Teaching children to pray can be daunting. Where do we start? How do we model prayer for them? Not only that—are we ourselves growing in prayer? Below are tools for teaching children to pray using Scripture as well as simple and powerful ways we can also be strengthening our own relationship with God through prayer.
When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus modeled an amazing way to pray: He engaged in spiritual warfare using direct quotes from Scripture. Most of the time when Christians pray God’s Word today, they draw from the Psalms and Epistles. Just as there is beauty and strength in the words of David, Paul, and others, there is power in praying through the narrative sections of the Bible where people speak, act, and make choices.
I can still remember the first time I tried this with a small group. The discoveries we made as we discussed and applied a Bible story were rich, but then we prayed through the story and went even deeper. Jesus kept speaking and showing us truth about Himself and ourselves.
Prayer is not just speaking to Jesus. It’s conversation and you can’t have conversation without listening—both to God’s Word and to His Spirit. Andrew Murray wrote, “Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue; God’s voice is its most essential part. Listening to God’s voice is the secret of the assurance that He will listen to mine.”
Before we can pray through a story, we need to hear the story. Before I tell you this Bible story, it would help to know that before Jesus went back into heaven to be with God, Jesus promised to send God’s Spirit to the men and women who loved Jesus and listened to Him. Jesus kept that promise: God’s Spirit came and filled them.
The group of believers grew quickly because God was adding people to their group. They shared everything and everyone had enough because some people who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the money to the leaders, called apostles. Then each person was given the things he needed.
And that is where this story begins. It’s a true story, from God’s Word. Listen.
A man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold some land. But secretly, Ananias kept back part of the money, and he brought part of the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. And Ananias’ wife knew about this. Peter said, “Ananias, how could you let the devil fill your heart with the idea that you could lie to God’s Spirit and keep back part of money for yourself? Before you sold the land, didn’t it belong to you? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money in your control? Why have you come up with this plan in your heart? You haven’t lied to men; you’ve lied to God.”
When Ananias heard those words, he fell down dead, and great fear came on everybody who heard about it. And the young men got up and wrapped Ananias up, carried him out, and buried him. Now about three hours later, Ananias’ wife came in, and she didn’t know what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me how much money you got for your field. Was it this much?” Sapphira answered, “Yes, that was the price.”
Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you and your husband have agreed to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of the young men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately Sapphira fell down dead at Peter’s feet. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carried her out, and buried her next to her husband. So great fear came on the whole church and on everybody who heard about it.
So how could we pray through this story?
Let’s start with who God is. What did you notice about Him in this story—about His character, His heart? Whether it’s Jesus, God’s Spirit, or God the Father, what is He like in this story? I’m going to speak directly to Jesus as I listen to Him and His story.
Jesus, I noticed that Peter, filled with Your Spirit, knew that Ananias kept back part of the money, even though Ananias did it secretly. So Jesus, You are the kind of God who knows our secrets… and when You know something, You don’t always keep it to Yourself. You are the God who speaks to us, through Your Spirit and Your people.
Here’s another thing I noticed about You in the story, Jesus. Peter says, “Before you sold the land, didn’t it belong to you? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money in your control?” So you are the kind of God who lets us make choices, even terrible choices.
I noticed that Ananias and Sapphira had land to sell. You had blessed them and they had enough to give. You are the kind of God who blesses us to the point that we have something to give.
Here’s something that someone else noticed about You in this story, a 6-year old who had never been to church or heard this story before. She noticed that after Ananias let the devil fill his heart with a lie, and Ananias lied to You, Ananias fell down dead. In her words, “Because the devil was done with him.” And that made me think about how You’re the opposite of the enemy. He fills us with lies that lead to death. But when You fill my heart, You fill it with truth, and there is life in my heart instead of death.
So that’s what I noticed about Your heart, Jesus. Now, some things about my heart: Did anyone in the story remind me of myself, of the way I act sometimes? Or maybe I wish I did act like someone in the story, but I don’t?
In the story, Peter said, “Ananias, how could you let the devil fill your heart with the idea that you could lie to God’s Spirit?” Wow. That really made me wonder: What ideas do I let the devil fill my heart with? Jesus, I’m sorry for the times I let the devil fill my heart with an idea and then believe his idea and agree with his idea, which is actually an enemy lie, instead of fixing my eyes on You and letting Your Spirit fill my heart with Your truth.
Another thing, Jesus, I noticed is that Peter asked Sapphira how much money they got for the land. He gave her a chance to speak truth, to change the plan they had come up with in their hearts, but she ignored the opportunity and kept going her own way, right over a cliff. Jesus, I’m sorry for the times that you give me a chance to open my heart to You and Your way, and I ignore the opportunity and choose my own way, which actually hurts me.
Now, did anything in the story remind me of something that I’m thankful for, something that You have done lately?
And did anything in the story remind me of something that I need You to do, something that I can’t do but I believe You can?
As you apply this kind of prayer to other Bible stories, whether on your own or with a small group, try to begin by noticing things about God (from the story) and telling Him what you notice. That’s praise.
Next, notice things about the other people in the story, and admit things about your own heart that you’re sorry for. That’s confession.
Then thank Jesus for things He has done recently. That’s thanksgiving.
And finally, ask Jesus to work in a particular situation in your life, to do what only He can do.
Dialogue in prayer is not something new: remember Abraham in Genesis 18?
“Then the Lord said, ‘If I find 50 good people in the city of Sodom, I will save the whole city because of them.’ Then Abraham said, ‘I am only dust and ashes. Yet I have been brave to speak to the Lord. What if there are only 45 good people in the city? Will You destroy the whole city for the lack of 5 good people?’ The Lord said, ‘If I find 45 good people there, I will not destroy the city.’ Again Abraham said to the Lord, ‘If You find only 40 good people there, will You destroy the city?’ The Lord said, ‘If I find 40 good people, I will not destroy the city.’”
Back and forth, back and forth, Abraham listened to God’s voice, and God listened to Abraham’s.
When was the last time you initiated conversation with Jesus and His Word, both listening and responding?