Learning about Jesus is a lifelong endeavor for any adult. When it comes to teaching kids about Jesus, the task can often feel overwhelming. Where should a Christian parent begin?
Many parents turn to family devotionals, kids Bible stories, or kids Bible lessons to help shape their faith. While these are important tools, they sometimes do more to tell about God than to show God for who He is. However, there is one special way of learning about Jesus that all of us parents can do: pray with our children.
Prayer is one of the most practical ways to practice your faith in front of your children and a powerful way to share your faith with them. If you’re like me, however, freestyling prayer on a regular basis doesn’t come naturally, and it’s a difficult skill to teach your children. I’m not alone, either. After all, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1) and he didn’t respond by telling them to wing it. He taught them a prayer:
“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.”
Luke 11:2–4 (NIV)
When it comes to learning how to pray, one of the greatest resources we have are ancient prayers. Prayers have been written down and recited for thousands of years. In fact, in the ancient world, stories, ideas, traditions, and even history were preserved by oral tradition primarily through songs and poetry.
Why are written prayers helpful? Often a Bible lesson gives a short description of what God is like, similar to a dictionary definition in the way we use it. But prayers are not like dictionary definitions at all. When we hear someone pray or read a prayer they have written, it is like watching someone paint a picture of what God looks like to them.
Prayers are not a definitive teaching about God, but they are very descriptive reflections about Him. Because they are more descriptive, there is a prayer for every situation.
Ancient Prayers for Children, Parents, Families
When looking to recite ancient prayers with your children, for your children, or as a family, begin with Scripture. The Psalms are ancient prayers, and unlike kids Bible lessons and stories, this biblical poetry can help children learn the rhythms and structures of prayer, which will help them make their own prayers eventually.
Prayer for Forgiveness
Psalm 51:10-12 (NIV)
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Prayer for Wisdom
Psalm 141:3 (NIV)
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
One of my favorite prayers to read daily is commonly attributed to Francis of Assisi, a monk, philosopher, and founder of the Franciscan Order of friars, who lived between 1182–1226. Even though this prayer doesn’t come directly from Scripture, it is still based on biblical principles, making it a good addition to family devotions.
A prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Amen.
When to Say Prayers
Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica and encouraged them to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), which indicates that prayer is not a one-and-done thing. It is part of our daily life. Taking time out several times a day helps teach kids about Jesus by asking them to think about and talk to Jesus regularly. We pray before meals not because it makes the food any different, but because it makes us stop and remember that God provides for us. It teaches kids to be grateful to God and to others – and to show our gratitude in prayer. Not praying before meals doesn’t make you a bad parent, it just means you may have missed an opportunity to teach gratitude to God and how to trust in God on a daily basis.
Praying in the morning is a good priority. It allows you to teach children to seek Jesus first and ask for guidance rather than only praying when there is trouble. Praying before bed is very important though. For young children especially, being alone in their bedroom at night time can be very scary, especially if they have experienced fear earlier in the day. Giving them words to pray, whether it’s through scripture or some of these ancient prayers, may help them have words to talk to God about their own fears and find the peace they need that allows them (and you, their parents) to get restful sleep.
The goal of using ancient written prayers for Christian parenting is not that the words are somehow magical. They simply provide trustworthy words, collected from believers throughout history, for when you or your children don’t have words of your own. They also offer a source of inspiration for your children to eventually improvise and create their own prayers of love and trust to God. Written prayers will not stifle their creativity or make them think there is only one way to pray to God. It will fuel their imaginations as you show them how to connect with God their Heavenly Father and to tell Him all the things that are on their hearts.