Praying in Families – Getting Started
If you did not grow up in a household where prayer is practiced, you may find it strange and awkward to pray with others in your home. Even if you attend a church, prayer at home may seem very foreign to you. How do I know this? Because I have been working at it for 43 years and still, at times I just don’t seem to find the words to say to God when praying with the members of my family.
Before thinking about our homes as places of prayer, let’s think first about what prayer is, and why we practice prayer. We pray because God has spoken to us and he continues to speak to us. He speaks to us everywhere. We must answer. Prayer is our attempt to answer the God who speaks to us.
Many religious traditions believe that God remains silent, and that God cannot be known except in quieting the mind and the heart. Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism are typical examples of religious traditions which believe God to be silent and hidden. Therefore, to draw close to God, you too, must attempt to silence your own thoughts and emotions.
Not so Christianity. The Bible is the written record of God’s speech. We believe that God not only has spoken to people in the past, but that he continues to speak to us today through the words of the Bible, as well as in word of God proclaimed in churches and in Jesus Christ the living, incarnate Word of God. Jesus is the Living Word. God speaks to us. We must give an answer.
That is not easy to do when you don’t recognize the voice of God. There is a wonderful story in the Bible of an old priest named Eli helping a boy named Samuel to recognize the voice of God and teaching him to pray in I Samuel 3:1-10. It was night, when everyone had laid down to go to sleep. The boy Samuel heard the voice of the Lord, calling his name “Samuel, Samuel!,” but he did not recognize that it was the voice of the Lord calling him. He stood up and went over to see the old priest Eli. “Here I am,” he said, “you called me.” “Go back to bed,” the old priest said. “I didn’t call you.” This happened three times. Finally, after Samuel had woken him up three times, the old priest Eli recognized it was God speaking to the boy. He gave the boy Samuel a very pithy, but efficacious prayer. He told Samuel “If you hear God calling your name again, answer this way, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” The next time God spoke to Samuel the boy answered with these words. Samuel began to hear the word of God and became the prophet for the people of Israel.
One of the roles parents and other adults play in the life of a children is to help them understand who God is and to know how to respond to God. Teaching children to pray, giving them the words to pray, is one of the ways we do this. It is a responsibility of the highest order for parents.
Eli the priest taught Samuel how make a response to God’s word. This is the proper order of things. Prayer is a response to the God who speaks. We pray because God has spoken to us and we must give our answer. Prayer is not our initiative. Prayer is response to the God who takes action by speaking. He is the God who created the world by his word. He is the God who loves us. We begin to respond to him in prayer.
But why pray at home? According to the Old Testament, the home is the place where God commanded his people to keep the Sabbath. It is the place for instruction in faith and the place for prayer. Nothing in the New Testament indicates things should be otherwise.
To many people, prayer is a religious activity that ought to be practiced in churches. It doesn’t belong in homes. I can tell you from my experience that it is much easier for me to stand up in front of a congregation to lead prayer than it is to pray at home. People come to church expecting that someone will stand up to lead prayer. This is not the case in most homes.
A dad with three young boys at home said “Praying would never work at my house. My kids are too restless.” Not long after this, his family was invited to dinner at a friend’s home. As they were sitting around the table about to eat, the host said “Let’s join hands and each share one thing we are thankful for.” They began to share. A three-year old girl mentioned her Peppa Pig figures and princess dolls. Her five-year old brother spoke about the family dog and his superhero action figures. The older teenage brothers said “our friends at school.” One of the parents was thankful for her job as a teacher. A young couple spoke of the baby they were expecting in four months. A dad said he was thankful for his children. After everyone had a turn to share the host said “God we thank you for all these things and for this good food. Amen.”
This is an easy way to start praying in your home if you are not accustomed to praying. Try it. It involves every one without causing any one to feel awkward about a practice that is unfamiliar to him or her. In future postings, we will explore other ways to pray that can help families respond to God.
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Isn’t it interesting that the Old Testament uses the child Samuel to teach about listening to God? I think we can be ready for our children to teach us things about prayer! Something important happens when we come to God together, different generations with different perspectives on life. I remember how my young son faithfully prayed for a member of our family who needed Jesus during a certain time period in his life. It was an encouragement to me to keep praying too. Prayer has a community element that should not be neglected. And what a blessing when you see God answer!