This year at Hampton Lutheran, we are Joy:Fully Following Jesus in all we do. Our Bible verse for the year is 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
The Bible tells us to bring everything to God in prayer, both our sorrows and our thanksgiving, in all circumstances.
Formal prayers like the Lord’s Prayer or Luther’s Morning and Evening Prayers definitely have an important role in our lives—especially in a corporate worship setting or in memorized prayers we sing or recite together.
But spontaneous prayer is the prayer for reflection, confession, or personal needs. Spontaneous prayer is a prayer from the heart. It’s important to teach kids how to talk to God on their own, in their own words, and spontaneous prayer helps them do that.
Why We Teach Kids to Pray Spontaneously
It’s important that children know that God hears them and cares for them. Even though we are very small in the scope of a huge universe, we serve a real, present God who loves each of us and knows us by name.
Consider this: What would happen if a child decided never to talk to their parents or even look at them? The parents would still love the child. They would still feed and buy clothes for their child and provide a home for them, but they would always be so sad that they couldn’t communicate with them.
The analogy transfers to our relationship to God. He provides for us and blesses us with so many material possessions, but if we don’t talk to Him, there’s a major part of our relationship that is missing.
Teaching our children to pray from their hearts for the things on their hearts helps them develop their relationship with their loving Savior. That is our responsibility as the adults in the children’s lives.
When We Can Say Spontaneous Prayers
At school we pray everyday, but it is not wholly the schools’ job to teach children to pray. Parents and teachers work together to help children grow in their relationship with Jesus.
In class or at home, we pray daily for the needs of our families and also celebrate the joys that go on in our families’ lives.
We pray together formally every day in the classroom and every Wednesday at chapel. We pray together with our prayer partners at our two yearly school events (October and February), modeling prayer between generations. HLS sponsors the National Day of Prayer in May. Although the prayers delivered at the program aren’t exactly spontaneous, they are written, thought through, and prayed by the children.
So when is a good time to practice spontaneous prayers outside of school? The car ride to school or from school is a time to prepare for the day or decompress, but the ride can also be a great time to pray together. We can pray when we hear the sirens going on in town or when we pass a car accident to say a prayer asking God to be with the people in the accident and the doctors and nurses who were helping them.
We can pray with our kids when they’re feeling sad or upset, or when they’re happy and excited about something. In all circumstances, we can pray, and God will hear our prayer.
3 Easy Ways to Teach Kids Spontaneous Prayer
Figuring out what to say in a prayer can be scary. But it doesn’t have to be. These three frameworks show kids (and adults!) ways to pray spontaneously.
ACTS (also known as CAST or CATS) provides a framework for older children to say prayers. Use the letters of ACTS to guide your prayers in this way:
Adoration: Start your prayer by adoring and praising God.
Confession: Confess your sins to God and ask forgiveness for them.
Thanksgiving: Give thanks to God for all He has done for us.
Supplication: Finally, pray to God for your needs and the needs of others.
The notable point is that our praise and repentance always precedes our own needs. Understanding and respecting the awesomeness of the God we serve changes our whole perspective.
Another prayer acronym is JOY:
When teaching your kids the JOY acronym for prayer, explain that Jesus is first in your life, then others, and then you can finally bring your own needs before the God of the Universe, who loves each of us. Begin by praising and thanking Jesus, then praying for the needs of others, then praying for your own needs.
3. Five-finger prayer
For kids who are kinesthetic learners, practicing the five-finger prayer might be a good way to learn spontaneous prayers.
When you fold your hands, the thumb is nearest you. So begin by praying for people closest to you—your loved ones.
The index finger is the pointer. Pray for people who teach—teachers and preachers.
The next finger is the tallest. It reminds you to pray for people in authority. Pray for leaders in your community, in your state, and in your nation.
The fourth finger is usually the weakest. Pray for people who are in trouble or who are suffering.
Then comes your little finger. It reminds you of your smallness in relation to God’s greatness. Bring your needs to God in prayer.
These three frameworks for spontaneous prayer help kids understand the types of things to say to God when they’re praying on their own but lets them put prayers in their own words. Encourage kids to use these frameworks and pray on their own to strengthen their relationship with God and bring their thanks and needs to Him.