Partnering with Toddlers and Preschoolers in Prayer
They have a capacity to teach us about prayer and faith
“Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the LORD my soul to keep.” The sweet poignancy of these words lisping off the lips of young children over the centuries is a precious reminder of the importance of teaching children about prayer. Yet our role in working with toddlers and preschoolers is not merely in teaching them about prayer, but in partnering with them in prayer.
Sometimes we forget in teaching important lessons about prayer and faith to these little ones, that their capacity to teach us about prayer and faith is just as significant. They are not merely the prayer warriors of tomorrow, but our prayer partners today. As Jesus exhorts in Matthew 18:2-5, there is much we can understand about the kingdom of God by looking at faith through the experience of a child.
• A faith that believes
By nature of the way the brain works in early childhood, children are not hampered by cynicism and life’s disappointments. Their requests are free and confident because they truly believe anything is possible. Their prayers are powerful because of their unflinching belief in the impossible. Children are the ultimate example of a Mark 11:24 prayer, where Jesus exhorts us to “Pray for anything, and if you believe that you've received it, it will be yours” (NLT). Hearing children pray for the impossible challenges us as adults to shake the subtle complacency and cynicism from our own heavenward requests to ask big and believe big.
• A faith that remembers
How often have we been guilty of promising to pray for someone, only to forget the promise of that prayer in the busyness of life? Not so with children. Children tend to remember the important things. If you don’t believe me, hint at a promise to do something with them two months from now. You won’t have to mention it again—they will remember and mention it every time they see you. This same behavior that tends to drive us crazy is the same behavior that allows them to remember—day after day, week after week—the concerns and needs of those they care about. Children do not forget or give up easily. They embody the encouragement provided in Matthew 7:7: "Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (NLT, italics mine). May their persistence teach us a thing or two about perseverance.
• A faith that connects
It is true that young children understand the world best through their own life experiences. Because of this, they are often written off as selfish. Yet from my experience, young children can be incredibly sensitive and empathetic to the needs of others. There is something embedded in the nature of children that draws them to others’ pain and sadness. Their willingness to lean in when someone else is hurting is a poignant reminder and example to us as adults to bear one another’s burdens, as we are instructed to do throughout the epistles. Allow their natural interest in helping others during heartache to cause us to partner with them to do something practically while we ask God who can do anything supernaturally.
• A faith that rejoices
There is nothing quite like the joy of a child. Free from social restraint, their capacity to delight in circumstances around them is boundless. One of the best portrayals of this characteristic is found in 2 Samuel 6, as David celebrates riotously in response to God’s provision. David’s abandon, while repugnant to the adults around him, was not repugnant to God. And it is notable that this demonstration of celebration, not unlike a response of delight we might see in a child, is purposefully recorded in the Scriptures. When we experience answers to prayer, particularly prayers we have invited the children to share, we can encourage and match their free expression of excitement. May it inform not only our own response to prayer, but establish a lifetime of celebration in the hearts and lives of the children to whom we minister.
Young children are not merely learners, but doers in the practice of prayer, if we will invite them to the table. While we do have a responsibility as adults to lead and teach children about faith and prayer, as Paul exhorts Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12, don’t mistake their young age for an inability to pray powerful prayers that reach heaven and move earth. Seek out meaningful ways to partner with young children in prayer. And, if we are watchful and mindful, they just might teach us a thing or two about unbridled faith, the power of prayer, the importance of connection, and the freedom of celebration.