someone close to us? What are they experiencing? Are they hurting? Are they going through a tough time?” Pray for that individual.
The pointing finger - someone in our life that gives instruction - a teacher, you know, maybe a coach, maybe a Sunday school teacher. Pray for that individual.
That middle finger - someone who takes a leadership role in our life. Pray for their - you know, whether it may be the president of our mom’s company or our dad’s workplace, or to pray for the - the principal at the school, or pray for the pastor of your church.
And then the ring finger speaks of a family member. And then you pray for a family member.
And then the pinky, you pray for someone that’s close, whether it’s a good friend, whether it’s, uh, you know, a buddy, whether it’s...
Jim: I like that.
David: ...Someone else in your life that you’re concerned about. And when you go through this five finger method, they hold their little fingers up, and they wiggle them. And they make it fun and engaging. And - and you make it enjoyable. And you go through this. You may say, “Well, that’s foolish. That’s silly.” It’s not. Our children - we need to engage them in ways that they can understand. As they mature and as they develop a life of prayer, we can pull away some of these kinds of methods and go on to larger methods where I use social media as a way to connect in terms of prayer styles and prayer habits.
Jim: And prayer journal.
Jim: All kinds of things that that could lead into. But it opens their heart up to the uh, practice of prayer.
Jim: David, this has been so good. Man, I have really enjoyed it. The time has flown by. And uh, let’s continue with a few questions for our web extra, so folks that want to join us at the website can do that. And uh, we’ll have two or three more questions for you. But man, thank you so much for being here, talking about the power of teaching our children uh, a prayerful life and the impact that it has on themselves and on the world around them. Thank you.
David: My pleasure, Jim. My pleasure, John. Thank you for the opportunity.
Jim: And if I can turn to you, the listener, I hope you’ll follow up with us on this topic of prayer. Dr. Ireland’s book,, is an excellent resource. And I recommend you get a copy of it. That’s how you can learn about what we’ve talked about today. If not for you, maybe for a young family you know of. We can send you a free copy of this book when you send a financial gift to support the ministry of Focus on the Family. This is our way of saying thank you for helping us equip and empower parents like we’ve done today.
John: Request your copy and donate at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
And coming up next time on Focus on the Family: why you need to take responsibility for challenges in your marriage.
Brad Rhoads: I didn’t see that I had a problem. I thought that I had a hypersensitive wife. I felt that, “Everybody else liked me fine, what’s her problem?” Staff seems to like me, clients seem to like me.
Jim: So, “I’ve got it together”?
Brad: Then I come home, and she doesn’t...
John: And she’s crying?
Brad: ...And she doesn’t like me.
End of Teaser
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