Thursday, August 29, 2013

Teaching Children to Pray: A Summer Series #4

A few questions regarding teaching children how to pray might be:

 At what age is my child able to pray?
Which prayer should my child learn first?
Is it important for my child to pray, or can I just pray for him/her?

One of the facts about prayer that I’ve learned of this year is that we can never do too much of it. I’d heard about this before from preachers over the pulpit, but there’s a difference when you read the Bible for yourself, and you allow God’s voice to wash over your soul a living, breathing revelation that comes directly from Him.

That’s what it has been like for me this year as I’ve been reading through the Bible from Genesis to Revelations. I’ve seen scriptures that I’ve read before, or have heard preached before, but am seeing them with a new, more personal light these days.

In coming across Luke 18:1 again the fact that men should ALWAYS pray just hit me differently. It hit me more literally I suppose.

It’s a great scripture to drive home the fact that if “man” should pray always, we should bring our children up in a habit of prayer. We taught our children their  first prayer as early as they could form coherent sentences.

We taught them a simple prayer when they were around 2 or 3 years old. It went something like this:

Heavenly Father we thank you for giving us health and strength. Thank you for loving me and for being good, I love you Jesus with all my heart. In Jesus’ name Amen.

I remember one night when Chelsea (our youngest) was barely talking age she began to say this simple prayer all because she’d been hearing her big sister pray it night after night. This is the power of repetition at its best.  And this is what I believe to be one of the best benefits of raising children in a habit of prayer. 

Teaching children to pray early on will go a long way to helping them grow in a personal relationship with God. I imagine that trying to teach a teenager that they should pray would be a lot more difficult than teaching the same principle to a 3 or 4 or 5 year old. However, if you find yourself in this situation, there is nothing too hard for God to accomplish in the lives of our children.

Teaching children to pray will also teach them that God is not far off from them, but that He is close and can be communicated with. This is important as there will be times in life when God may not feel close, but if they’ve been brought up to pray every day, then it won’t matter what circumstances “feel” like, they will still be in a habit of praying and communicating with God.

After a few years of praying the simple little prayer that we’d taught them, we moved to the Lord’s Prayer. I remember my mother teaching me the Lord’s Prayer when I was around 5 years old, and that is about the age that I taught my girls the Lord’s Prayer. Madison was 6, and Chelsea 4.

First, we copied the prayer down word for word from Luke 11, and posted it on their wall. Afterwards, we read through it. I explained to them that when the followers of Jesus wanted to know how to pray, this is what Jesus taught them. I even went through each line of the prayer and explained to them what each line essentially meant. I probably talk too much to my kids, but I kept it loud and colorful and they seemed engaged. Then at night for about two weeks, I knelt at their bedside along with them repeating the prayer. 

After that they were flying solo!

God was so amazingly thoughtful of the powerful effect of teaching. When he brought the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt He commanded them to write down the things He’d done for them so that they never forget it. He told them to pass them down to the generations after them, and then He gave them an interesting commandment. He told them to write these things in a song, so that when they departed from Him (and He knew that they would) that song would remind them of those things that He’d done. Deuteronomy 31:19

I believe the same to be effective with our children today. Let’s teach them how to pray at a very young age, so that as they grow up in this increasingly God-less culture they will remember how to talk and that they can talk to God. After all, the Lord Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven has to be received with a child-like heart, so what better time to teach them. Matthew 18

Now after almost a year of this, we are beginning to teach the girls how to pray whatever is in their heart to God. The youngest (5) is taking off and soaring in this area of prayer. She amazes us when she prays at dinnertime. The oldest, while not as quick or at ease enough to rattle off a prayer from her heart as the youngest child, has on very few occasions, prayed the most insightful and meaningful prayers I've ever heard a child pray. So in short, the benefits of teaching our children to pray early are so innumerable, so effective, so rewarding for both them and you and those for whom they will pray that I can't imagine wasting these valuable uncomplicated years of their lives to simply wait 'til they're old enough to understand it all.

Now is the time that their little hearts are free from the clutter of life that will inevitably happen as they grow. Let's not waste it...their understanding of prayer will grow with them, and will be there to combat some of the lies that they will encounter in this present culture.

This post is part of my Raising Godly Children in a Seemingly Ungodly World series. Older post in this series are:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Teaching Children Gratefulness - A Summer Series #3

I was so surprised one day over a year ago when one of our children (who shall remain nameless) said to me, "I wish I had K****'s toys!" Talk about a slap in the face! I could not believe my ears. Thoughts rushed my mind like a tidal wave rushing the shores of my most favorite beach destroying all of the meticulous sand castles that only patience and time had built (talk about crushing).

I thought we'd talked about gratefulness...I thought I covered being thankful to God for the people and things we have in our lives...why does she feel this way...doesn't she have enough...have I misjudged her likes and dislikes...have we given them enough... and then... the sobering thought...DOES SHE KNOW HOW MUCH MONEY WE'VE SPENT ON ALL OF THESE CHEAP PLASTIC TOYS THAT WERE MADE IN CHINA!!!

I remember the emotions that ran through me as I heard those words come from my darling daughter's mouth. It hurt more, I think, because the kid's whose toys she wanted was a family member first of all, and secondly, it was of someone whose mother I'd always held in high regard for the way she parented her daughter. She seemed so thorough, so clean, her discipline seemed so effective, she seemed so principled. I not only held her in high regard, but I aspired to parent like her which continuously left me feeling inadequate.

So you can imagine that when my child said this, I was affected by more than just the obvious issue that my daughter was having with ungratefulness; however, I will have to save that for another post.

Right now, I want to continue in the series of how to raise godly children in this seemingly ungodly world. I personally believe that a child can begin to grasp the idea of being grateful as early as 5 years old. According to the WebMd website, a 4-5 year old's cognitive development  includes thinking logically and expressing emotions better. Because of this, I feel that it is important that at whatever age our children begin to communicate an ungrateful attitude is precisely the correct age to discuss gratefulness.

We cant afford to buy into the idea that children are too young to understand complex or intangible subject matters.

Sooo...what did I do?

After processing my feelings of inadequacy and disappointment in myself as a mother for not getting the "right" toys that my children would appreciate and enjoy, I talked with her and said to her that what she is expressing is ungratefulness. I told her again (because as we began to talk, I distinctly remembered having a similar conversation with her before) what ungratefulness was, I gave her an example of it, and then we discussed a scripture:

Hebrews 13:5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

I said the reason we can be grateful is because God is with us and he's better than any toy or material thing that we will ever have

Listen, I know that it's a kid eat kid world out there. I know that kids have to be tough these days. I understand that children are more vocal, quicker thinking, and in general, insensitive to each other. I  get that, but I find it supremely difficult to allow my children to continue on in a way of thinking that goes against principles that I believe and know are right. Principles that will benefit them and society as they grow.

In today's world where parents are buying their 6 and 7 year olds personal iPads and cell phones, we have to fight through the thoughts of "my child will be the only one without this thing or that one" when deep inside you have no desire or perhaps money for them to have such items. And especially if they are showing signs of being ungrateful for the things they already have. Again, this calls on us to parent with the courage of our convictions.

It just so happens that on this particular day and at that precise timing, the girls had been invited to an inflatable playground with our neighbor. Well, I told my daughter that because she was being ungrateful for the things she has, she could not go on the playdate, but needed to stay home and think about what it means to be grateful. Even as I type this, it sounds harsh, but you know what, I used that time where it was just she and I home to really hear her out, and answer her questions about gratefulness.

I told her that she may feel those feelings inside of her and that that's not a bad thing, but that she gets to choose what she's going to do, or say after feeling those feelings. Sounds above her age level, doesn't it? It wasn't. I could tell by the kinds of questions that she was asking, that she was getting the concept clearly. Also, it was important that the time she spent at home with me was not a time of her sitting in her room, or feeling terrible about herself and/or her mistakes, but that it was a time of learning and rebuilding.

When it was all over she said that she was glad that she stayed home because she could play with all of her toys by herself. So you see, she ended up not longing and crying because her sister went to play and she didn't, but she was THANKFUL for the time that she had to herself, with mommy, and her toys, at home. She found something to be grateful for in that situation.

In closing, let's not be afraid, or overly concerned that our children cant understand a particular concept. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt that they will "get it." Let's trust God to give us what to say when we need to say it. Let's trust OUR own parenting intuition versus the norms and values of the times we are living in. 

3 Reasons to teach gratefulness

1. The times we are living in shall pass, and we as a people will be on to other ideals, values, and norms (the things "we" call "right"); but God's principles of faith, love, thankfulness...these are the principles on which He began establishing His people and the Church. And I believe that if these are the principles that God finds strong enough to build the entire Church upon, we too can unapologetically trust them as sound principles to raise our children by.

2. Here are a few antonyms of grateful: abusive, heedless, mean, rude, thankless, unappreciative, and of course ungrateful. I don't know about you, but that's not what I want for my children. These are not the traits that I want to see in them. But this is what's left when we choose not to teach gratefulness.

3. Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: 5) And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 6) And these words, which I  command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7) And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8) And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. 9) And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates (Deut. 6:4-9).

Thank you for reading. Let me know what you think! I'm sorry if it sounds "preachy," blame it on the series. ;)

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