This article is about family devotions and teaching our children to engage in regular devotions.

Source: Faith in Focus, 1996. 2 pages.

Family Prayer

Many of you will have walked into homes and seen the picture of the "praying hands". Perhaps you have a print on one of your walls. The picture is a good reminder of the importance of prayer in the family.

I have written this article from the perspective of a family composed of parents (or a parent) and children (or child). Having said this many of my suggestions in this article may be readily applied to a couple or to young people in a flatting situation.

The Biblical teaching on the husband as the head of his wife and the father as the spiritual leader in his family suggests that husbands and fathers ought to set a direction for prayer in the home. It is your responsibility, men, to have a praying family. You need to take the initiative in setting aside time for family worship and the lead in what takes place.

You can encourage prayer by your example. In some homes the father will always lead in prayer. In our own home I lead in prayer the majority of the time as is consistent with my role and responsibility in the family. Yet my wife, Harriet, will also lead the family in prayer. We hope our children will be encouraged to pray as they see and hear their father and mother speaking to their heavenly Father. Our example is important.

We also learn by doing. Children learn to pray by praying. The best place to learn to pray is at home. So allow children to pray; in fact, encourage them to pray. There are a variety of ways to do this. Sometimes we ask one child to lead the family in prayer, giving opportunity for all of us to suggest items before he begins. At other times we will all pray, either going in a circle around the table, or moving from youngest to oldest. Before we begin the time of prayer we will often pause and ask them to think about the content of their prayer so they can pray in an intelligent and meaningful way.

Furthermore, we learn by instruction. Family prayers offer us a good opportunity to instruct our children in what prayer is and the range of subjects that prayer must embrace. The mnemonic ACTS is helpful here: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. As well as the specific petitions and prayers of our families our prayers ought to range over the broad scope of the church and kingdom of our Lord. Praying for those in the church community and the wellbeing and mission of the church is a good reminder that we are part of a congregation and that there are needs beyond those of our family. (Remember to give thanks for prayers answered!) Your reading of the Scriptures will provide you with matters for prayer: Sins to repent of, promises to embrace, blessings to be thankful for, the character of God to adore, the person and work of Christ to rejoice in. The Directions for Family Worship of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (1647) has a good exhortation to family prayer and some helpful suggestions for items of prayer.

Instruction in prayer must cover approach as well as content. Family prayer should be marked by reverence, brevity and simplicity: Reverence because we are praying to the Lord Almighty (hence, no slouching or hanging over the table); brevity because Jesus warned his disciples against imitating the babbling of the pagans who "think they will be heard because of their many words" (Matthew 6:7); and simplicity because we want our children to understand what we are saying.

Family prayer should be both regular and spontaneous. Regularity is important because this ensures that we do pray – in the morning, at meal­times, before going to bed. In this way prayer becomes part of the routine of life; not a mere routine, but a good habit that is life-forming and character-shaping. Spontaneity is also helpful as it reminds us and our children that prayer is not to be restricted to set times only, but that communion with God should fill the day. Special times of joy or sorrow may prompt times of family prayer: A beautiful mountain scene when holidaying, or a death in the family or congregation; good news of passing an exam, or the trial of sickness. All these can be subjects for prayer, focusing our families on the care and providence of our Father in heaven.

Times of prayer in our family will nurture and encourage prayers and worship in the other areas of our Christian life. Each part will interact and strengthen other parts so that our devotion and prayer as individuals, families and as a church all serves to contribute to a rich and meaningful expression of thanks and intercession to our God.

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