Matthew gives us Jesus' wise words about prayer: "But when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:5-6).
It is behind this closed door that parents must use utmost restraint in reacting to the innocent, heartfelt pleas their children present to the Father.
Sometimes children show remarkable gratitude and understanding:
"I thank you for giving me such a wonderful life. My life is a blessing with all the people in it such as my caring friends and family. And most of all, I thank you for my home to live in, environment to survive in, and the sanctuary to praise you in, and a church who cares about me." —Shanice, age 10
"Thank you for my life and my family. Thank you for dying on the cross. Without you, I wouldn't know what I would do." —Taylor, age 9
Some prayers focus on matters related to the family:
"God, can you put a sister in my mommy's tummy? I would like to blame everything on her. Amen." —Joel, age 6
"Jesus, please help my sister to stop hitting me. Tell her it hurts. Amen." —Andrew, age 4
"Thank you God for baby Tanner in mommy's tummy and the food in daddy's tummy." —Natalie, age 3-1/2
"Dear God, thank you for the beautiful food we had and help my brother to stop telling lies to my mom and dad. He told two lies today. And Jesus name. Amen." —Drew, age 4
"Dear God, help Macy to feel better. She ate a donut and she threw up a donut. Amen." —Brinlee, age 3
"Dear Jesus, thank you for princesses: that they can be saved by superheroes. The end." —Taylor, age 2-1/2
Some prayers speak more personally:
Like this tearful prayer from Liv, age 5, after cutting off most of her hair using her school scissors: "Thank you, Jesus, for dying on the cross for me, and please make my hair grow back."
Cole, age 4, once prayed, "God, make the veggies on my plate taste good since I have to eat them."
"Dear Jesus, would you let it snow, please!" prayed Abby, age 2, who desperately wanted to go sledding with her father but was informed that sledding required snow.
"Dear Jesus, thank you for my bread. Thank you for my drink. Thank you for my spaghetti. I don't like spaghetti. Please bring me something else. Amen." —Ainsley, age 3
Some prayers throw curveballs:
"And Jesus, thank you for angels with wings. And thank you for angels without wings." —Liv, age 4
This was quickly followed by her sister's commentary, "Angels definitely do not have wings." —Holland, age 2
"God, please help my stuffed animals to be soft and animally." —Julia, age 4
"Dear God, thank you for the day and for mom and dad. And protect the bees. Amen." —Brooklyn, age 4
"Dear God, help us have the greatest goodnight's sleep and bless everyone in the whole world. Also, can you help me find the Ark of the Covenant?" —Carson, age 7
And some prayers emerge from immediate life experiences:
One mother recounts:
Our son, Gideon, age 5, watched Facing the Giants with us. After the movie we talked with him about what his giants might be, and then we prayed about them and asked God to help us not to be afraid of our giants. When we were done praying, we were going to ask Gideon to pray, and he shouted: "I heard it! I heard Him! God spoke to me right in my heart and I heard Him! He said, 'Don't let those giants scare you. I am in control!' We don't have to be afraid any more. Isn't that cool!?"
Another mother shares:
A few months ago when we were walking to preschool, Joseph told me, "Mommy, I talked to God in my dream last night." Thrilled and a bit goose-bumpy, I asked him, "Oh really? What did you say to Him?"
He replied, "Well, I said, 'Thank you for all the wonderful trees, and all the wonderful leaves, and all the wonderful bushes, and all the wonderful sticks, and all the wonderful trucks, and all the wonderful rocks.'"
I said, "That's great, Joseph! Did God say anything to you in your dream?"
"No, then we just prayed silently together."
The thing is, the previous Sunday in church, our pastor had led us in a time of silent prayer, during which she instructed us to "pray silently together." Our squirmy three-year-old could barely contain himself for those silent five minutes in church, but he mastered the art of when it was just he and God together.
Let us keep nurturing our children to pray no matter how many laughs have to be suppressed. From these seeds of practiced prayer grow the prayer warriors of the future.
Amber Gunter is mother of two young children, an educator, and is involved in music and children's ministries at Trinity Church of the Nazarene in Oklahoma City.
Holiness Today, May/June 2010
Please note: This article was originally published in 2010. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.