A Prayer Focused Life
The nightly routine at the Rainwater House usually follows a pattern like this: home from work, dinner, playing with the girls, baths, reading, prayers and bed. As we inch and bargain our way towards bed, Abigail and Emma make a plea for as many books and stories as they can before the lights finally go out. After “Jonah and the Whale,” “The Napping House” or “The Tar Baby” is read, we reach some of the most valuable minutes of the day…bedtime prayer. As Rachel and I have stumbled though teaching our girls how to pray, we have learned several things about this great responsibility.
First, prayer is a conversation with God. This is a pretty obvious statement to a believer, but how do we communicate this to our children? When Abigail first started praying, the idea of saying words to God was completely foreign to her. Although she could not verbalize it, her prayer was for her Mommy or Daddy’s benefit and not really directed towards God. She was talking to the air and watching my reaction to see if I approved. Of course I was peering through my partially closed eyelids to watch her, and feed her almost every word to say. She didn’t know whom her prayers were really directed to, but the point was that she was getting the gist of the “conversation” of prayer. After weeks and months of feeding her the right things to say and encouraging her to “talk with God,” she began to connect that the God she learned about in Sunday School was the same God that she was praying to. It clicked that the Jesus who calmed the storms from the stories in her bedtime Bible was the same Jesus that daddy wanted her to talk with through prayer. The substance and the recipient of the conversation slowly changed to reveal a greater understanding of who she was praying to and how she was to communicate. As we continue to expand on talking with God, Abigail is learning that she can pray about anything she wants to pray about. This lends itself to praying about her best friends, our dog, rainbows and other things, but she can also surprise us with some very sweet and sincere prayers. She is learning that God actually desires to hear from us, and it’s not the length or the eloquence or the posture of our prayer that matters to God. It’s the sincerity of our heart.
Second, prayer is a privilege. When we first began to pray with our girls, it was frustrating at times when they would resist the idea of prayer. I would try and prep them with the story of Jesus bringing the little children to Himself or something that I thought would encourage an attitude of prayer, but often times this would backfire when they would just flat out refuse to pray. We would often bump heads for a few minutes and it would end up with a forced, teary-eyed prayer that was about 4 words in length. Not exactly the thriving prayer life I was trying to teach. In talking with some members of our Sunday School class, I was relieved to discover this scenario played out in other families nighttime routines as well. How could we avoid this outburst? As I thought of ways to avoid these situations, I began to be convicted in my own prayer life. How many times am I too busy or too tired to pray, or just resist the call to pray? When I have these feelings, I am forgetting the privilege that prayer is. May I never forget what Jesus sacrificed on my behalf so that I can approach the Lord in prayer and have a relationship with God.
Third, prayer is modeled. Reflecting over my duties as a parent, there may not be any higher calling than to both pray over our children and teach them how to pray. I think about my own life and how it has been shaped by the prayers of my own parents. The ways both sets of our parents modeled prayer was not only impactful in shaping our prayer lives, but still has generational effects as we carry on some of the prayerful activities we participated in as children. There are many self-help articles and books on prayer. Often times it is much easier to study about prayer than it is to actually pray, but this is precisely what needs to happen. In the context of teaching my kids to pray, I have become very convicted that my children will not understand prayer until it is modeled for them in my own life. Praying for our kids is one of the greatest acts of love we can show them. Pray out loud for them at night so they can hear our desires for them. Pray for their salvation, for their current and future friends, for their health, for their spouse, and for a deep understanding and love for Jesus. Make every effort to praise the Lord so they can hear a worshipful, and repentant heart.
Parenting is one of the hardest jobs on the planet, and we are constantly reminded of our shortcomings. Praise the Lord we can choose to dedicate this work to Him through the act of prayer, and simultaneously teach this spiritual discipline to our children.