An Untapped Source for Transformation: Mobilizing Children to Pray for their Community and Nation and Some Suggested Guidelines
It is the clear testimony of Scripture that God has chosen to work in human history through the intercessory prayers of His people. Virtually all the great socio-political transformations of our time and all the spiritual revivals and mission breakthroughs in the history of the Church can be traced to bands of Christian believers praying unitedly and specifically for these very things.
God’s purpose is no less than the holistic transformation of communities and nations, with every sphere of society eventually reflecting the values of His kingdom. This is a daunting objective requiring the intervention and involvement of the Lord himself in all aspects of our ministry, especially because of the fierce spiritual conflict in which we are engaged with the powers of this fallen world. Truly, without united intercession there is no holistic transformation. Prayer is the way God’s kingdom comes, as Jesus clearly taught. For these reasons prayer is too important to be left to spontaneity or whim. Instead it needs to be intentionally mobilized, nourished and integrated into all we do as Christian workers. We are increasingly realizing that youth and children need to be involved in this process.
Globally, most of Christ’s Church has not yet begun to explore what may be the most powerful source of prayer for community and national transformation, the children in our care. Jesus, after describing the downfall of Satan and the authority over the demonic realm he was giving to his disciples, rejoiced and said that his Father had “hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children” (Luke 10:18-21). In other words, it is the children (also childlike adults) who are able to receive and use the authority of God “to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy”. This is probably because of their innocence, openness and lack of worldly sophistication and faith-spoiling cynicism. They are better able to depend on God, receiving and acting on the things He reveals and directs them to pray without doubt or questioning.
Psalm 8:2 declares that it is “from the lips of children and infants [God] has ordained praise because of [his] enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger” (NIV). Another translation puts it “out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes” (NRSV). Here the idea of children’s prayers providing a fortress of protection for a community or nation against the enemy is implied. This is consistent with other passages of Scripture such as Isaiah 62:6-7 and Ezekiel 22:30 which speak of the wall of protection around a city or nation that prayer erects and how God uses our prayers to bring about social and political transformation.
How can we begin to mobilize children to become agents of transformation through prayer? You will have creative ideas that come to you as you start the process. The children themselves will probably have the best ideas, and at the beginning and as you proceed, it is wise to ask them what they think. Here are some initial suggestions that may help:
- Initially children need to be "coached and liberated" in prayer by being given basic prayer vocabulary (often encouraged through "repeat after me prayers" or prayer games); however, once the children have the basic concepts, they need to be released to pray as equals with their adult counterparts. (The same Holy Spirit working in adults is present with children). Emphasize the importance of children as "transformational prayers" through verbal encouragement and actions.
- At each meeting have the children pray for you as their leader. Not only does this affirm in action the importance children have in prayer, it also gives an opportunity to watch the Lord work in your life from week to week). This is an especially important tool for children from non-Christian backgrounds.
- Prayer needs to happen with "clean hands and hearts." Just as we wash our hands before we eat, we need to ask God to wash our hearts before we begin prayer. This time of confession should be introspective, focusing on the transformation of the child.
- Encourage the children to talk simply and directly with God about everything in their lives and communities, bringing to Him every concern, problem and need their families and others face. Remind them that they can talk to God any time, anywhere.
- Practice conversational prayer with them (praying specifically in clear, brief sentences, agreeing with each other in faith and listening to God quietly for what He may say through insights or thoughts that come). Encourage them to share what they are feeling or receiving as they pray together. Realize that when praying aloud, children are likely to pray very short prayers, but will often pray multiple times in one prayer session. The shortness of these prayers often leads to longer times of silence than we are accustomed to in groups of adults. This should be expected and fostered as time to listen to God.
- Use stories of prayer from the Bible to share God's promises and build their faith.
- Do not criticize the children for their prayers. Often a child says or does creative things in prayer that are different from what we adults expect (this often brings fresh insights that adults miss). If a child is saying/doing something really disruptive, heretical, or offensive, deal with them in a one-on-one context, emphasizing constructive criticism.
- Share national problems and concerns in a simple manner. Watch the headlines and share with the children what is happening. You may want to bring in newspapers, photos, or other visual aids to make these concerns tangible for the children. Encourage them to pray concretely for the problem (ex: pray for all the children who like math and are displaced because of flooding in the country, or all the children who live with their grandmas because mommy and daddy died of HIV/AIDS).
- Keep a journal of what the children have asked God for and write down how God answers their prayers, reporting back to them to increase their faith and expectation.
- Encourage prayer in pairs or triplets so the children learn to partner with others as Jesus teaches us to do (Matthew 18:19-20).
Here are some prayer activities that may be useful in group sessions.
- Word of God Lessons: These should focus on a praying person/people in the Bible, reiterating that God listened to these people and wants to listen to you (ex: prayers of Paul or Jesus).
- Silent Prayer (short)
- Call and Response Prayer (i.e. repeat after me). This acculturates kids to praying out loud and gives them prayer vocabulary.
- Memorized Prayer (the Lord's Prayer, Psalm 23, etc.). Make games out of this to help children memorize and/or give rewards for correct recitation. Books of prayers are an excellent resource for this.
- Individual prayer out loud (in a group or one by one). This should be used after children are already comfortable with Call and Response prayer.
- Prayer Circle. Have children stand in a circle holding hands to pray for something specific. If a child is not comfortable with speaking their prayer out loud, they can squeeze the hand of the person next to pass on their turn to pray aloud.
- Praying for children around the world who: are born on your birthday, have a family just like yours, have the same favorite subject in school you do, have the same name meaning you do, etc… Use these concrete ideas to help children connect with the concept of praying with children in far away nations.
- Prayer walks around the communities (praying in front of each child's home, local churches, etc). This is a very good tool with children!
- Praying for the world through letters of the alphabet. (Ex: leader calls out letter "C" and child goes to map and selects a nation or city that begins with the letter "C" and then prays for the children in that place).
- Praying through points of the compass. 1) Have the children face East and pray for what is directly in front of them (people in the neighboring house, the farmer whose field they can see, etc.) 2) Then ask what is farther away in that direction (another village, a city, etc) and have them pray for this. 3) Ask what is farther still in that direction (a neighboring country, etc). 4) Repeat this for all 4 points of the compass.
- Brainstorm a list of people, places, needs, etc., in the local community. Have the children then pray for these.
- 50/50 prayer: have the children pray for something that is concerning them (ex: healing from illness) and then have them give the other half of the prayer away as a "gift" to other children in the same circumstance.
- Prayer songs with actions.
- Use "prayer tools" like maps, globes, colorful lists of prayer requests, pictures of children being prayed for in other countries, etc. Even very simple use of such materials can really help children grasp what it is they are praying for in a concrete way.
The Following Sources Were Consulted in the Writing of the Article
Graf, Johnathan, Sandra Higley, Lani Hinkle, and Nancy Sutton. Growing Up Prayerful: A Leader's Kit to Get Kids Started, Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2002.
Harris, Jill (Student Mobilization Specialist, Caleb Project). Telephone Interview with Rachel Criswell. 12 May 2003.
Ilnisky, Esther. Let The Children Pray. Ventura: Regal Books, 2000.