If you were on a game show and asked to list off all the prayers you learned as a small child, how many could you name?
I would guess several would quickly come to mind from a few different categories, like:
- Bedtime Prayers: “Now I lay me down to sleep…”
- Mealtime Prayers: “God is great, God is good…”
- Singing Prayers: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” (The Doxology)
But there’s one thing all these prayers have in common (besides the fact that they teach little ones to direct their attention towards God): there is no space to listen.
Speaking with our Heavenly Father is important; in fact, I dare say it’s one of the most important things we can do in our Christian walk along with reading God’s Word.
But speaking without listening is only a monologue.
To truly commune and develop a relationship with our Heavenly Father, we must make room for dialogues to happen daily.
As a Professor of Communications who teaches public speaking, one of the first things I teach my students on the first day of class is the speech communication process. Freshman often mistakenly believe there is only one channel of communication when it comes to public speaking, when there are eight.
Think about it: a message can be sent by a speaker, but without a listener to receive that message, it exists in a vacuum. Add in other elements that can affect proper communication like interference, setting and the message itself, and we quickly realize how much more there is to speech than simply opening our mouths and making sounds.
Besides the fact that we drill into our children a one-sided relationship with God from an early age, there is another glaring issue: they focus on ‘the ask’.
Aside from The Doxology mentioned above, most of the prayers we learn as children ask God for things. Sure, there is a sprinkling of thankfulness built in as well, but let’s face it…
We teach kids at an early age to get good at making lists for God.
Believe me, I get the heart behind it. As a parent, we started praying over and with our kids before they could talk in hopes they would be used to the practice and discipline of it by the time they could speak. But while we commonly build in times for prayer before the major milestones of our day (eating and sleeping, for example), I find it rare that families build in time for communal silence.
What does communal silence look like?
It can look like waking up early to walk around the neighborhood in silence before work or school, simply appreciating God’s landscape.
It can be taking time to sit at the dinner table as a family quietly for thirty seconds before starting a prayer to join together in spirit and quiet the noise of the day.
It can mean taking time to lie on the living room floor next to each other with eyes closed while listening to instrumental worship music to still the soul before bedtime.
And yes, this can be done with kids of any age. The youngest children may simply have to learn the practice of being quiet with their family at the dinner table or while in a stroller on a walk, while older kids will learn to put devices down and press pause long enough to tune in to something other than an iPhone or social media.
And may I add a special note: some of us or our children may not have received the gift of speech. Regardless of whether someone was born that way or lost the ability to speak over the years, the silence described above can be deafening. While you may not be able to audibly communicate, I truly believe God and His angels hear us just as clearly as someone who speaks out loud. However, we still face the same challenge to quiet the voices in our heads long enough to tune in to the true voice of God and listen to the messages He desires to speak to us and only us.
So how can we start teaching our kids to listen to the voice of Jesus when they pray?
Start small and start together.
The tips above are a great starting point if you’re not already practicing the quiet presence of God. But perhaps you’re looking for something even more practical…
For my family, learning to listen to the voice of Jesus and the Holy Spirit started with me asking my kids questions as they lay in bed before falling asleep, counting to ten, and then asking them if they heard, saw or felt anything. Remember, it’s safe to assume that if each child learns and experiences life differently, they will each hear and experience God differently.
My youngest heard the most poignant things from God right away in these ten-second bursts. My oldest, who is now thirteen, still admits to never ‘hearing’ God, but regularly sees pictures during these exercises, or feels things stir within her.
I must also warn you, be prepared to answer the question, “How do I know that was God?”
Of course, we will never have a definitive answer to that wise question, but we can have faith that God speaks to us in a way we understand and if we need clarification, we can always ask that of Him. If He lives in our heart, then it would only be natural that we would speak the same language.
If you’re looking for an even clearer way to start teaching even the youngest of kids to listen to the voice of Jesus through prayer, may I suggest Sarah Young’s book, Jesus Calling Little Book of Prayers? If you’re familiar with the Jesus Calling series, you already know they are written in a voice inspired by God’s Word. This newest book offers simple prayers that will remind children that God made them, that He loves them, and that He loves to spend time with them. With simple language and engaging art, this sturdy board book will capture your little ones’ attention as they discover how to talk to Jesus in prayer.
Before you beat yourself up as a parent and worry about what you have or haven’t been doing right or wrong, would you allow me to encourage you to start where you are and invite your family to experience the peace that comes from listening to the voice of Jesus when we pray? Just like anything new, it may take time to get used to, but I promise the patience and practice will pay off long into eternity!
Have you tried making intentional space for silence in your prayer time? We’d love to hear your thoughts on listening as a crucial part of prayer.
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