We do it in church, before meals, when we need something…but many times students neglect or fail to understand just what prayer is and how to do it. Does authentic prayer require a certain ritual, motion, or series of words? Why bother to pray if God has a plan already? Here are some ideas and elements to cover when exploring how we communicate with our Father in Heaven.
Age Range: Preschool-elementary (adaptable for any age)
Materials Required: Colorful paper strips, stapler, markers,
Opening: Yes, no, maybe so…start by demonstrating to kids what it means to communicate. Begin several conversations with different students, but do so haphazardly. Ask one for a hundred dollars or a new bike…Walk up to another and demand an answer to an impossible question. Tell another thank you for something, but walk away before they can answer. Explain to students that we sometimes treat prayer in strange ways. We might treat God like a magic genii that we can rub the right way to get the right answer. Maybe we think of Him as a vending machine: if we put in enough prayer, we can get results. Or we think God doesn’t listen or hear. But God always listens. He loves us and wants the best for us. How do we pray??
Lesson: Ask students what kinds of things they pray for. What is prayer? Why do it? Does God always answer? Remind students that even if it is not always the way we want, God does answer. He might say yes, or no, or wait. But prayer is more than a laundry list of requests or a trite thank you. When we pray, we have opportunity to talk with God and communicate. It was Jesus who gave us the model for how to talk with His father…first, we need to be careful to offer genuine sentiments, not just hypocritical show-off statements:
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. –Matthew 6:5-7
We can pray anytime, anywhere. God does not demand special circumstances or movements. We might pray out loud or in total secret. And what is it we are supposed to offer up in prayer? Jesus provides a template:
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’ -Matthew 6:9-13
Of course, this does not mean we must use these and/or only these words. What the Lord’s prayer offers is a guide. We start with respect. God is holy. We are to approach His throne with that in mind, acknowledging His holiness, not just demanding our own agenda. We recognize that His priorities should be ours (“your kingdom come…”). When we pray for our “daily bread,” we realize that we sometimes think we need more than is essential. We want to ask God only for what we truly need, and trust too that He will provide. We also ask for forgiveness, confessing that we make mistakes and need His healing. In the final exhortation, the prayer asks for holiness and ability to cling to God.
The apostle Paul has some other important words to say about prayer…what does he seem to emphasize? Take a look at a couple of passages to find out:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. -Philippians 4:6
Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. -1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
What is similar here? Thanksgiving. When we pray, regardless of what we say or how we say it, we need to recognize that God has given all things. We don’t just thank Him in positive circumstances. We pray with gratitude and appreciation for everything. We pray in EVERY situation and “continually”. We can pray at school, at home, in the car, in the shower…God hears us. He wants to hear us. He wants us to share with Him how we feel and think. Sometimes He does not give what we want, but He knows what we need and provides that. Thank God!
Craft: There are many things we can do to remind ourselves of a need to pray. Provide students with strips of paper and have them make a prayer chain. Write the names of things, people, requests, thanks, or prayer elements on the strips and staple them together. (For younger students, help with writing). Advise children to hang the chains somewhere they will see and remember what to pray for. Also, provide students with bright dot stickers. Encourage them to place the dots in places they are bound to see regularly (bathroom mirror, TV, i-pad, etc). When they see the stickers, it is time to stop for a moment of prayer!
Close with prayer (how appropriate), and have students help lead the blessing. Remind them not to worry about the words, but speak genuinely to (and with) God.