One of the most basic ways we love our children is through prayer. But if we’re honest, prayer is one of the hardest things to do consistently and intentionally.
Below we want to share two stories about prayer from the life of our family, and then give a few tips for capturing and leveraging everyday moments to pray with your toddler.
This post, which I wrote along with my wife, Megan, originally appeared at The Gospel Coalition.
God of the Details
Jared and I (Megan) typically drive to church in separate cars on Sunday morning. He heads in early to help set up and to pray with the other pastors. Then I bring—or drag—the girls in for the early service.
One Sunday, I was running late. We were late getting up. We had to wait for a train to pass. And I was worried I wouldn’t find a place to park before the service started. Then, just as I pulled up to the building, another car pulled out of its space. Immediately, I blurted out: “That was lucky!” And as soon as I said it, I felt a twinge of conviction. I’d started out that Sunday without even thinking about God and the way he guides my days.
Jared and I had recently read Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life. Miller related how he’d read an “otherwise excellent book on prayer” in which the author implied we shouldn’t pray for trivial things like parking spaces. He went on to tell what his mother, Presbyterian missionary Rose Marie Miller, had to say about it:
We met for breakfast, and when I told her what this author thought about prayers for parking spaces, she looked a little incredulous, cocked her head, started laughing, and said, “How else would you find a parking place?” (103–04)
Rose Marie Miller’s conviction about God’s intimate involvement with our lives made an impression on me. One lie we believe that keeps us from prayer is that God and the real world aren’t connected. I tend to think that the everyday stuff I do as a mom—cleaning house, getting kids ready for school, finding parking spots—don’t matter to God.
But the Bible combats the artificial distinction I make between the sacred and the mundane. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I think the only way to truly do that is to pray about normal life. The songwriter who gave us Psalm 104 confirms my suspicions. He sees God at work in everything—from the upper chambers of the heavens to the normal meals we eat every day.
God Is Accessible
One of the hardest things for me (Jared) as a dad is when our girls won’t stay in bed at night. Selfishly, I just want my kids to go away after 9 p.m. I work hard each day, and I tend to think this is something I deserve. But God knows better.
In fact, he knows just what I need, and he gave me a youngest daughter who is particularly fearful at bedtime. If you’re a parent, you know the drill. You’ve just tucked them in and turned on your TV show when there’s a knock at the bedroom door:
“Dad, will you pray for me? Will you pray that I’ll be able to sleep? Will you pray that I won’t be afraid? Will you pray . . . that the scary clowns won’t come?”
There was a season of parenting when I was considerably angry at whoever decided to run commercials for It during college football games!
Goodness, the fears are real. And of course, we stop everything in those moments. We pray. We cuddle. And we tuck her back in. Sometimes multiple times in a night. Over time, I’m coming to see those moments less as a frustration and more as an opportunity to learn something about prayer.
Jesus encourages us to ask for anything in his name (John 14:13–14). Like children, we have permission to run into our heavenly Father’s chamber. And when we meet him, we can expect that he will be eager to see us and give what is best (Matthew 7:7–12).
Learning to Pray
God cares about everything, so we can talk with him about it all. Matt Chandler regularly talks about how parents can capture and leverage moments in the course of everyday life for the purpose of gospel-centered conversations.
Specifically, how can we capture and leverage everyday moments to help our kids—even our youngest kids—learn to pray?
Here are three suggestions.
1. When you’re happy, give thanks and adore God.
Our family says thank you to God before we eat. Megan uses this time to help us thank God for blessings we’ve received recently. Then, at the end of the day, our kids will say thank you to God for everyone in their lives—mom, dad, grandparents, pets, and so on.
Saying thanks to God was concrete and simple for our toddlers. For whatever reason, it was less natural for them to practice adoration, that is, to say thank you to God for who he is.
One way we’ve tried to cultivate this is by asking our kids what they learned in our nightly Bible story, and then encouraging them to thank God for that immediately after.
2. When you’ve sinned, tell God you’re sorry and ask for his help to repent.
When I (Jared) got in trouble as a kid, my mom made me confess my sins to my dad after he got home from work. It was a way to teach me about my need to confess my sin to my heavenly Father as well. I love the simple connection that practice made between moments of correction and prayer.
Sometimes kids are overwhelmed by getting “in trouble.” I’ve seen some children experience a bit of Romans 7: “I know you told me to wait until the cookies were cool, but I really wanted them!” In those moments especially, I think it’s important to stop, model for our kids what it looks like to confess that sin to God, and then ask the Holy Spirit to change their sinful desires: “God, help me to want to obey like you want me to obey.”
We can have a similar practice when we sin against our kids as well. The next time you lose your temper with your toddler, take time to stop, confess what you’ve done wrong, and ask your son or daughter to pray for you.
3. When you need help, ask God to intervene.
One of the best ways to practice continual prayer is to identify the moments when emotions—both yours and your kids’—are the most intense, then stop wherever you are and take that emotion to God. Whether it’s fear about scary clowns or anxiety over parking spots, God cares about it all.
In addition to the moments of intensity, it’s important to cultivate moments of daily dependence through regular requests. We all need help, and we need it all the time. Nightly, we pray a kid-friendly adaptation of Luther’s nightly prayer as a blessing over our kids:
God, thank you for our daughter, and for watching over her today. Help her to grow up to love and trust Jesus. Please help her to have godly friends and a godly husband when she grows up. Please watch over her tonight and protect her from Satan and his schemes. Amen.
The “godly husband” part wasn’t really a part of Luther’s prayer, but Megan’s dad added it when she was growing up, so we kept up the tradition. In those intentional times of daily prayer, you can also ask your child if there’s anything you can pray for them about. Even if there’s nothing on most nights, keep asking. You’re modeling for them from an early age that God and you both care about their entire life.
The Lord cares about everything, so we can talk with him about it all. Teaching our kids about prayer begins with that simple conviction.