By Christina Fox
From a young age, children mimic those around them. They hold pretend phones up to their ears and carry on one-way conversations. They play dress-up and pretend to take their stuffed animal’s temperature, fight a fire, or cook a meal. Sometimes, they even take on a parental tone of voice, shake their finger, and correct the family pet.
This tendency to mimic others is seen in spiritual areas as well. Children learn from us how to pray by watching and listening to us pray. They fold their hands like we do. They say “Amen” at the end of prayers along with us. They learn quickly to ask God for help, healing, and provision. Because children learn by watching us, we can use prayer time to disciple our children in the faith. As we pray for meals, skinned knees, and discipline issues, we can be intentional in the words we use to teach our children more about God, who He is, and what He has done for them in Christ. Our prayers can be theological lessons that reach the heart of our young listeners, training them in the gospel of grace.
Four Ways Our Prayers Can Disciple Our Children
1. In Theology
When we praise and adore God for who he is, our children learn about His character. As we list His attributes in prayer, they learn that He is all powerful, all knowing, and in control of all things. They learn that He is merciful, loving, gracious, forgiving, holy, righteous, and just.
The Psalmist often listed God’s attributes in prayer: “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you” (86:5). The more our children hear these attributes and characteristics of God, the more these truths are planted in their hearts.
2. In Repentance
When we pray out loud with our children and include repentance in those prayers, they learn about our need for forgiveness and that only God can provide it. They learn that our sins are ultimately against God, not only against others: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:4).
We can pray through the gospel, voicing out loud with gratitude what Christ has done for us in His perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection to atone for our sins.
3. In Purpose
Our children learn about the purpose of prayer by listening to the substance of our prayers. If our prayers are only about asking for God to give us things, they will think that is what prayer is about. If our prayers only take place when life is hard, they will think prayer is only for emergencies. But when we pray in all circumstances, multiple times a day, praising God, thanking God, repenting to God, and asking for our needs and the needs of others to be met, they learn the multifaceted breadth to prayer.
When we pray to God, voicing our worries and cares out loud, they learn that God is the One we turn to for help: “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry” (Ps. 34:15).
When we pray both in times of joy and in times of sadness, they learn that we can come to God no matter how we feel and that He always hears us. When we pray for our government, church, missionaries, family, and neighbors, they learn that prayer is not just for us but also for the good of others.
4. In Trust
John Calvin wrote that prayer isn’t so much for the benefit of God, but for our benefit. It draws us into greater trust and dependence upon our Maker and Savior. As we witness God move in our life in response to our prayers, our faith is encouraged, and we are urged all the more to pray.
When we pray with our children, we must also reflect with gratitude on the ways God has answered our prayers. We need to rejoice with our children when God saves a lost relative, heals someone who was sick, and provides for a need for which we prayed. There have been times when I prayed with my children on the way to somewhere they were worried about going. God answered our prayers, and we rejoiced later over what God had done. I often refer back to those times and remind them that we need to be in prayer for those circumstances that worry them—whether it’s a doctor’s visit, a sporting event, or a test in school. The practice of prayer develops in us greater trust in our good Father.
Prayer is a wonderful privilege, gift, and means of grace. Not just for us, but for our children as well. As we pray with our children, may our prayers instruct and disciple them to know more of God, who He is, and what He has done.
As women of God, we have the great privilege of discipling the next generation—including our own children.