As a kid I was nicknamed “La p’tite souris” (aka: The little mouse”) because I was so shy and quiet all the time. How do we teach kids to pray out loud with their voices if they avoid speaking altogether?
I didn’t outgrow my shy quiet ways and as a teenager, the problem only compounded with the additional insecurities and self-awareness that we naturally experience in those years. You would think that I would finally shed my “little mouse” ways and teenage insecurities by the time I achieved adulthood so that I could break free into open prayer with others. Yet somehow prayer does not just come naturally to me, and as an adult, it feels even more awkward to be at what feels like “level 1” in prayer and overcome this fear to pray with others.
People resist praying with their spouses as they feel inadequate in prayer. Instead of praying with family and friends, teens resort to complaining without having that outlet to pour their hearts out to God alongside that support.
In our Deeper Kidz program, I love to talk about how we want Jesus in everything, even in our friendships! How do we bring our friendships into Jesus? We pray with our friends! At this point all the “little mice” might get a little nervous but we help them by giving them LOTS of practice.
We start very small and focus on building confidence, then continue to stretch them at a safe pace while still challenging them forward. Here are some steps that we use in Kids Ministry which seem to work well:
- Repeat-after-me prayers (This gets them used to saying “prayer words” out loud.)
- I’ll say “Thank you Jesus…” and then each child gets to say something that they are thankful for. (This gets them used to saying a word of their own choosing.)
- Next time we get them to say the whole sentence and a word of their choice. “Thank you Jesus for…”
- Build a prayer:
- Try saying, “Now let’s think of some things we can pray for…” Draw a picture of the request for all to see or each one can draw their own request (e.g. stick figure Grandma).
- Next ask, “How should we pray about this? What should we tell God or ask Him about this?” Draw pictures in a separate box or write “one word” notes.
- Finally assign kids to pray those things as you point to the “one word” or picture notes. So you, as the leader would say “OK Jonny you can pray for Timmy’s uncle to know Jesus whenever I point to the cross picture and Susie you can pray that Jesus would help Betsy to treat her brother with love when I point to the heart.”
- To progress from there, we just start removing some of the steps in the build-a-prayer until they are building them mentally on their own. It takes time, but if we are consistent they build confidence and get used to praying aloud.
- Keep it positive, encouraging, energized and fun until kids really start to experience meeting with Jesus in a personal way and learn to hear His voice. Praying like this is only an outward exercise that builds confidence and it’s not always easy or comfortable.
Incidentally, for adults who struggle with praying aloud, we may want to stop and admit to ourselves how we truly long for that vibrant prayer life with Jesus and not settle in our minds that we’re just not good at it. We could say, “Let’s just get over ourselves and put our fear and pride aside!” I did that years back by committing to a weekly prayer meeting where I would be expected to pray repeatedly with others for an hour. It was hard and awkward for a good long while. Some people speak so eloquently in normal conversation and their prayers are woven with Bible phrases and just “feel anointed”. That’s not me!
If taking such a bold step sends us shrinking back, we may want to find a safe space to progressively grow and take some time to intentionally practice and build up our confidence. That’s OK! Maybe even trying something like the Build-a-Prayer would work, where you jot down your points and practice praying aloud privately even if you’re not “feeling it”. There is something very powerful that God does for us as we come together with others to pray. “Where two or three are gathered…”
Ask the Lord, “What is my next step in praying with others?” And then “How can I help my children to pray out loud with confidence?”