Teaching Children to Pray
God created us as dependent creatures. We were made to fall on our knees and pray. Men either worship self through the world, the flesh, and the Devil, or by God’s grace, they worship him. God fashioned our hearts with an overwhelming sense and insatiable desire to commune with him. Therefore, we pray not primarily because we must; we pray because we cannot help but pray. In prayer, we go to our father because there is no one else to whom we can go, no one else to whom we can turn, no one else who can hear, and no one else who will answer. We pray out of utter helpless dependence, and we pray out of sheer inexpressible delight. We pray amidst the depths sorrow when words fail us entirely, and we pray amidst the heights of delight in moments of transcendent synchronicity when our words seem entirely inadequate as we pour out our soul’s deepest affections to our Lord with joy inexpressible.
In one sense we don’t need to be taught to pray, nor, in one sense, do we need to teach our children to pray. If they were chosen by the Lord from before the foundation of the world, he will sovereignly regenerate their hearts unto new life in Jesus Christ. As a natural result of their conversion, they will pray, they will love to pray, and they won’t be able to keep themselves from praying. Contrary to Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion (p. 354), we aren’t brainwashing our children by deceitfully indoctrinating them with religious rites and religious labels. If our children are eternally God’s beloved covenant children, he will most graciously rip out their rebellious hearts of stone and implant within them new hearts with his law written upon them and give them a sincere desire for divine communion. For just as the Lord, as the primary cause, has sovereignly ordained the ends of all things, so he has ordained the means of all things, including our prayers for our children.
The Great Commission begins at home. Whenever we can and wherever we are, when we rise up and when we walk along the way, we teach our covenant children all that Christ commanded us (Deut. 6; Matt. 28). We teach them what it means to love God, know God, hear God in his Word, confess to God, worship God, and commune with God, as well as what it means to love our neighbors, forgive our neighbors, and pray for our neighbors to the end that we would glorify God and that by grace our neighbors might know him and glorify him as God.
Before we even can commune with our children, we are communing with God in their behalf. The first thing we do with our children is pray for them and with them, even as they mature in their mother’s womb. As we disciple and teach our children to pray, it is crucial that we train them in the fear and admonition of our gracious Lord without them fearing us or us provoking them to rebellious anger.
We ourselves need to know more about what prayer is and what prayer isn’t if we are going to teach our children in a way that equips them to pray genuinely on their own, in our absence, just as Jesus taught his disciples to pray upon their request. Incidentally, their request was a prayer in itself: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11).
To get to the very heart of what prayer is, we can define it in the following way: Prayer is our genuine communion with God our Father, through the Holy Spirit, because of Christ Jesus. While prayer certainly includes praise and adoration, confession of our sins and forgiveness of others’ sins, thanksgivings, and supplications (requests), in its essence, prayer is simply our genuine (intentional and sincere) communion (fellowship of praise, confession, forgiveness, thanksgiving, supplication) with God. As our children mature, we can continually explain to them what prayer is. As they grow by God’s grace they themselves will be able to identify more and more with even greater, more all-encompassing explanations of prayer as it’s explained and modeled biblically.