How old does a child have to be to pray? The question caught me off guard, as I’ve never considered an “age of accountability” for prayer.
Prayer is, after all, simply communicating with God. And infants, from their earliest hours, know how to communicate loud and clear to their parents: they’re hungry, need changing, want snuggling, and more. Why would we expect anything less in terms of their ability to interact with the God who ornately created them?
We can’t assume that a child is not yet old enough or big enough to pray. It is better to err on the side of teaching the truth of Scripture to even the tiniest babe than to wait until an age the human logic would comfortably offer accountability.
We know that God’s Word “does not return void” (Isaiah 55:11). So we can confidently begin reading verses aloud, praying Bible verses aloud, and singing Bible verse songs as lullabies to rock our nestling newborn. All the while asking God to, even in that moment, use the truth of His Word to permeate the heart of our nestling child.
But there’s more to teaching our children about desiring to communicate openly with a holy God, a loving father, our redeemer, yet our friend.
Teaching children to pray happens way before any formal instruction, I promise. A man visited church for a weekend service. As the usher prayed for the offering, this visitor could distinctly hear someone else talking. Surely, this person will stop in a moment! he thought. Then he realized it was a child: the 5-year-old son of the usher who was praying. The little boy was praying the same words as his dad, not repeating them, but in perfect unison with him. The boy had been watching…and listening.
1. Model a prayer life. If you’re regularly praying for your child, with your child, in front of your child, he’s certain to catch on that this practice is a necessary and delightful part of daily life. A practical way for children to catch on the model of prayer is to have consistent prayer times and even consistent prayer words in the beginning. Consider this: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray Thee, Lord, Thy child to keep: Thy love guard me through the night, And wake me with the morning light.” What a precious, and easy, bedtime prayer to be whispered at tuck in.
2. Invite your child to pray a piece. Especially if you’ve developed a type of prayer script, and it’s good to do that. Memorizing trains our hearts toward God, and helps us remember Him, especially young children. Your child will likely know how to join in. Try it at your next meal time. You offer to start and let your child say the finish. Most kids could at least say, “in Jesus’ name, amen.” One small line will give your child confidence to offer more.
3. Ask your child to take a turn at praying. Assure her that you’ll be there to whisper any forgotten requests in her ear. You’ll be sweetly surprised at the authenticity and heartfelt conversations your child will offer. This childlike faith and openness will likely encourage your prayer life. Be sure to let your child know how proud you are that she would choose to communicate with God. Don’t correct, but try phrases like “It makes God so happy when you talk with Him.” “Mommy is so proud of you for sharing your thoughts with God.”
4. Encourage your child to pray regularly. At first, children might not often think of praying. Remind your child that we can talk to God anytime we want; His ears are always available. Suggest times of prayer throughout the day. When you see a beautiful sunrise through the breakfast window, have your child thank God for it. When your child offends his sibling, prompt him to ask God for forgiveness and help to obey. If a friend is sick, pray for the friend. If an ambulance or firetruck zooms by, pray for the first responders and the people they’re responding to. If your child is afraid of the dark, have him quote and pray, “What time I’m afraid, I will trust in You” (Psalm 56:3).
Build into your child the habit of praising, bringing requests, asking forgiveness, and relying on God for everyday moments. If he learns it now, he will know it as he ages.
Remember, prayer doesn’t need to be a complicated ancient ritual. Prayer is something that our children can do and we must begin teaching them. “Since God invites—indeed, if by His Spirit he enables—all his children to pray, then prayer must be essentially simple. God has children all over the world, as diverse as people can be—from age nine to ninety, low IQs and high IQs, no formal education and the highest forms of education. But if God invites and expects all his children—regardless of their age, IQ, education, or resources—to pray, then prayer has to be simple” (Donald Whitney Praying the Bible 23,24).
While we’re teaching, we must ask God to draw them to Himself. And trust that no matter when their birthday is, He can.
“Is not a child who is old enough knowingly to sin also old enough savingly to believe?” –Charles Spurgeon
Tracy Lane is a writer and editor for Ever Thine Home. To follow her personal stories of raising two little girls, visit her at Heart For Annie.