It’s interesting but it doesn’t seem to matter who you ask about prayer there is always a tone of guilt in the answer.
“How are your devotions going?”
“Good, but I only really did like 4 days last week. One day I did 45 minutes but I can’t count that because it wasn’t a full hour.”
Now if you really want to see people squirm, ask them about family devotions![Insert blank stare here.]
Can I make an observation? The reason we do devotions as a discipline is so that the “stuff” of devotions (prayer, reading the Bible) becomes a part of who we are. I don’t think doing devotions as a mere discipline was really what Jesus was after.
What I see Jesus modelling in the Bible is a life saturated with prayer. I see Him fasting as a way to prepare for ministry. Retreating to spend time with His Father. I don’t see Him punching a time clock to check off “had devotions; prayed and read the Bible” as a part of His day.
I once heard a pastor say that unless devotions become fascination with God they will become legalism. But how do you avoid becoming legalistic? And how do you help your KIDS have a fascination with God.
To me a devotional life with specific, extended times dedicated to interacting with God through His Word (reading, meditating, memorizing) and prayer (conversation with my Father, listening to His instruction, seeking His forgiveness for my sins) is where its at.
It’s about life with Jesus.
I don’t “check” devotions off my list as a task because I LOVE spending time with my Father. Rather, I miss Him when I haven’t seen Him for a while and that’s all the motivation I need to schedule time with Him tomorrow.
But (and this is a big but), if we don’t give our children a model to follow they will either desert a devotional life or become a legalistic, rule-following, list-checking, Christian. I have just two simple ideas for parents to help avoid that trap.
Give them a model to follow. (But remember, the model is not the goal.)
Here again, we see that Jesus gave us an example to follow.
“Therefore, you should pray like this… Our Father in heaven…”
Now, no one believes that Jesus was teaching the way to pray. Rather, he was offering a place to start with prayer! That’s why many translations title this portion of Matthew, “The Model Prayer.”
Think about what a model is. If you make a model airplane, you do not actually have a working airplane at the end. In fact, you have a miniature replica made of plastic which will sit on your shelf collecting dust until you are a young adult and realize that making models was an embarrassing season in your weird childhood.
Regardless that’s what a model is. It’s a scale replica.
And that’s what the Lord’s Prayer is, a scale replica of what a prayer-filled life should actually look like. If we want to teach our kids to pray we should give them a scale-replica model to follow. It’s not the total package, but its the starting point.
When I was a child before every meal we said, “Dear Lord Jesus, be our guest, may this food to us be blessed. Amen”
Now, at some point my mom canned the canned prayer for a more genuine expression of thanks, but the model was always there. You pray before meals as a sign of respect and gratitude to the One who gave us that food.
Before bed I would say a poem-prayer followed by a few specific requests that went like this:
“Heavenly Father, hear my prayer,
Keep me in Thy tender care,
Help me Lord each day to share,
Thy grace and precious love.
(And please heal aunt Carol of her cancer and help uncle Gerald to know you.)
That’s the prayer that I currently pray for my 6 year old every night. One day he will graduate from hearing it prayed for him to praying it for himself. I know that, because that is what the Lord’s prayer in school became for me once I entered high school; a good way for me to start a day of learning.
So give your children a model to follow. Look for places and times to model prayer. The easiest, most obvious are before meals and at bedtime. But we always have the kids pray for a trip if we are heading out on a family vacation. Where can you make prayer part of your life?
Model a real relationship with Jesus.
Do we need schedules and discipline our lives? Yes absolutely! And I often think about the fact that it seems like the “giants of the faith” had regular, often early-morning, prayer lives.
I desire that too.
(Because I love spending time with my Father!)
But I have health issues that restrict my early rising. (Like, actually.) So should I feel guilty that my devotions start later than some others? (The answer is no.) I happen to love a quiet evening, reading, thinking and feeling close to Jesus.
I want to be a regular and scheduled as I can, and that’s why in my cell group my “weekly action step” is often to spend a period of concentrated time each day in prayer (i.e. not just reading, or memorizing scripture). But I also want to model that my relationship with Jesus is not an early-morning ritual, it is… well… life.
In scripture there is an “as-you-are-going” attitude. The Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20, should not read “Go into all the world…” but would be more accurately translated, “As you are going into all the world…”
That’s a small, but significant difference.
Galatians 5:25 says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
Keep in step.
Have you ever seen a little girl keeping in step with her father? It’s adorable. It’s an “as-you-are-going” kind of relationship.
And then there is the command to “teach ‘these things’ to your children” found in places like Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Psalm 78:1-8. When are we supposed to teach these things to our children? When they lie down and get up. As we are walking down the road. They are supposed to be so much a part of life that we can’t even walk through a door without “seeing” them and remembering them.
To me this isn’t a formula for “doing” devotions with our kids, it is modelling how to be close to Jesus.
Prayer is visiting with God. It’s telling Him about your day. Asking for help when you need it and having a heart of gratitude for the good in life, or when you are struck by something amazing in the world.
This can happen while you’re watching Netflix! It can happen on a drive. It can happen in a classroom, or at recess, or at Grandma’s house.
So, this thing of prayer, how do we teach our kids about it’s importance? We find places to regularly practice it and we give them a model to follow; not just in what we pray, but in how, when, why… we give them our lives as a model to follow in faith.
(Incidentally, one of the questions we often get asked at Southland is how to teach children to hear God voice. Here’s a blog I wrote about that a few years ago.)
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Associate Pastor – Southland Church
Thom has worked with children and youth for 17 years. He and his wife, Tara, have 5 kids; 4 boys, and a daughter. The kids are spread across 20 years too, so that gives him plenty of experimental material to write about! They have also welcomed 28 foster children into their home over the past number of years.