I let my kids pray too much. They pray at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They pray in family worship, and I even had one of them pray when we visited a family member in the hospital last week.
You may not see anything wrong with this. I didn’t either until the Holy Spirit prompted this question in my mind: How often do my kids hear me praying?How often do my kids hear me praying? Click To Tweet
How often do my kids hear me leading our family in extended times of prayer?
The answer, to my shame, was almost never. Sure, I pray privately, and as a Gospel minister, they often hear me pray publicly. But, to my surprise, I realized that I rarely lead our family in prayer.
This question arose from the story of John G. Paton, pioneer missionary to Vanuatu in the South Pacific. In his Autobiography, Paton explains how as a child his father’s prayers molded him:
How much my father’s prayers at this time impressed me I can never explain, nor could any stranger understand. When, on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in Family Worship, he poured out his whole soul with tears for the conversion of the Heathen world to the service of Jesus, and for every personal and domestic need, we all felt as if in the presence of the living Savior, and learned to know and love him as our Divine friend.
Three things stood out to me from Paton’s description of his father’s prayers. First, Paton knew his father’s heart through his father’s prayers. No amount of reading story Bibles, memorizing Scripture, or catechisms can substitute for displaying for our children our affection for Jesus. In fact, religious devotion without relational affection hardens children to God.Religious devotion without relational affection hardens children to God. Click To Tweet
Second, Paton credits his father’s prayers with growing in him an affection for Jesus. His father’s love for the Savior was contagious. In those times of family worship, not only did Paton learn about Jesus, he also came to experience “the presence of the living Savior,” and he “learned to know and love him.” Children naturally imitate their parents’ loves whether that love is for hunting or a sports team or Christ. So let’s display what knowing and loving Jesus looks like.
Third, in hearing his father pray, Paton learned how to pray. We all tend to pray in the way that we have heard others pray. If that wasn’t true, then no one would pray for a “hedge of protection.” Even among Baptists—who have emphasized free prayer rather than recitation of prayers—we repeat and recycle the phrases we have learned from others. We need to show our kids how to pray before asking them to always pray. And perhaps the burden of this leadership will motivate us to pray well ourselves.
For more on John Paton’s Father, read this article from John Piper: “John G Paton’s Father: A Key to His Courage”