5 tips for teaching/leading prayer
1. Prayer and action is a RESPONSE to our love for Jesus Christ – NOT the means to receive a response from God. We ourselves should constantly be looking to grow our relationship with the Lord. When this happens, we have a natural inclination and desire for prayer. If we feel like we are forcing our prayer or we feel uncomfortable in our prayer, it probably means we have some work to do in our spiritual life. Tip #1 is to grow in our love for Jesus Christ first, and our prayer will transform from our attempt to know God to our response out of Love for God. It all starts with US and God.
2. Any prayer is better than no prayer. Don’t allow the feeling of inadequacy to keep you from praying. The Lord knows your heart and desire so don’t feel like you’re doing a “bad job” praying with your kids. If you don’t feel comfortable praying, just keep in mind that “Practice makes perfect”. If no one spent time teaching you to pray, it’s probably a little out of your comfort zone. If you want your kids to learn to pray, you are their teacher. Just jump right in there and speak from the heart, or use something you already know or could read.
3. Diversify your prayer – I did a study and found that almost every time I gathered a group of people, 1/3 of the folks would say they were “Contemplative”, 1/3 were “Charismatic” and 1/3 were “Charitable” in their prayer style. The contemplatives connected with Jesus through meditation, thoughtful discussion, liturgy of the hours, and prayer of structure. Charismatics enjoyed praise and worship, spontaneous prayer, praying over/with others. Charitable folks connected with Jesus by praying with their hands and feet – acts of kindness and service, prayer for others in need and intercessory prayer. As a leader of prayer, it’s likely that you’ll choose forms of prayer that match your own prayer style, so make sure you are reaching out to other prayer styles that may better reach those you’re praying with. Mix up quiet prayers, fun prayers, relaxed prayers, intense prayers, prayers for others, prayers for yourself, written prayers, spontaneous prayers, acts of service. Take them up to the church, and just be quiet for a few minutes, then walk them around teaching about the stations, stain glass windows or what happens at the baptismal font. Even better, stop in for a few minutes of adoration.
4. Pray unceasingly. God is with us all day, every day – not just when we recognize he’s there. This means you can and should acknowledge his presence as often as you remember. Every meal, in the morning, when you see something cool or beautiful. Say a prayer when you see an ambulance, or make the sign of the cross when you pass a church. When someone asks you to pray for them, stop right then and say a prayer. Not long ago, I was in downtown Dallas with my 4 year old. It was pouring rain, and we were trying to get back to the car, and a homeless man (Jimmy) stopped me asking for money. I didn’t have anything to give him, so I offered to pray for him. My son stood behind me as I stopped to talk with Jimmy and pray with him. Over the next few weeks, I continued to pray out loud for Jimmy with my son as a continued witness. I hope that these little moments become engrained in my son as just how we should pray – all the time, and any time it’s needed.
5. Pick a time and make it a habit. In our family, we read 2 books, say a prayer, then go to bed. I’m sure its quite interesting when the sitter gets asked to pray the divine mercy chaplet with a 4 year old, and they have no clue even what that is. My son at the age of 4 can say the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, the Fatima prayer, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and it’s prayers, the Guardian Angel Prayer, and the St. Michael the Archangel prayer. Most the time, he rattles them off without even knowing what he’s saying – but every night, it’s just become a part of what we do. During lent, we said a decade of the rosary. At Advent, we lit up the candles every night and said a prayer. During Easter, we said the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Now we’re just picking prayers from a little prayer book and I’ll let him pick a prayer, then read through it commentating on each sentence or phrase.
I know so many high school teens that go to mass most weeks, but they would never claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and if you asked them their favorite way to pray, they’d probably just say – “when I’m alone before bed”. They were never taught different prayer styles, or even how to pray with their heart, so they just stick with the one or two prayers they know, and be hesitant to venture far from that. Now they’re adults, and trying to teach their kids how to pray…
Break that cycle! Lets take responsibility for the faith of our kids and start teaching them how to pray. If you don’t know how, start with giving some time to it – while driving in the car alone. Have a simple conversation with God like you’d have with someone sitting in the seat across from you. Thank God for Bluetooth phones, because now we can just pray and we look like we’re talking on the phone!