I remember when I was in Bible school we were encouraged to “de-bless” our prayers. Our director said that students threw so many blessings into their prayers (“God bless this, bless that, bless him, bless her, bless me) that it had turned into a lazy go-to for thoughtless prayers. Yikes eh? Now, he also said that you shouldn’t pray for God to be “with” someone because God is always with people because He’s everywhere, so you can see he was a fairly opinionated guy. But truth be told, he was actually right in drawing our attention to a lazy way of praying that becomes more like reciting poetry than communicating with our Heavenly Father.
I think that in our desire to see our kids develop a healthy prayer life we sometimes give them the wrong impression about prayer. For example, how does one pray before a sports game? I mean what are we communicating? Let’s say the Christian High School and the Public High School face off against each other, if the game was really about prayer, wouldn’t the faithful athletes from the CHS win every time? Well it doesn’t work that way. It’s also a tricky thing to pray for nice weather for your vacation. What about all the farmers who are desperate for rain, at just the right time? What about praying that your grandma will not die from cancer. She may not, but if grandma is 98, then maybe her healing will come as she falls into the arms of Jesus in Heaven. These are tricky things and if you don’t think your kids are noticing how and what you pray, I can assure you they are. What is important to realize is precisely that as parents our prayers carry weight and we need to be careful to communicate the most important thing.
So what can you do?
First of all, remind your children, and model this often, that prayer is about relationship. Let me tell you something, when the first thing my kid does in the morning is ask if he can play video games I want to throw that iPod out the window. I am much more inclined to give permission if he spends a bit of time with me. If he doesn’t just come to me to get what he wants. Of course I’m not suggesting that God is like me, nor am I suggesting that He can’t handle our frequent selfishness or immaturity. But I am saying that we should demonstrate proper gratitude to God first. We need to work on the relationship part! The best way to do this is through worship and gratitude and then move towards asking Jesus what He thinks of us, His kids.
Second we really need to help our kids understand that God isn’t going to answer certain prayers. He isn’t going to give you an A if you didn’t study or if you are actually a C student. He isn’t going to give you a spot on the team if you actually suck at volleyball. Now He might help you to learn and study as you cooperate with Him, and He may help you persevere as you work to become a jr. high sports star, but truthfully we often want things that we think would be cool, but are outside our natural gifts and then get angry at God when it doesn’t work out how we would like. We also need to be careful praying about sin. If you have a son in grade 8 and he is praying that God would take away all sexual temptation, he is going to have a tough go at the next few years – strength to remain strong in the face of temptation is different.
Finally we have to figure out a way to save our kids from the epidemic entitlement of their generation. What I mean is, many young people think that they deserve something simply because there is breath in their lungs. It is epidemic laziness and it has spread into Christian youth as well. I think the best way to do this is to help our kids understand that 1) Prayer is actually work and 2) Prayer doesn’t work if we aren’t going to cooperate. You know it’s like the guy who asks God to deliver him from going too far with his girlfriend, but then plans a movie night, with the lights dim, and cozy blankets – like how is that going to work? We need to cooperate with what God says will keep us safe from temptation if we are going to learn to overcome temptation. And prayer really is work – it isn’t magic. In magic you say a bunch of stuff to an impersonal force which then accomplishes something in the natural. That isn’t prayer! Prayer is primarily hard work because it is relationship and relationships are hard work! Oh and God doesn’t owe us anything – so if He does answer a prayer in the way our heart desires it is because HE is good, not because we are.
This is very important and I’ll give you a couple of reasons why. 1) A wrong view of prayer can lead to a wrong view of God. If God doesn’t do what the pray-er expects then often God gets the blame, not the person. 2) A wrong view of prayer could lead to disillusionment with the whole of Christianity! We need our kids to understand how prayer works and doesn’t work so that they don’t create false expectations and then face the disappointment of dashed dreams.
Take a minute to think about what you communicate about prayer to your kids. What is the lesson they learn when they hear you pray at meals? Ask the Lord to reveal this to you and to give you steps on how to correct it.
We already have some great articles on prayer – you may want to read (or reread) a few of the following: