A Bible class teacher I know told about teaching prayer to preschoolers, kindergarteners, and first graders. Their Bible class system teaches through “centers,” meaning about 30 children divide into three groups, and the groups rotate during class time. This teacher had about 15 minutes to teach the same topic to groups of ten children each, and then they practiced praying.
After teaching that prayer is “talking to God about what is on your heart,” she took prayer requests from the four to six year olds. She let them know they could bare their hearts, and she would pray every day for their concerns.
First, pets were on their minds. Ashes the cat made the list. The dogs -- Sam, Happy, Bubba, Buddy and Bandit -- were covered in prayer that week, too. One other pet was AWOL. Each prayer request was accepted and treated with dignity.
Other boys and girls had noticed the suffering of people. A grandpa was in the hospital. A lonely neighbor had moved. Someone had a broken spine. One daughter said her daddy needed rest. Two children remembered recent deaths of grandmothers and a cousin. Still, other little ones requested prayers for moms and dads.
During the teaching segment, the teacher had explained different prayer postures. She told them about lying prostrate before God during especially trying or humbling times. One outgoing young man immediately threw himself on the carpeted floor and demonstrated for the more reserved students. She talked about kneeling to pray, and when the time came to pray, the teacher invited any children who wanted to kneel to do so. Each sweet child chose to join others in a circle and kneel in prayer.
We adults know that prayer is not a magic wand that we wave to get God to do things our way. We have embraced it as a humility-talk from a grown up child to Father, expressing thanksgivings, fears, needs, doubts, and praises. I’m reading and putting into practice the praying of the psalms and my teacher is Lynn Anderson, who recently wrote “Talking Back to God: Speaking your heart to God through the Psalms.” He says of that type of praying, “The Psalms are a place where contemporaries meet the ancients as we all try to account for the chaos, suffering, celebration, and lament we feel in our lives.”
For example, how often would this portion of a psalm speak about a place in life: “Listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping” (39:12)? If you experience a time of exuberant happiness, perhaps this would be appropriate praise: “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (40:3). Sometimes, even a single line from the psalms can become our prayer for months: “Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless” (108:12).
In the children’s prayer time, their requests and praises reached beyond themselves. Not one child asked a prayer for himself. I find that remarkable. When we pray, God helps us untangle from selfishness: “A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package” (God’s Little Devotional Book). Because of the nature of prayer, any time we pray we admit that we’re not good enough, bright enough, or bold enough to meet all the needs of life.
One of the wonderful things about prayer is its immediacy. We don’t have to be at a special place or it doesn’t have to occur at a special time of day. Prayer can occur anywhere and anytime—from a whale’s belly, from a cross, beside the Nile, in school, in the Temple, in a shopping line, on a battlefield, on a mountain, in a valley, or behind the wheel of a car.
One of the surprising results of prayer is a growing knowledge of the holiness of God, the littleness of man, and a glorious friendship between the two. Need a best friend, one you can call on for help, simply sit with in silence, or tell them about your day? Try talking to Jesus. He longs to befriend you, and carry on a conversation for a long time.
Index card verse for week 42: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2).