Have you ever thought about how you pray, especially in front of children? I can’t say that I ever had, until a couple weeks ago. That was when I took a group of kids to camp. As is common at camp, there were adult gatherings each day. Part of this time was administrative with the camp director. That was when it hit me. As you can imagine, the camp director spent time praying during each session. But, she had a unique way of doing it which will change the way I pray, maybe for the rest of my life.
I tend to open my prayers with something like this:
“Dear Heavenly Father…” or
At first glance these seem perfectly reasonable and, in fact, they are. The problem is I’m just not sure that this lines up with what I have been teaching kids.
As I try to think of why I pray this way I really can’t come up with a reason. I’d love to say that it is as a show of respect for God. Or maybe as a reflection of Jesus’ instructions in the Lords Prayer. That would be a lie. The truth is it is probably simply a result of my upbringing. This is the way my father prayed. In fact, growing up in a Southern Baptist Church with King James Version Bibles being the only ones I knew as a kid it is probably simply what I knew.
But, is this the best way to pray in front of kids?
I can’t speak for everyone reading this, but I am sure that many of you have taught the same kinds of things I have. We teach about a God who wants a close relationship with us. We speak of Abba who is more like a Daddy, then some far away, cold, closed off super powerful being. Yet, when we pray, we pray as if God is far away and impersonal.
Is He ALMIGHTY or is he ABBA?
Well, the truth is that God is both. He is the almighty creator of the universe, but is also what the Bible calls Abba. Abba is a familiar term that a family would use to describe the father in the family. It is a term closer translated as daddy, than father. Jesus is called the friend of sinners. God is called father to the fatherless. In the book of Genesis we see where God literally walked with Adam and Eve. Clearly God is both all powerful and familiar.
What’s wrong with how we pray? There are so many people these days that need a God that is both all powerful and also longing of a close relationship with them. I fear that when we pray in very formal ways that we communicate with kids (and even lost teens and adults) that while we are teaching that God wants to be close with us, we can’t talk to him that way. I know that I have personally taught kids many times that they could talk to God like they talk to their friends, but I don’t talk to Him that way, at least not in front of kids. I fear when we do this that kids can get confused and even more uncomfortable praying. We say “talk to God just like you do your friends”, but imagine if we actually talked to our friends the way we talk to God:
“My wife who art in the kitchen, what art thou preparing for the evening meal”
“Johnny, you are a great friend of mine and I love you so. Dost thou desireth to eateth some wings this Friday evening?”
It sounds ridiculous when we look at this way, yet that is what we are telling kids. They hear how we talk to our family and friends and they hear how we talk to God. They recognize that it is not the same. We could possibly even go so far as to say that we lose some credibility with these kids and may even weaken the effectiveness of everything we teach when we do this.
So, how SHOULD I pray?
At the end of the day I will not tell you how you should pray. That is between you and God. It depends so much on the culture of your church and community. BUT, the way I pray in front of kids will forever be changed by the way I heard this camp director pray. You see while I opened my prayers with the very formal greetings I mentioned above, she started her prayers with:
I was initially taken aback by the casual way in which she spoke to the ALMIGHTY GOD. But, as the week went on I began to see the beauty in this. If God is really who we teach Him to be, then we should really start talking to Him that way. If we want kids to talk to God as they would their friends, then we should talk to Him that way. If this can help any kids feel more comfortable praying, then I’m gonna do it. As I have been praying this way in my own, private, prayer times I find that it does make it easier to talk with God. It does make the conversation feel more personal. It makes me feel closer to God when I pray. So from now on, at least when I pray in front of kids I will start it like this:
“Hey God. It’s me, Matt.”