Until recently, the thought of praying with children just didn’t cross my mind. I remember laughing at a prophetic word given to me many years ago about working with children in the house of prayer. I just didn’t have an imagination for what a positively engaged child at church was… I certainly didn’t recall my own childhood at church being an image of saintliness. But for three years now we’ve been gathering families for prayer, young children and all, and my wrestling with God’s heart for the family has affected more than my confidence around children. It’s challenged some of the values I carry into my own prayer.
Jesus isn’t inviting you to stomp your feet and have a tantrum. Jesus is challenging your values and inviting you to be familiar enough with children to be challenged by them. In an age where childhood carries so many unprecedented pressures created by our very much adult world, Jesus’ words only carry a greater emphasis. We need to have a different perspective. Repent!
So much of how we value our own participation in prayer is about our understanding. We want to be able to concentrate and not be distracted, whether that’s at church or at home. What we want from our children is to pay attention and engage at the level of their understanding. But Jesus challenges us with this radical call to simplicity. Don’t hide behind clever ways of saying things that hide the true depth of His call, which is simple and direct. As we spend time with children we’re challenged not to rest on our own understanding and to let our prayer be simple.
There’s a wonderful quote from a child psychologist who summarises: “There is no significant learning without significant relationships”. Children always live in reference to others, their weakness requires it. Children confront us with the truth that what is really personal is often more relational than individual. Children’s prayer is always first prayer together, but adults find it more difficult to pray together than children do. As we spend time with children in prayer we’re challenged for our prayer to be shaped in relationship with others.
Children do everything whole-heartedly. Unless they see others whole-heartedly engaged in prayer then prayer will always seem a bit put on. Our prayer with children has to be real if we want our children to really pray! The uncomfortable reality is that we’re often incapable of keeping our own hearts engaged. That poverty of heart belongs to the nature of prayer. Indeed, how blessed are the poor in heart - for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Children confront us with the reality that our own participation in prayer isn’t usually what we would want it to be.
Gathering together in prayer with other families is a great opportunity to grow in familiarity with what your prayer together can look like. When we gather families in the House of Prayer we always keep children and parents together. Our prayers are simple, always rooted in His word – so they always have substance. It’s only by spending time together in prayer in His word that children start to grasp the value of prayer for themselves. But it’s also only by spending time together in prayer in his word that we start to grasp the value of prayer for ourselves too!
How will you accept the challenge to let your prayer become more real? How will you become more like a child in your prayer today?
Pieter is on staff as an intercessory missionary at Manchester House of Prayer. With a heart to see families grow in prayer together, he brings leadership to our Family Prayerwatch. He also serves in the prayer room as a worship leader, singer and prayer leader.