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E-ZINE ARTICLE #039

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#039

FROM PLAYING TO PRAYING

How to Involve Children in Church Prayer

by Kim Butts, Harvest Prayer Ministries <kbpray@aol.com>  

 

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Clearly, the Lord values and encourages the prayers of His children—no matter what their age. Jesus, at the age of 12, found Himself needing to be in His Father’s house. Samuel learned to discern the voice of God as a young boy. Josiah became king as an eight-year old boy. In 2 K. 23:25, Scripture says of him: “Neither before or after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did - with all his heart, and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” As a teenager, he wept before the Lord in repentance for the actions of his ancestors.

If our children are the recipients of these wonderful biblical legacies of praying children, why are they in the back room watching videos and playing games while the adults are doing the work of prayer in the sanctuary? This communicates to the adults that children are “just practicing.” It communicates to the children that their prayers are not as important to God as adult prayers.

When we relegate children to the “practice fields of prayer,” we rob them of their rightful heritage as prayer warriors. An early example of this can be found in Mt. 21:15-16: “But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant. ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him. ‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise”?’” If we will let them, our young people will teach us how to worship the Most High God! They will lead the way in prayers of praise and intercession!

The prophet Joel says, “Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together  the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast” (Joel 2:15-16). The passage reminds us that even the very young are called by God to repentance and prayer. Seeking the face of God is not reserved only for those who have age or experience in the body of Christ. It is for all of God’s children.

If we adults opt not to include children in “big people” prayer activities until they’ve “come of age,” we are opting to raise up yet another generation of “dysfunctional” pray-ers! Do you remember how you learned to pray? Most of  us learned by example. Those who have vibrant prayer lives today most likely received encouragement and were given much opportunity to pray. That’s how prayer lives grow and expand.

When my son David was a baby and unable to form words clearly, I taught him a few words in sign language. He was able to signal to me when he wanted juice, a ball, an apple, or a cracker. His frustration level dropped significantly (as did mine!) once he was able to communicate and I was able to respond to his need. It intrigued me that a young infant could communicate so well,even before his ability to form words had developed. He knew how to ask and believed that he would receive what he asked for. David has approached his growing prayer life in the same way - just talking to God, expressing his needs, and believing in God’s ability and desire to care for him.Children don’t make prayer harder than it needs to be—they pray from trusting hearts. They don’t wonder if their prayers are being heard— they believe it! They have a natural ability and heart to cry out to Jesus from a very early age.

A Challenge to the Church

Congregational prayer that does not involve children and youth is not truly corporate. If we have welcomed children into membership of the church, baptized them, and extended communion to them, why withhold corporate prayer from them? If they are old enough to claim Christ as their Lord and Savior, why aren’t they old enough to pray with us? Are we worried that they might behave inappropriately? Are we concerned about what they might pray?

I believe what we often consider to be the cute” or “precious” prayers of children, God views as powerful intercession from the lips of those who come to Him with simple, childlike faith. And I believe His heart is especially tender toward these prayers.

Esther Ilnisky of the Esther Network International states that not nurturing praying children is “spiritual abortion.” She means that many prayers are going unprayed, and therefore many individuals and situations are left unchanged, because children aren’t praying them. Because we don’t encourage and equip our children and youth in prayer, God is still looking for intercessors to “stand in the gap.” If physical abortion is abhorrent to us, the idea of spiritual abortion through lack of prayer should be unsettling as well. The fact that it happens at the hands of so-called “mature” Christians should cause us enough grief to repent and change our minds and hearts on the subject.

In 1 Tim. 4:12, Paul instructs young Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” Many of us feel inadequate in our own prayer lives; therefore, we may have trouble affirming and equipping our children in theirs. This is a form of pride for which we should repent. We have an opportunity to develop an army of young intercessors whom God desires to unleash upon this ungodly world. We should not allow ourselves to quench the spirit of prayer that flows naturally from them. Instead, we should be releasing them to minister as God has called them. They need to be encouraged to pray individually, with others of their age, and with the rest of the body of Christ.

If your church is not currently including children in corporate prayer, I encourage you to do so. For as we rise up and praise God as one loving, committed body - young and old - praying earnestly on behalf of this dark world, God will be honored and glorified. And you will be blessed beyond measure as you tap into the powerful prayers of children.

Practical Ways to Encourage Intergenerational Prayer

1.   Pastors, take the lead! Ask the youth and children of your church to pray for you! Encourage other adults to do the same.

2.   Elevate the importance of prayer in the church by going beyond brief opening and closing prayers at services and meetings. Encourage all ages to be involved.

3.   Practice humility. Allow yourself to learn from the children even as they learn from you

4.   Support families, as they learn to pray together. Make materials and opportunities available to them.

5.   Invite children to be a part of the prayer ministry team of the church.

6.   Invite children to come to adult Sunday school classes to pray. Eddie and Alice Smith say in their book Intercessors and Pastors, “This teaches young children the importance of prayer. It is amazing to see how powerfully God touches the adults as these young people pray.”

7.   Encourage families (including kids) to become Lighthouses of Prayer in their neighborhoods.

8.   Plan regular intergenerational prayer events, such as Concerts of Prayer, Prayer Watches, First Friday Fasts, etc.

9.   Include all ages in prayer during church services. At Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, small groups of people, including children and youth, huddle together for times of corporate prayer. In fact, these groups are called “huddles.”

10. Bless and equip young prayer warriors. One messianic congregation in Dallas, Texas, brings its children to the front of the church and has the men spread their prayer shawls over the group and pray blessing upon the children. They ask God to develop His heart in them so that they will be released for service.

11. Encourage young people to give testimonies of answered prayer during church services.

12. Prayerwalk the neighborhoods around the church together.

13. Pair adults and young people as e prayer partners. They will be a unique blessing and encouragement to one another.

14. As a congregation, adopt nations, leaders, missionaries, etc. Pray for them regularly, and put maps and pictures on walls, so young and old can lay hands on them.

15. Train and equip youth and adults to go on prayer journeys. The teenagers at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, are required to have passports at the ready for such journeys. They are encouraged to intercede for the lost and to be global Christians.

16. Regularly affirm all of the intercessors in your church, no matter what age. Gifted intercessors of all ages still need training and encouragement.

17. Allow some fun during prayer. In her book When Children Pray, Cheri Fuller says, “Remember that prayer times don’t have to be ‘all work and no play.’ Kids transition easily from the ‘seriousness’ of prayer into the fun of play and laughter. So, if you lead children and adults on a prayerwalk, also stop by a playground to hop on the swings, or visit an ice cream shop.”

 

 

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