When you have a relationship with someone, you want to spend time with them. Sometimes that means just being around them. Other times, it's having a conversation with words. The relationship between people and God works like this, too, and not just for adults. It's important to teach kids at an early age that spending time with God should be a part of daily life. Prayer is a huge component in our relationship with Him.
What is prayer? To put it as simply as possible, it just means talking to God. Even very young children can get this concept. Parents and leaders begin talking to kids, having conversations with them when they are babies. Even when they don't understand it yet, they hear words and thoughts. Then at some point, they begin to speak back. Communication happens.
You could explain it this way: when you are friends with someone, you might express that friendship by talking and listening. If you don't ever talk to that friend, you don't know what is going on in their life. The more you speak to that friend, the more you understand them, and the closer you become. It's the same with God. If you don't spend time talking with Him, you will not know much about Him. You won't be very close. And the more time you spend apart, the harder it will be to have a strong relationship.
Ask kids: who are the people you talk to every day. Their list most likely includes family members, friends, and teachers. Bring up the importance of adding God to their daily talk list. Conversing with Him helps keep the relationship going.
Children are known for asking this one-word question: why? And although sometimes the answer parents or leaders might like to give is, "because I said so!" that's not the correct answer regarding prayer. The right response is, "because the Bible says so!"
When you're teaching kids what prayer is and telling them they should do it; you have to explain the why. Pointing to God's Word is the best explanation. From the beginning of time, people have been having conversations with God. Back in the Garden of Eden, it was out loud with Adam and Eve. All of the patriarchs communed with God. Throughout history, the Bible tells us about people's relationships with God. These would not be so if it weren't for prayer. They talked with God about everything from asking for protection from enemies to praising Him for being the Creator.
David is a great example to use with kids. Many of the Psalms are straight-up prayers from David's mouth to God's ears. Psalm 4 is just one of many offered up by David, asking for God to answer him, to bring him relief and mercy in a challenging situation. Hannah offered prayers of praise in 1 Samuel 2 when she thanked God for allowing her to have a baby. She rejoices in the Lord, calling him Holy and a Rock.
What the Bible Teaches About Prayer
Share with kids the key things the Bible has to say about prayer.
Pray because God listens. Jeremiah 29:12 says, "Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you."
Pray because it's real, and it works. James 5:16 says, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. 2 Chronicles 7:14 teaches that prayer can change things. When Solomon was making sacrifices to God for the people, God responded to him by saying that if the people would humble themselves and pray, He would forgive and heal them.
Pray because Jesus said to do it. Jesus modeled how to pray, including who to address and what to ask. What is commonly known as the Lord's Prayer can be found in Luke 11 and Matthew 6. Both accounts give a great starting point to show kids to respect the Name of God as they are talking to Him, ask for needs, understand forgiveness, and petition for the temptation to stay away. This model prayer shows a simple formula of what should be included in their prayers.
Pray a lot about many things. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 simply says, "pray continually." Communication with God is an ongoing mindset. Ephesians 6:18 is a reminder to pray on all occasions about all kinds of things. Even though God already knows what is in people's hearts and minds, He wants us to verbalize it.
Pray, so you're not anxious. Worry can be a huge part of a kid's life. They can learn that by talking to God, they can give their anxiety to Him and be filled with peace instead. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Pray even when you think you can't. It's not always easy to put into words what you're trying to say, so it's comforting to know the Holy Spirit can do that for you. Romans 8:26 says that the Spirit intercedes and deciphers for those who don't know what to say.
Model and Put it into Practice
When teaching kids what prayer is, you should give them opportunities to practice it. It's one thing to teach and read about prayer, but another to model what it looks like. Whether it's a large or small group setting, there should be prayer time. Sometimes this should be led by adult leaders. Show them by example. It's good for kids to see and hear adults and teens praying. This modeling will lead your students into trying it for themselves. A church setting is a safe environment for kids to learn and practice. When you start or end your worship service together, ask for volunteers to pray. For unsure kids, offer to have them repeat a prayer that you lead.
Don't leave the teaching to just the church. Encourage families to pray together. Home is often also a safe environment for practicing and learning. Moms and dads should be modeling this so it will be a natural thing for their kids to do. Talking to God should be a daily rhythm in the life of a Christian family. But don't assume that all of your families have prayer as part of their routine. Use social media or handouts to give pointers on some practical ways to incorporate prayer into their lives. Suggestions of family prayer time before bed or sharing one praise and one prayer request each morning together are easy ways to start.
Prayer is talking to God. Kids must know that it's real and that He listens. The Bible gives clear instructions on how to do it. As a leader, you can teach them these things and model it just as Jesus did for his disciples. Help families know that prayer is a vital part of their daily life and draws them closer to the God who made and loves them.