As a parent, it can be overwhelming to think about instilling discipleship rhythms in our children's lives when we struggle to implement them in our own lives. The beautiful thing about helping our children, though, is it helps us practice these rhythms as well. One rhythm my husband and I have tried to implement in our son's life is prayer. I will admit, prayer is the spiritual discipline I struggle with the most, but as I have attempted to point my child's heart toward a daily rhythm of prayer, it has encouraged my heart to "pray constantly" as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 reminds us. Here are a couple of ways our family has implemented a rhythm of prayer in our home.
Choose strategic times for prayer.
My son is just four years old, but he knows that we do not eat a meal without saying a blessing, we do not get out of the car for preschool before we pray, and we do not go to sleep at night before we pray for our friends and family. Between three meals, carpool, and bedtime, our son will have at least five opportunities in the day to experience and participate in prayer. These strategic times will look different from family to family. It might include sports practices, music lessons, bus stops, drop-off and pick-up between divorced parents, or spending time with a parent when they get home from a third shift. Whatever your daily rhythm looks like, look for ways to point your children's hearts to the Lord.
We pray over meals so our son will learn to be thankful for what the Lord has provided. As we pray in the carpool line, he learns to pray for his friends and teachers. He also learns to pray for his own heart to be obedient and kind and to take his fears and worries to Jesus. And at night, as we go to bed, we pray for the health of family and friends and the salvation of our child and others who are lost. In each of these situations, our hope is to remind our son that he can talk to Jesus any time. Whatever his concerns may be, the Lord is there and ready to listen. Look for ways in your daily schedule to point your children's hearts to prayer. These prayers do not have to be long; they simply remind them to pray on others' behalf as well as their own.
Encourage your children to participate, no matter what it looks like.
I remember when my son first started participating when we prayed. They were usually very loud echoes of something I had just said. At first, it bothered me because it would interrupt my train of thought, but then I realized he was participating by joyfully shouting the words he understood. He wanted to participate, and I needed to let him do it in his own unique way. My heart melts each time he wants to end his prayers by saying, "And Jesus loves you." It might not be the typical "amen," but it is an absolute truth he carries throughout the day.
As our children begin praying, their words might not make total sense, but their hearts are turned toward the Lord, and as parents, this is what we want to foster. If you have older children, take the time to listen to their hearts and their concerns as they call out to the Lord. Often, you will learn more about what is going on in their hearts, and they will even teach you about transparency and honesty in your own prayers.
There will inevitably be times when your children will not want to pray. I remember pulling up to preschool and telling my son it was time to pray, and he gave me a resounding, "Nope!" This was definitely a teaching moment as we talked about how sometimes we pray even when we do not feel like it. That was a teaching moment even for me! For those with older children, there will be plenty of times when they have no desire to pray. Between hormones, peer pressure, and school, your children will need to be continually reminded of the importance of prayer in their lives. No matter their age, your children need you to encourage them to pray. Whether they give a joyful shout or an angry grunt, do not give up on this important spiritual discipline. It will serve them well when they are adults. Encourage them as Paul did in Colossians 4:2, which reminds us, "Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving."
As you implement a family rhythm of prayer, remember that it is not about checking a box but about pointing your family's heart toward time with the Lord. When we pray, our hearts draw close to the Father, and it is there He changes us and makes us more like Christ. The psalmist shares such a beautiful truth in Psalm 73:28, "But as for me, God's presence is my good. I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all you do." The presence of God in our lives is our greatest good. May our families be continually in prayer, so we radiate His glory to the world.