What We Teach When We Teach Children To Pray

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

For those of us who grew up in church, the mystery and miracle of prayer is something we too often take for granted. I’ve been praying—sometimes more often, sometimes less often—my entire life. I was taught to pray as soon as I could talk. One of my first memories of church is bowing my head and closing my eyes and folding my little hands to pray in my kindergarten Sunday school class.

For regular church attenders prayer has become so routine that we rarely think about all that we’re teaching when we teach children to pray.

When we teach children to pray, we are teaching that God listens, not in some amorphous way, but that God listens specifically to them.

When we teach children to pray we are teaching that God cares, not in some general way, but that God cares specifically about them and the things they care about—from a sick cat, to an ailing grandparent, to the forgiveness of sins.

When we teach children to pray, we are teaching that God acts now in this world to intervene on their behalfs. God listens to them. God cares about them. God intervenes for them.

God listens to us. God cares about us. God intervenes for us. We’re really teaching a lot when we teach children to pray.

REST begins at HERITAGE on Wednesday, September 7th

REST begins at HERITAGE on Wednesday, September 7th

How Does Prayer Work?

If prayer teaches all of these things and prayer is real and prayer is true, then how does prayer work exactly?

That’s a harder question. How God hears and the ways God acts are both as much mystery and miracle as is the full nature of God. In that sense prayer is both an article and expression of faith. But for those who have made prayer a regular part of their Christian lives, the efficacy of prayer is no mystery, only miracle.

Most often we think of individual prayer as a silent conversation with God—an internal dialogue that we purposefully enter into when we consciously choose to pray. Prayer “happens” when we pause from other things to mentally address ourselves to God--“Dear God, please help me make it through the day, AMEN.”

But prayer is more than those moments of formal address. I was reminded this week by a church member about all the ways and all the places we talk to God.

What is Prayer?

Prayer is the mindful conversation we have with ourselves while working in the garden whether the conversation starts with “Dear God” and ends with “Amen," or not.

Prayer is singing familiar hymns while cleaning the house.

Prayer is taking mental inventory of one’s life while jogging.

Prayer is clearing your mind and breathing deeply at yoga.

Prayer is problem solving. Prayer is asking, “How can I fix this?” Prayer is developing a plan and putting it into action.

Prayer is waiting and patience. Prayer is refusing to act too soon. Prayer is discerning when the time is right.

Prayer is working together with others and trusting that God is a collaborative partner, too.

Prayer isn’t just speaking, trusting, acting and waiting, though. Prayer is also listening. Prayer is listening for God to speak.

So how do we hear God’s voice?

How Do We Hear God in Prayer?

God speaks in moments of clarity and through our intuition. God is in those moments of inspiration when big jobs seem small and tough solutions seem simple. We should trust those moments.

God speaks through the well-timed words of friends.

God speaks through the alignment of circumstances.

God speaks when some doors are opened and others are closed.

God speaks through music and art and literature.

God speaks through scripture and proclamation and corporate worship.

God speaks. If we tune our ears and hearts right, God isn’t hard to hear. 

So Here's What Prayer Is

Prayer is mystery and miracle. Prayer is powerful. Prayer is God listening. Prayer teaches that God cares and God intervenes. Prayer is waiting and trusting. And prayer is God speaking.

We’re starting a new emphasis on prayer at HERITAGE. The centerpiece of that emphasis is a midweek worship experience called REST. REST is a way to engage prayer that moves beyond the routine and that keeps us from taking prayer for granted.

You can learn more about REST here. It starts on Wednesday, September 7th at 6:30. But you don’t have to wait until then to start praying. You can start to re-engage a meaningful prayer life now. How will you speak to God--and where will you listen for God--today?

See you Sunday.