Thursday, July 22, 2010

Family prayer: brainstorming

"The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our hearts."
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Psalms: the Prayer-book of the Bible, 9-10)

So,  you're challenged in this. In your prayers, you incorporate Scripture, you pray for your prayers, you seek to have ardent and deep encounters with God. But then in family-prayer, what you hear often never rises above a laundry-list. "Dear heavenly Father, thank you for doing/giving this thing, this thing, this thing. Please do this, and this, and this."

You exhort, you try to model praying otherwise, praying for Kingdom-related, spiritually-oriented things, praising and petitioning; you urge your kids, you point it out in the Bible again and again, you dwell on the 9's (Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9, Daniel 9)... but it defaults to the laundry-list, the "heavenly-Father-do" list.

It feels ugly and wrong to even seem to be criticizing your children's prayers. That is not where your heart is, it is not what you want to do. But do all the above, the more indirect things, and nothing happens. Try to be more pro-active, and you run the risk of being accused of legalism, of forcing your children to pray prayers that please you.

What is there between or beyond laissez-faire and legalism?

Have you found anything effective in turning that around? Share. I'm sure that even those of my readers with perfect families could use pointers and ideas.

26 comments:

TM said...

I think prayer is inherently limited because our ability to communicate the infinity of God is limited. You just can't verbalize in a finite language what is infinite.

So I think redundancy is built in to prayer, unfortunately.

HSAT, that doesn't mean it needs to be rote. I find -- however inconsistently I apply this -- that intentional prayer starts way before getting on your knees. What have you meditating on all day? What thoughts have you been having about God? What thoughts about yourself, about work, family, etc.?

I think those influence prayer. If you haven't been thinking about God much, you're not going to have much to say when you go on your knees, and you'll be forced into the "rote" of finding something biblical to thank him for.

So, my 2 cents is: start prayer before you start it :-)

(side note: what does it mean when the word verification for posting is "anger". i'm not kidding. yikes!)

Tom

JK said...

Hi Dan

Our family often struggles with the same thing - my wife and I have discussed "deepening" our prayer time in the evening with our children. I happened to be blessed by an excellent message preached this past Sunday by a guest preacher at our church that mentioned this very topic. The message had to do with Christ's ongoing ministry today. At one point the speaker mentioned the content of our prayers.

The encouragement: to pray for such things as our love for God to deepen; our passion for souls; our desire for obedience and so on - rather than the more shallow laundry list things we often are prone to pray.

We are now praying these things more passionately with our children - especially things flowing out of Deut. 6:4ff which has been a long term practice of ours.

(Note: the message will be up on our website soon if you want me to send you the link.)

Joe said...

I've run into the same challenges you describe. On the one hand I want to train my children (including in prayer) but want to be careful not to communicate that prayers are to be primarily pleasing to me.

In addressing this issue, we taught our children the ACTS model of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). We explained where we see these principles in the Scriptures so our children would understand what each meant and why it was important. We also told them that this is not a 'legalistic' requirement for every time they pray, but was instead a tool to be used for now to instruct in a more robust prayer life as opposed to 'thank you, now please give me....'

They practice this form of prayer on their own in the mornings as a direct response to the passage they are reading. That evening, for family devotions, we discuss the passage and where we see examples of ACTS in the passage. We follow this by praying one at a time, out loud, using the ACTS model. This has been a simple and effective method so far for my family. BTW, my children are 14,14,12,and 8.

Rachael Starke said...

Sigh. It figures that on a week when Gramma is visiting and we are up to our eyeballs in daytrips and adventures, you post one thought-provoking thing after another that I'd love to spend hours interacting on!! This is a huge challenge for us with our little ones and not a lot of family legacy in this department.

For now, I look forward to the comments and make sneak glances at my iPhone while we're at the bookstore with Gramma.

And to help me, would those of you Dan mentioned who are members of perfect families please identify yourselves so I take note of your comments first? Thanksomuch.

:b

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Wait... you have readers with perfect families?

Can you send them my way?

Robert said...

The only advice that I can give is that we try to explain to our boys what it means in the Bible to pray without ceasing and also how Jesus told us to pray. We also let them know we're not perfect, but trying to depend upon God to become better, even in how we pray to Him. I know that I wish that I were truly (and knowingly) dependent upon God in everything I do so that I would pray more (and more effectively).

Jason said...

The one thing we've done with our kids is to ask them 2 questions:

1) What do you want to thank God for today? (with our 3 year-old son it is usually bowling)

2) What do you want to tell God you're sorry about today?

We're trying to get them into thinking about thankfulness and confession. My daughter will be 7 in September, Lord willing, and she tends to pray, "Dear God, thank you for a nice day today; thank you for a fun time..." I recently realized that I probably got her into that just out of laziness and trying to make prayer time seem "real."

I start off the bedtime prayers with her and now I first express thanks for grace and for sending Jesus to die for our sins. I try to emphasize theology and christology first before we get into the thank-yous and what we need. I also try to do this in my own prayer life.

I too am looking forward to the comments from the perfect families.

DJP said...

It was a chuckle, of course. But I would think they should be along any moment, Jason. I run into them all the time.

In fact, I've a post brewing, a followup on this one. I recently saw a post on another blog casually mentioning how Franky Schaeffer is his father's fault. As you might guess, I waded in. One angry reader was very offended that I should challenge the notion that we control our children's spirituality (I asked, "Where's my remote?").

I'd expect him to pop by and tell us all. What a perfect opportunity!

DJP said...

...it is, after all, unkind to leave us all in the dark like this, isn't it?

Tom Chantry said...

I'm no expert in this at all. My kids are very young, still. I'll just say this; it seems that the only times their prayers seem genuine and authentic are also times when they seem humorous and trite to us. For the moment, I try never to criticize those moments, but I do step in periodically to interrupt what has obviously become a list and to say, "Don't just list names; why don't you pray for this instead?"

So far the most authentic prayer award in our house goes to our two-year-old, who decided after his eggs were served to him with ketchup (he always and only eats eggs that way) that he didn't want ketchup. He didn't get anywhere with his mom trying to get her to remove it, so when he discovered that it was his turn to pray he said, "Heavenly Father, I don't want any ketchup on my eggs. In Jesus name, Amen."

I tell the story because - right or wrong - we didn't correct him. For once he was talking to God directly and not only repeating words.

It seems to me that the trouble begins when they are old enough to be told that there is an appropriate way to speak to God - how do we communicate what is and is not appropriate without encouraging rote orthodoxy?

And for what it's worth, my own circle of fellowship hasn't been troubled of late by anyone with a perfect family, but if it is, I'll be sure to send them your way.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

We're definitely not one of the perfect families ;D

I'm constantly battling to keep myself out of a rut in my prayers, as well as to guide the little grasshoppers.

I've learned a lot from the Moms in Touch prayer model, which walks through praise, confession, thanksgiving and petition. The idea is to choose an attribute of God to focus on, and search out scriptures which illuminate that to use in prayer.

For instance, we might choose "faithfulness". We find several verses that describe God's faithfulness and read and pray through them. Then confession. Then we thank God (different than praising) for His faithfulness - specific examples. And then pray through more verses - that we and our children will be faithful.

To be honest, it's hard work. Very hard work. Not unpleasant! But hard.

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.

Julie

Tom Chantry said...

Oh, and another thing - it tried my sanctification sorely to avoid relating that comment some how some way to Vern Poythress and the charismatic gifts!

RT said...

If I had any children, which thankfully I do not, I believe I would write out their prayers for them - I know, it sounds dreadful, but in fact I think it could work. It would steer their heathen little minds in the right direction and one could leave blanks in appropriate places for the children to fill in, like, "today I am thankful for ______" and so forth, so that the children could exercise an appropriate level of input without blathering too much.

Anyway so much for a bachelor's insight. For myself (and I do think it is not just children who revert to "laundry lists") I have been the last several weeks using the outline of the Lord's Prayer to structure my spontaneous prayer in the morning. Of course I also read the Daily Office for Morning Prayer which contains all kinds of really compelling prayers, so I guess I am only advocating for child management the very sort of thing I impose on myself.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

I'll send some beloved (tongue-in-cheek) advice to RT that someone gave to me back when I was a newlywed with no kids:

Write your book now while you still know everything.

I'd like to add more to my comment (not at RT) but I must go keep my perfect children from killing one another perfectly.

And cook dinner. Perfectly.

I hope to be back later, if they don't lock me up first.

Tom Chantry said...

Hey, my wife cooked dinner perfectly. If that's part of the deal, we're part of the way there.

Now, if only the kids had eaten the dinner as perfectly as it was cooked...

Rachael Starke said...

ROFL @Merrilee. Girlfriend, I am so with you. Except for today, when my beloved mother-in-law is watching my kids and feeding them mac and cheese so my perfect husband and I can go out. :) But tomorrow morning, it's back to imprecatory Psalms at the breakfast table.

I really like Jason's approach for the young ones - I think that's great. I'd perhaps add "Who can we think of who needs to know Jesus?"

Sir Aaron said...

I absolutely agree with you on the point about Schaeffer. Although, I have to say that if my daughters turn out to be raving heretics, I'd feel both devastated and responsible. With this realization, I'm desperate, desperate to learn from others' parenting mistakes. Prayer and Bible study have been important areas of consideration. My eldest daughter is not yet four so it's been a test of patience on my part to not have unrealistic expectations. Right now, she clearly cannot grasp the concept of God so prayer is mostly a recital. But in three years, I've noticed two things. The first is that it's important to reassess my and my wife's progress as parents (e.g, discplinary techniques, bad habits, kids' intellectual growth). The second isn't necessarily the prayer, but that I talk to my daughter (the youngest is only 7 months) about why we pray and what prayer is.

One thing I've come to believe is that when kids are old enough, they should be asked to participate in solving family problems.

Sir Aaron said...

RT: a man after my own heart. Get to the point briefly. No reason not to apply that concept to prayer. Also my pet peeve: vague, nebulous "spiritual prayers." Don't ask memo pray for world peace and your spiritual walk. Give me something specific to pray about.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

One of the biggest challenges I find in my prayer life and as we model it for our children is our tendency towards being so self-centered. We take the time to thank God for things we're thankful for, and to request good and godly things that we know He would want for us (unity, diligence, perseverance, discernment, wisdom, etc). But often we don't take the time to pray for others. And I think we should.

But as I just reflected on that, the prayer that Jesus modeled for His disciples was not full of requests involving others, besides "our debtors." It was rather centrally focused on God and His attributes, and His will, and our total dependence upon Him. (Hmm. Now I want to go do a comparative study of that prayer to the high priestly prayer of Jesus...)

Anyways, all I was going to say had to do with the notion that when I pray with my kids, (this is going to sound cliche) I try to be real--knowing that He's omnipresent. I was thinking about when a person is in the middle of yelling at their children for something and the doorbell rings and they do a complete switch to "sweet person." I can't do that when it comes to talking to God, because I know He knows my heart, and whether I'm faking it or not (and my "perfect" kids do too). So if I've just had to rebuke my kids sternly or just had to discipline them, and then we sit down to pray for whatever reason, the first thing I do is acknowledge the fact of this conflict, and go from there towards our desire to honor God through it all. Otherwise, my prayers will seem more like memorized good luck charms than talking to a real Person, and I want them to see there's a difference.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

@ Rachael: I hope you had a lovely evening with your husband. Mine's out of town, so I have lots of time (now that the kids are in bed) to post thoughtful comments on all the important blogs but my own. Imprecatory Psalms at breakfast? That's a real "go get 'em" way to start the day! ; )

And Tom Chantry's comment made me smile, too:

And for what it's worth, my own circle of fellowship hasn't been troubled of late by anyone with a perfect family, but if it is, I'll be sure to send them your way.

Chris H said...

When I was a boy growing up, my family would first share any prayer requests and praise items we had in our own lives (even little things like tests and whatnot were encouraged), and then we'd each volunteer to pray for one person's requests. We also used to get the church directory out and pray through that, each choosing a family.

I remember learning early on that prayer is a chance to talk to God directly, giving Him thanks, and asking Him to look after the needs of others.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Good news everyone! I've got good news:

Well, first of all, I can't say that I did a "study" of this. But I can say that I had the opportunity to read John 17 a couple of times (last night and this morning), and I looked at a number of other passages where Chirst talked about prayer. I also looked at the synoptic accounts of when He fed the multitudes. And my brief observations are these:

1. When He prayed before feeding the crowds, three things consistently showed up: He looked to heaven, He gave thanks, and/or He blessed the food.

2. The prayer that Jesus taught His disciples (aka The Lord's Prayer) and the prayer that is recorded in John 17 (aka the High Priestly Prayer) DO contain lists of requests, amid the things I mentioned before in my earlier comment.

3. The HPP does seem a little bit repetitive, or at least Jesus re-states what He's saying a few different ways.

4. The parables that Jesus used to teach His disciples about prayer emphasize persistence, and ASKING. (And I love the reminder of the fact that God, being a loving Father, knows how to give good gifts to His children, AND that He knows what we need before we even ask Him. It's almost as if He just really WANTS to be asked.)


Like I said, this was not an exhaustive "study" of Jesus' prayer life. (I'm a mother of young children, so usually I'm rushed for time. And even though I got up early today, so did my 3-year old...) But what came across as good news to me is this: Jesus was (no surprise) consistent in what He taught and what He did regarding prayer. He was persistent. He made requests to God the Father. He blessed the food (I noticed that these weren't long, elaborate prayers, either). He did the same thing over and over, at least at meal time. And He reminds us that God delights in giving to His children.

So I think that's good news. We sometimes beat ourselves up because our prayers are basically the same thing, and full of requests. But I'm beginning to think to some degree that's not really a problem.

This is something I do need to study more, though. It has been a delight!

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Good news everyone! I've got good news:

Well, first of all, I can't say that I did a "study" of this. But I can say that I had the opportunity to read John 17 a couple of times (last night and this morning), and I looked at a number of other passages where Chirst talked about prayer. I also looked at the synoptic accounts of when He fed the multitudes. And my brief observations are these:

1. When He prayed before feeding the crowds, three things consistently showed up: He looked to heaven, He gave thanks, and/or He blessed the food.
2. The prayer that Jesus taught His disciples (aka The Lord's Prayer) and the prayer that is recorded in John 17 (aka the High Priestly Prayer) DO contain lists of requests, amid the things I mentioned before in my earlier comment.
3. The HPP does seem a little bit repetitive, or at least Jesus re-states what He's saying a few different ways.
4. The parables that Jesus used to teach His disciples about prayer emphasize persistence, and ASKING. (And I love the reminder of the fact that God, being a loving Father, knows how to give good gifts to His children, AND that He knows what we need before we even ask Him. It's almost as if He just really WANTS to be asked.)

Like I said, this was not an exhaustive "study" of Jesus' prayer life. (I'm a mother of young children, so usually I'm rushed for time. And even though I got up early today, so did my 3-year old...) But what came across as good news to me is this: Jesus was (no surprise) consistent in what He taught and what He did regarding prayer. He was persistent. He made requests to God the Father. He blessed the food (I noticed that these weren't long, elaborate prayers, either). He did the same thing over and over, at least at meal time. And He reminds us that God delights in giving to His children.

So I think that's good news. We sometimes beat ourselves up because our prayers are basically the same thing, and full of requests. But I'm beginning to think to some degree that's not really a problem.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

I'm sorry if I double-posted my comment. I got a message that it was "too large."

(sigh.)

Evidence again that I should be posting at my own blog. (Maybe I'll just cut and paste all my best comments.) ; )

Robert said...

Tom,

I'd say in explaining how to approach God in prayer, point them to the Bible and work through the passages the same way that we each have to to come to a good understanding of the text. I would point to James 4 as a good text to keep them thoughtful about right motivations and what to pray for (and each of us for that matter). And Hebrews 4:16 shows that we can "receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need." There are countless other texts (obviously many throughout the gospels where Jesus prayed) that need to be meditated upon as well.

Obviously, this has to be gauged against each child's comprehension level, but I am sure that each of us know what we're dealing with there. That is one thing my wife and I deal with alot between our two boys because one is autistic (highly-functioning) and the other has an IQ through the roof. God has shown much grace, though, and the older brother actually tries to help encourage his little brother.

I am certainly not saying this is an easy task or that there is a 1, 2, 3 approach to it, but I can certainly say that I am greatly encouraged by the fact that I can serve my children by teaching them how to read, meditate upon, and apply Scripture, especially with regards to prayer, in a way that I was not shown to do until I was in college (and did not do well until my 30's). I think if we are dutiful in praying to God to lead us in teaching our children to do so (and then following/obeying Him), then we will see much fruit.

It is encouraging to hear so many parents who take this seriously and not see any "perfect parents/families". I only hope that I am as faithful at applying discipline correctly to my children as God does with all of His children. And that all of us accept it lovingly!

P.S. I had the same problem with the Poythress thing glad to know it's not just me!!!

zostay said...

Personally, I just wish I did a better job of leading my family in prayer myself. I am not much of a pray-er.

I have found that having children now provides a great deal more motivation to pray more often. I'm responsible to model for the short person and short people add so much uncertainty to life.

Great topic, I am reading through the responses to get any tips for when my 3yo son starts to pray himself.