I don’t remember the course content, the final exam, or the other students in my favorite university course at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. What I do remember and what I looked forward to most each day was the professor’s opening prayer. He’d look at us all with this big smile on his face, say “Let’s talk to God,” and then start praying a prayer like this:
Hi, God. What an awesome day you made today. The raindrops fed all the flowers, and the puddles are perfect for jumping in. Thanks for shady trees and yoyo strings. Thanks for giving us elbows so we could bend our arms in so many ways. How do you think of such cool things, Lord? Please watch over our friends who aren’t here today. The ones with runny noses, the ones who are feeling sad, and those who are far away. And, God, we’re sorry for hurting people’s feelings and not doing the stuff we’re supposed to do. Thanks for loving us even when we mess up. We love you, Lord. Amen.
My teacher modeled prayer to me in a powerful way. We model prayer each week to the kids we lead at church. For some of your kids it may be the only time they hear someone talking out loud to God. For others it might be their only opportunity to hear prayer as conversation instead of memorization.
We all have different “comfort zones” when it comes to prayer. I feel more comfortable praying with a group of kids than I do leading adults. My friend Nancy is a prayer warrior who once led me in prayer in the parking lot at the YMCA. My fifteen-year-old has been leading our suppertime prayers since she was in preschool, and my seventeen-year-old has always refused to pray out loud. No matter how you’re wired when it comes to prayer, it’s important to invite kids into your conversations with God. Like my teacher’s prayers, your prayers may be the thing they remember most! Use these prayer pointers to expand your comfort zone:
- Prayer doesn’t have to be perfect. God isn’t grading your prayers, and neither are your kids. All God asks is that your prayer be heartfelt. Remember how my teacher thanked God for strings and elbows? Include thanks for the everyday blessings your kids enjoy—things like backpacks and wheels on school buses, ice cream and shoelaces. And praise God in ways that connect with your kids—thank God for eyelashes that blink out dust, noses that drip down instead of up, and all the shades of blue. How did God think of all those cool things?
- Tea with the Queen should be fancy, not conversations with God. Pray for the things that matter to the kids you are praying for—new siblings, tests, fights with friends, missing pets, scary things, birthdays—in language your kids can understand. Be specific, use words your kids can understand, and leave the flowery language in the garden where it belongs.
- Prayers are like medicine—use when needed. Stop, drop, and pray anytime with your kids. It's okay to interrupt a session and say, “Hey guys, let’s talk to God!” and then tell God together about something great that just happened in your class or pray for someone you notice is missing or the sick cat someone just told you about. Tip: Avoid the temptation to use prayer to send a message to your kids about classroom behavior!
- Prayers don’t need comments. When you tell a kid that they did a “good job” with their prayer you’re telling them that you were evaluating how they did. When you laugh at a child’s prayer you make them self-conscious and aware that someone is listening. Prayer is a conversation with God. The best way you encourage kids to pray out loud is by letting them pray without your praise—a simple “thanks” will do just fine.
- Prayer comes in many forms. There are all kinds of ways you and your kids can pray together. Here are a few to try in the coming months:
- Popcorn prayers. Invite kids to jump in and pray a word or a sentence whenever they’re ready—just like popcorn kernels popping in the pan! Tip: Give kids a topic like “things to thank God for” or “words that describe God” and let them know that you’ll begin and end the prayer.
- Prayer walks. Head outdoors with your kids and pray for the things you see on your walk around the building. You can make a list together and pray your list when you get back inside, you can encourage kids to pray silently as you walk, or you can pause on your route and pray aloud together.
- Prayer requests. Ask your kids if there is anything they’d like you to pray about and then either stop and pray after each request, take notes and pray for them all at once, or invite other kids in the group to pray for a specific request.
- Prayer journals. Bring a simple dollar store notebook to class and record your prayer requests inside. Make notes when prayers are answered and thank God together for those answers. Tip: Post requests and answers to prayer on a designated “Prayer Wall” in your room—write them on paper hearts in February, print them on a large paper cross in March and April, write them on paper flower petals in May and June.
- Prayer buddies. Encourage kids to pray for others by assigning each child a prayer buddy for half or all of the education year. Keep it simple—print off a sheet for each child in a cool shape like a handprint and write something like “I’m praying for ______ and ______ is praying for me!” Fill in the name, give each child a copy, let their families know, and let the praying begin!
Have some other great ideas for praying with kids or stories to share? Share them below!