Teaching Kids to Pray Boldly
Note: This is Part 1 in a four-part series of posts on teaching our children to pray boldly and confidently by seeing Jesus as King and Redeemer and allowing this to shape how we pray with and for our kids.
It is the rhythm of our lives.
A fitting ending to a series of rather normal days. Days full of busyness, school work, extracurricular activities, baths and bedtime.
If your house is like our house, the end of the day is a mixture of rushed dinners, requests for one more minute of television, herding small children toward a waiting warm bath, repeated requests to pick up the day’s accumulation of clothes and toys, a chorus of children insisting they aren’t really tired and that it’s too early for bedtime, and continuous reminders that not brushing and flossing will put holes in your teeth. If we could just get them each in bed, surely they would finally slow down!
But then, the real routine begins!
Each kid has their own unique series of requirements, but all with the same common theme: “Just One More!” One more favorite book. One more make-believe story of lands far, far away. One more video of funny animals doing silly things. One more minute of cuddles. One more stuffed animal which is our new favorite of all-time. One more insistence that it is too hot…or too cold – but never just right. One more potty break. One more sip of water. One more hug offered to an unwilling sibling. One more tear suggesting we didn’t do something enough times or just the right way.
But, it always ends with the same – a goodnight prayer.
Usually a formulaic, ordinary prayer that includes an admonition to our kids to continue to grow up as Jesus did, “in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man,” (Luke 2:42) and the announcement over our children the promises made in Scripture concerning God’s desire to protect those who are His children: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone…with long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:11-12, 16)
But, one night my wife or I simply praying FOR our kids every night didn’t seem totally sufficient. So, I made a simple request to my son, “Would you like to pray?”
He said, “Sure!” Then looked at me longingly. I assumed he just wanted me to give him a place to start. So I offered, “Dear Jesus, thank you for…” He filled in the blank. Then he waited. I offered, “Jesus, please help me…” He filled in the blank. Then he waited. Again, I offered, “Jesus, continue to bless my family by…” And, I offered an “Amen.” It was an odd occasion. Something felt strained about the prayer. Forced.
Was it possible that he didn’t…
Surely not! It couldn’t be!
Then I admitted it – I am not sure my son knew how to pray. When I say “how,” I mean his words were not his own. Had I inadvertently turned his prayer life into something worse than mundane…just absent?
How had I missed such teachable moments? Had the routineness of our praying times together left his little heart wanting more? He didn’t need a formula; what he needed was confidence and boldness.
I had failed him in a most important way. After all, by vocation I am supposed to be a professional at praying. Trained since college as a pastor, I proclaim the Gospel to our congregation every week, challenging them to pray boldly and approach Jesus’ throne of grace confidently.
I felt like I had missed the mark with my own kids, and it was a mistake I was going to fix!
This realization sent me on a journey to answer one important question: “How can I teach my kids to pray boldly?”
You know what I found?
It’s hard, especially with kids, to not turn their relationship with Jesus into a formula of dos, don’ts, and moralism. I long for something more for my kids. I never want the Bible to become an instruction manual only sought after in times of crisis and trouble.
I want my kids to read the Bible as a grand metanarrative that reveals a God who is outside of time and space, who entered into time and space so He could be known by the people whom He created in His own image.
I want my kids to know that Scripture is a grand adventure that reveals an epic hero sent to rescue all people. I want my kids to know every word on every page of all of Scripture tells one story about one person.
I want my kids to know that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who saves sinners and has prepared a place for them to spend eternity. But how could I use these desires to teach my kids how to pray? That was the challenge.
So, I went to the Scriptures. Peppered throughout the narrative of biblical history we find the nature of Jesus, both to those who were expecting his arrival and those celebrating it, revealed in a series of portraits. In the Old Testament we see Jesus as the Passover Lamb, Great High Priest, Great Prophet, Anointed One, Lord of our fathers, Captain of the Lord’s hosts, Deliverer, and Good Shepherd.
In the New Testament the portraits get more specific, including four unique Gospels. The first four books of the New Testament are four separate accounts, by four separate authors writing each writing his version of a “good news” or “gospel” story. But like four different painters who could look at a beautiful landscape and paint stunning scenes with different focal points, these good news writers each tell their own story of Jesus.
Other books of the New Testament describe Jesus as teacher, servant, husband, miracle worker, physician, Lord, philosopher, and champion returning on a white horse to take his people home.
Two portraits stood out among them all. First, buried in the book of Ruth, there is a beautiful portrait of Jesus. For Ruth, Boaz was her kinsman redeemer who restored her dignity and gave her new purpose. Boaz was a shadow of the coming Messiah. And in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was the long prophesied Messiah, the King of the Jews who was rejected by his own people, and who will reign as the King of Kings.
Of all the portraits of Jesus that Scripture reveals, I want my children to to see Jesus in these two ways: Faithful Redeemer and Good King. These portraits of Jesus can empower my kids to pray boldly.
Until next time…