“Lord, bless this food and drink, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.”
It was the first prayer that I learned to pray as a child. My three younger brothers and I each prayed it in turn every dinner time. For many of us, this is how we learn to pray. We are taught from an early age to “present our requests to God” (Phil. 4:6). We discover even before we can string together a complete sentence that God is our Father who takes care of us, and so we can ask whatever we need from him.
This delights God. We invite kids to ask God to provide safety while we travel, recall what we learned in history class for the big test, or heal the family dog. These requests flow out of a heart that rests entirely in God’s care. Trusting God to provide everything that we need, body and soul, expresses our confidence that all good things come to us from God, and that God desires to give good gifts to his children.
Sometimes, though, we forget this. Children wonder anxiously who will play with them at recess. Teens lose sleep wondering what sort of vocation God would have them pursue and if they can afford the education they would need to follow that path. We worry about money, we worry about what others think of us, we worry about our jobs and our children.
Again and again, God shows us that the antidote to our worry is “supplication.” “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, with prayer and petition, make your requests known to God” says Paul. Supplication is a the act of transferring our trust in ourselves into the care of God. Trust is a bold profession that God is infinitely wise. He knows what we need and remains infinitely powerful to give us just what we need. Prayers of supplication are a discipline, encouraging us to remember that God is in charge (and we are not).
The acronym “ACTS” helps us remember five important pieces of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. As helpful as this is, we might accidentally leave out an important piece of prayer if we aren’t careful. Supplication is asking for things, and Intercession is more specifically the practice of praying not just for our own needs but also for the needs of others. We intercede for our children, our friends, our colleagues, and for the needs of people we’ve never met who live on the other side of the world. We lift their needs up to God along with our own. Teaching our children to pray for others (and doing so ourselves) challenges us to see the needs outside of our own world, and to be sensitive to the hurts, the needs, and even the joys that others have. Including “Intercession” as a part of supplication contributes to a robust prayer life. As we teach and model Intercession to our children, we send the message that those around us often have needs that we may not see.
A classmate might be saying unkind things about your daughter. In addition to dealing with this with the school, you can pray for this person together with your child, asking that God would care for that person as they need it. In doing this, your daughter will begin to see their unkind classmate differently.
Here are some suggestions to teach your children how to pray.
Be specific. Sometimes our prayers can become vague and generic. “Lord, bless us all, Amen.” Over time, might mean that we lack the depth of thought and intimacy that prayer is meant to create. Pray for specific needs and encourage your children to describe what they need of God.
Ask God for your needs at significant moments. Years ago, our family began the practice of praying in the car, before we took our family vacations. This reminded us not to take safety for granted. We could seek God’s care and protection as we travelled. There might be other moments, like the first day of school or beginning of a new job, that provide opportunity to ask for God’s provision during important moments in life. Celebrate your milestones with prayer.
Family devotion time, for us, includes a time of sharing needs. All members of our family are encouraged, though not forced, to share prayer requests with the others. Sometimes, we as parents suggest matters for prayer: “Don’t you have an exam this week?” or “Would you like to pray about your theater performance that you have on Friday?” Sometimes, we’ll go around the circle, with each person praying for the needs of the person next to them.
Keeping a simple bookmark or a notebook page tucked in their bible can serve as a prayer list, representing the needs of others. You can add to it, as well as write notes about ways that you’ve seen God answer prayers. Regularly including these needs in prayer will help your children remain attentive to the needs around them.
Our needs are many! Yet, God’s goodness abounds, and he is willing and ready to provide for all of our needs when we ask of him. Helping our children make their requests known to God will encourage them to deepen their relationship of trust and dependence on their heavenly Father who graciously provides for all our needs.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster