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Teaching Our Children Through Prayer

A man and his son pray together in a dark room. The father is laying a hand on his son's shoulder.

What are your prayers teaching your children? In this week's blog, Kenneth Berding talks about how our prayers convey spiritual truth to our children and teach them what we truly believe about God.

What do our children learn when they listen to us pray? 

I am convinced that one of the most important ways we convey spiritual truth to our children is through the prayers they hear us pray. When we pray with our children, our children learn what we really believe about God, and, furthermore, how to personally relate to the Lord. Here are three things our children learn when they listen to us pray.

1. When we pray, our children learn whether or not we have a sincere relationship with the Lord.

Recently, I was talking with a friend about the impact his upbringing had had on his relationship with the Lord. My friend shared with me that when he was growing up, his father’s prayers were formulaic and artificial. In recent years, however, he has noticed a positive change in his elderly father’s relationship with the Lord. How did he know that something had changed? The main way my friend came to recognize the change in his father was through listening to the way his father prayed.

I grew up with a mother who modeled a genuine relationship with the Lord. I knew it from the way she prayed. As a child, my mom would tell me that even if all my friends stopped being my friends, Jesus would always be my friend. I believed her. The reason I believed her is that when she prayed, I sensed from the way she prayed that she was talking to her closest friend.

2. When we pray, our children learn that we believe that God actually can and will answer our prayers.

Honestly, learning how to pray in groups in the United States has been tough for me. My wife and I lived in the Middle East for seven years. During those years, we often found ourselves among Christians who lived like they expected God to regularly do powerful deeds. The primary way we knew this about them was because of the way they prayed. This expectancy in prayer also impacted my young children. My children were there when Muslim-background believers in Jesus fervently prayed that God would heal my wife’s mother just before she was scheduled to go into triple-bypass heart surgery. They also heard these young believers shout for joy when they received the news that God had healed her.

But since returning to the United States, one message has come through loudly and clearly in many prayer meetings I have attended: we pray like we don’t actually believe anything is going to happen when we pray! I want my children to know that when I pray, I am speaking to a God who is strong enough to answer my prayers, and who cares enough to act in response to those prayers.

(Please note that you don’t generate such faith by trying really hard to believe; rather, your faith increases as you wait on God and seek to pray according to his will.)

3. When we pray, our children learn what we believe about God.

For example, the common biblical pattern for prayer is that we should direct our prayers to God the Father (Matthew 6:9; John 17:1; Colossian 1:3). Suppose that we always and only prayed to Jesus as a friend, or primarily focused our prayers on requests for the Holy Spirit to empower us. We might fail to model for our children a biblical understanding of God the Father as the one to whom we direct our prayers. (I am not asserting that, say, a prayer thanking Jesus for his death on the cross or a prayer to the Holy Spirit asking for empowerment is wrong, just that the normal biblical pattern is to pray to God the Father.)

Your children will learn from you that God is holy by listening to the way you confess your sins, that God is a powerful God when you worship his majesty, that you believe that God is a refuge in times of trouble when they hear you call upon him in your time of need, and so on. 

When I’m alone with the Lord, one of the prayers I pray more than any other is: “Lord, I want it to be real. I don’t want to be a fake. I need your grace to live out what I teach.” And as I move forward in my relationship with my children, by God’s grace, I want my children to see…and hear…and feel…and confidently know that to be the case. I believe that they will come to know this best by listening to the way I pray.

Still, when I pray, I am not primarily praying in order to teach them. I am praying to the Lord because I am actually talking to the Lord. Nevertheless, I think it’s helpful to keep in mind that when we pray, our children are listening.