I've taught a lot about prayer over the years and how it is really just talking to God. Prayer is such a basic foundation of a Christian's relationship with God. It's how we communicate and fellowship with Him. But a surprising number of people, young and old, new and even long-time Christians, say they're not satisfied with their prayer life. One reason for this seems to be that people are more concerned with following "rules" for prayer, or praying "right," and aren't confident God will hear or answer them if they don't. But prayer is simply talking to God.
When it comes to teaching children about prayer, I get excited, because if they can grasp this simple truth early enough in life, they will most likely grow up enjoying a fulfilling relationship with God and a satisfying prayer life. Think about it, most kids will talk openly and honestly about almost anything. This is how we can teach them to pray -- openly, honestly, about anything that's on their mind.
As a mother and grandmother, I think kids just need to understand the simplicity of prayer. It's asking God for what we need and believing He will do the best thing for us. It's talking to Him about people we care about, asking Him to help them. Prayer is asking God how to handle a problem we have and doing what He puts in our heart to do. They need to know they can tell God anything at all because He loves them no matter what. They need to realize they can talk to God like they would talk to their very best friend.
So much of the time, kids are taught the way to pray and not simply to do it. They may learn to kneel, to bow their heads, or fold their hands. They might learn certain words to say or to recite a special Bible verse. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with any of that. But, while I believe it is very important to teach our children to pray, I think maybe we need to toss out the "rule book" and teach them to do what they do naturally and talk to God.
That's the inspiration for my new children's book, "Every Which Way to Pray." Harley and Hayley Hippo want to pray, but they think prayer is hard work. "There are lots of rules for praying," Harley complains. "You have to do it just right." They even have a rule book that tells them so. But the little hippos learn from a whole zoo-full of their animal friends that they can pray any way they want to. They can kneel or stand to pray. They can say loud or quiet prayers, or they can say long or short prayers. They learn that they can pray any way, anywhere, anytime.
I believe this is so important for children to understand. They can talk to God any way -- just be themselves with God. They can talk to Him anywhere -- at church as well as home or even on the playground. And they can talk to God anytime -- because He loves them and He is never ever too busy for them.
And you know something that's really amazing? The way we teach our kids to pray is exactly the same way we can pray! In Mark 10:14 (NIV), Jesus told His disciples, "Let the little children come to me ... for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."
You might be wondering, such as who? Well, I believe adults can learn a lot from some of the characteristics of children when it comes to prayer. Children have strong faith; they trust easily -- especially their parents. We can trust our heavenly Father like that. Children are transparent -- they just "keep it real." In the same way, we can talk to God without all the "thees" and "thous." And children are resilient -- they will fight, forgive and play again tomorrow. Our "fight of faith" may be a little more complicated, but we can make it with God's help.
The main thing we need to understand is (and don't underestimate a child's ability to grasp this), it's not the length or the eloquence or the posture of our prayer that matters to God. It's the sincerity of our heart. He doesn't expect us all to pray the same way -- He just wants to communicate and fellowship with us.
So, throw out the rule book and simply talk to God -- any way, anywhere, anytime about anything. Just ask Hayley and Harley Hippo!