|“No, I don’t want to.”
“Do I have to?”
“I hate it.”
“I’m too tired.”
If we were to choose to between someone saying the first phrases about us over the latter, I assume most of us would choose the latter. Wide eyes and exclamation points of excitement should make any of us smile while the disappointed sighs of drudgery can deflate the largest of our egos. We enjoy when others enjoy us, and even more, when they like us. We were made in the image of God, and He’s no different. He enjoys it when we enjoy Him.
Perhaps you can recall a Christmas when you sacrificed to give your child that one gift you just knew they’d love. Some of you may smile as you remember the wide eyes, the jumping up and down, and the squeals of glee that pierced your ears. Others of you may recall the pouty lips, shower of tears, and perhaps even a temper tantrum that sent the gift flying across the floor while you were told you were the worst parent in the world. It’s funny how one reaction can make you want to give more or vow to give gift socks and underclothes for the rest of their spoiled, little life.
The primary reason for our existence is to worship and have a relationship with God; all else is secondary. A happy life is secondary. A faith-filled family is secondary. Answers to our prayers are secondary. Good health is secondary. A powerful ministry or a large church attendance is secondary. A life without troubles is not even secondary – it’s impossible. Yet these often become our primary occupation and when that happens we find ourselves looking at God through the eyes of humanity instead of the magnifying glass of deity. How is it that our main occupation for existence can become something routine and artificial toward the One who created the worlds with mere words – the same One who longs deeply just to be with us? When did the wide eyes and exclamation points of worship and prayer start getting traded in for the groans and sighs?
Most of us know that we need to pray. There are souls that need saved. There are people who need delivered. There is sickness that needs healed. But we can find ourselves replacing these secondary things for the primary, and in the process, replace relationship with religion. God didn’t create us for religion; He created us for Him.
Years ago the Lord gave me a theme for the year that I taught in most places I went to teach on Kids Prayer – if you want kids and young people to pray, then show them a God that they will enjoy praying to. Looking back over the earlier days of my life I recalled how prayer was often not that enjoyable. It was full of church prayer meetings, altar calls, and prayers for others. These were good but something always seemed missing. I prayed out of duty while desiring to pray out of desire. I wanted to enjoy what I was doing.
Psalm 100 talks about our worship and relationship being filled with joy, songs, and gladness. Sometimes we relate these scriptures to outward expressions of praise, but these are attitudes of the heart; they can’t be artificial or rehearsed words and be true. Joy comes from the inside. If we want kids to pray then they need to see us enjoying our time with God. They need to see us amazed by the simple things about God – not just what He does, but who He is. They need to see us wide-eyed at some new thing He reveals to us. They need to hear us be speechless at His love that’s shown in those around us. They need to see us smile when we pray. I know that prayer is hard at times, but if that’s all they see they will not be drawn to relationship. Rather, they will learn religion, routine, and eventually, probably leave it altogether. They need to know that being a “prayer warrior” is secondary, and being a “pray-ER” is primary.
True relationship is give and take. When we fulfill our primary purpose, we automatically become fulfilled ourselves. When we are full, we are content, we are at peace, and we want that experience to happen again and again. Prayer is not all about asking God for things. In our training sessions with kids we often make them wait to pray for needs until after we’ve spent time just talking to God about random things, and telling Him about our day. We talk about the little things that make God big. We bring the wonder and amazement of God back to them, where they sit wide-eyed and they utter those phrases and exclamation points under their breath, and then aloud in worship. Needs are always secondary.
It’s no wonder that God directed the Church of Ephesus in Revelation 2 to return to their first love. They had all the duty and disciplines, but they lost their desire. In the Old Testament the nation of Israel consistently traded relationship for religion. The New Testament notes time and again how the scribes and Pharisees focused more about their duties then they did about God or others.
As parents and teachers, if our children prophesied, cast out devils, and did many wonderful works, we’d probably feel successful in our parenting and training. But Matthew 7:22-23 says, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” God’s first desire is to know us, and that only comes through consistent prayer and relationship.
People continue doing what they enjoy. Prayer can be a joy. Prayer disciplines are vital to keep us balanced. Methods, steps, and keys to a successful prayer life for you and your kids are all beneficial, but the true method, the first step, and the ultimate key, is simply to like the One you are praying to – to enjoy Him.
So make God big to them. Show them a God that amazes them with who He is and what He’s created. Show them a God who exists in the painful experiences of life. Show them a God that is good, despite how many answers to prayer there have been. Talk about Him before asking what you want Him to do. Lead them to fall in love with Him, and you will start to hear the sighs and groans replaced with the exclamation points that will last all through their lives and into the lives of their next generation.
Kids & Youth Prayer Coordinator / Promotions Director – World Network of Prayer