Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
What happens when children pray? We would like to find out! Encouraging children toward growth in prayer is part of our vision for Family Discipleship at Bethlehem. We would do well to invite and encourage the children of Bethlehem to join our church body in corporate prayer.
Below are two articles concerning children and prayer written by Pastor David Michael. Each article is followed by some practical suggestions from Sally Michael to help parents (and children’s workers) encourage children to pray with and for others. May we learn from them and with them to approach our Heavenly Father in absolute dependence and with great delight!
First Printed 1999
Lord, Teach Us to Pray
By David Michael
Pastor for Parenting and Family Discipleship
Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minnesota
Because of my responsibilities at Bethlehem I am perhaps more aware than many people of the absence of children and youth from our regular corporate prayer gatherings. I do not think most people (if anyone) expect children to be present. Nor do I sense that the children are ready to break the door down to sit through a half-hour or hour-long prayer meeting. However, in those quiet moments of corporate prayer when my own mind has wandered, I have wondered if we should do more as parents to encourage our children to join us for these times of prayer. Although I am a long way from launching a campaign, I am feeling nudged to write a brief note for us to consider how we might encourage our children to mature in their prayer lives.
This “nudging” flows out of a desire for our children to grow up to become mighty men and women of prayer. I want them to have the opportunity to benefit from the example of men and women who pray. I want them to develop courage and to learn how to pray in corporate settings. I want our church to learn and benefit from child-size faith and child-size prayers for God-sized problems. I want our children to grow up with the assumption that prayer meetings are as much for them as they are for the adults. I would love to see the congregation as a whole welcome and lavish encouragement on every child who ventures into a prayer meeting. I want our children to take advantage of every opportunity to experience the joy of seeing God act in response to their prayers.
It may be that your child is not in a position to add one of the weekly prayer meetings to his schedule (or yours). However, as you assess your child’s spiritual development do not forget to examine his or her experience with prayer in an average week. Perhaps you may want to establish a new family prayer time. Consider other ways you might encourage your child to stretch and grow beyond where he is now:
- Does he or she need to take steps toward establishing a daily, personal, prayer time?
- Might you want to encourage him to keep a prayer journal this year?
- Is this the year to teach your child how to couple prayer with fasting?
- Maybe you and your child are ready to make one or more of the weekly corporate prayer gatherings a habit?
A child will learn a lot by sitting and listening to others pray, but it would be good to encourage him or her to contribute to corporate prayer. Talk to your child beforehand and debrief with him afterwards. Ask how he was feeling. Ask if he sensed the Spirit prompting him to pray about something. Help him put words to his prayers and affirm him like crazy for even the smallest steps he takes in prayer.
May God grant that Bethlehem be a place where young and old are serious about prayer.
A Few Suggestions for Encouraging Children in Prayer
From Sally Michael, Minister for Parent-Teacher Training and Resources
Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minnesota
- Include your child in prayer situations:
- Encourage your child to pray aloud.
- If this is a new experience for your child, warn your child ahead of time that you will be asking him to pray.
For example: “Before we leave the hospital, I will ask you to pray for Mr. Smith.”
- Instruct your child on how to pray in the particular situation.
For example: “What are some things that you could pray about for Mr. Smith?”
- Some suggested prayer situations: visiting a sick friend; when a visiting family leaves your home (“Can we pray for you before you leave? Johnny, will you pray for the children?”); a missionary commissioning; in Sunday School class, etc.
- Gather your children when you hear of a prayer need and ask them to pray with you. For example: When a problem comes to your attention (“Susie, let’s pray for the people who were in the earthquake.”) Upon hearing about a personal need (“Mary, let’s pray for the Carlson’s adoption. They are having some problems getting some of the papers they need.”; “Our missionaries need some special prayer. They are having a big conference. Let’s pray for them. What do you think we could pray about?”)
- Build regular prayer into your family life aside from meal times or bedtime. For example: On Saturday evenings pray for your pastor and your children’s Sunday School teachers.
- Take advantage of unexpected moments for prayer (“spur of the moment prayers”) For example: When you see an ambulance, pray for the person who has the medical problem. Pray for policemen when you see police cars. When you see a beautiful sunset, thank God for His creation and the beauty He put in the world.
- Ask your child to pray for you. Give him specific things he can pray for; include him in your special prayer concerns. For example: “Would you pray for these things for me—that I would be a wise father and know how to guide you, that I would be a spiritual leader in our home, and that I would have a hunger for God?” “I am having a hard time with a project I am working on for my job. Would you pray for me?”
- Give your child a list of topics to pray for. (“Here are some ways you can pray for your Sunday School teacher….”)
- Instruct your child on the different kinds of prayer:
- “I love you” prayers Adoration (praise)
- “I’m sorry” prayers Confession
- “Thank you” prayers Thanksgiving
- “Please” prayers Supplication (requests)
(Note: Remind your child that God answers in three different ways: yes, no, and wait.)
- Encourage your child to write some of his prayers. For example: Write a thank you prayer to God.
- Help your child put together a prayer notebook.
- Choose one or more topics for each day of the week. (For example: Monday—pray for relatives; Tuesday—unsaved friends; Wednesday—church staff; Thursday—missionaries…)
- Or make a daily guide. (Pray for one family member, one missionary, one unsaved friend, and one church staff each day. Assign names to each day of the week.)
- Make a section for children to record answers to prayers.
- Include a place for children to record specific requests. (Pass on missionary prayer letters to your children.)
This article first appeared in the Bethlehem Children’s Ministry News just prior to the January 1999 All-Night-of- Prayer]
"On Second Thought—Teach Her to Pray"
By David Michael
Buried under the socks and handkerchiefs in my top dresser drawer, is a white button with a graphic image that I have never understood and the words “Join the Prayer Force.” Like most things that have made their way to this honored position in my dresser, it is practically worthless but has value to me because it reminds me of something significant in my life that I don’t want to forget.
If my memory serves me right, it was Prayer Week 1988 when these buttons were distributed as part of a church-wide effort to expand the prayer base under-girding our church. The week was filled with a variety of prayer events which culminated with the “All-Night-of-Prayer.”
I’m not sure what it was that interested her in coming with me that night. For a seven-year-old, just about anything is more exciting than going to bed! My first thought was to discourage her —“She’s really too young…She won’t be able to stay awake…She’ll be a wreck tomorrow if she doesn’t get her sleep…This is not an event that a seven-year-old can appreciate...”
My second thought, however, was the opposite—“Perhaps there is a selfish desire to escape the bedtime routine, but this might also be a nudge from the Lord. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen? If she falls asleep I can bring her home at the next hourly break.” So at 9:45 p.m., while her 4-year-old sister slept, we hugged and kissed her mom good-bye (and good night) and headed out the door happily donning our “practically worthless buttons” and anticipating our first “All-Night-of-Prayer” together.
There is probably a long list of God-given opportunities that I have missed because I was too blind or wrapped up in other things to notice, but God graciously gave me a “second thought.” Taking Amy with me that night is a decision I do not regret.
I can’t say that ever since the first experience Amy has begged to come to the All-Night-of-Prayer or that she anticipates spending a night praying at Bethlehem like she anticipates an approaching birthday or a sleepover with her friends. As the years have gone by she has grown to appreciate the gift of sleep much more than she did when she was seven, and I have noticed that her experience is similar to mine. It seems that as the Night-of-Prayer approaches the flesh wages war against the spirit and I feel a strong disinclination to go—“I’ve got a full day tomorrow… I really need a good night’s sleep tonight… “It won’t make any difference whether I’m there or not… Maybe I’ll just go for an hour or two and come home...”
By God’s grace the spirit has prevailed in this struggle. As we sit in our kitchen at 7 o’clock the next morning and eat the traditional chocolate-covered raised donut from Super America before going off to bed, we are glad—very glad—that we spent the night at Bethlehem in prayer.
When Amy looks back on these early experiences of praying all night, she does not recall having any significant spiritual awareness. She said most things we prayed about were over her head, but she remembers being impressed that we were concerned enough about those things to stay up all night and pray. The Lord always gave her at least one woman who partnered with her and encouraged her throughout the evening. She remembers that this made her feel grown up and that her place was significant. She also enjoyed the camaraderie and feeling like she was on a team and had a mission to accomplish with them.
As I look back I am glad that, for both of my daughters, staying up all night to pray is not a novelty. In their minds this is an ordinary part of church life. I pray for them, as I pray for all our kids at Bethlehem that they will grow up assuming that earnest prayer is simply part of what it means to follow Jesus and to be involved in the church.
I am glad that their memories of staying up all night to pray are positive. This has strengthened their faith in future grace enough to overcome the battle with the flesh as each All-Night-of-Prayer approaches.
I praise God for godly women at Bethlehem who have let my daughters tag along with them in prayer. Sally and I are eager for them to have many examples of godly women that we can point to and say “be like that.” Bethlehem is rich with such women and the All-Night-of-Prayer is one place where they are found.
I am glad our girls are learning to pray aloud in a public setting. Listening to people pray for eight hours instructs them and gives them enough time to work up the courage to express a prayer themselves.
Beyond the benefit of spiritual training and positive experiences, I think children bring a significant amount of “praying power” to a meeting. Certainly it is easier for them than it is for us to come to the Lord as children, but I also have a hunch that children touch the heart of the Lord in ways that adults cannot. What might God be pleased to accomplish if there were an army of children at Bethlehem who were devoted to prayer?
Whether or not your son or daughter is ready to spend a night at Bethlehem in prayer, let us earnestly teach our children to pray. Let s do it for the sake of our children, for the sake of our church and for the sake of the Kingdom.
Prayer week gives us an opportunity to teach and an opportunity for our children to minister with power. In addition to the All-Night-of-Prayer, there are a variety of regular less-demanding opportunities (see page 4). May God be pleased to raise up a new generation of men and women who are mighty in prayer.
Suggestions for Helping Children Pray Through the Night
From Sally Michael, Minister for Parent-Teacher Training and Resources
Be careful not to limit your children by your own limitations. Because it is difficult for you to pray all night does not necessarily mean it is difficult for your child.
Pray that God inclines your child’s heart to pray.
Though we expect some things of our children, whether they want to do them or not, staying up all night to pray should not be required. The night is structured so that children can take it one hour at a time. A number of parents bring sleeping bags so their children feel the freedom to go to sleep when they are ready. It is not a sign of spiritual weakness in you or your child to go to sleep or to leave before the night is over.
Make it clear to your children that they are part of the prayer team and that we are coming to pray. They are not just coming to sit and watch the grown-ups pray, nor is this a time to socialize with their friends. They are members of a body where their prayers and presence matter.
When we break up into prayer clusters, you may want to encourage your child to be in a different group. It is good for our children to hear other people pray and sometimes they will feel a greater responsibility to contribute in prayer.
ay attention to the children who come. Greet them and tell them you are glad they came. Learn their names. If children muster the courage to pray in your group, make it a point to speak to them and encourage them. Recognize children as co-laborers who are strategic partners in an important mission.