Do the children in your church know that their prayers are as important as adults’ prayers?
Until recently, it never occurred to me that children might not know how much their prayers matter. But a couple of weeks ago I heard about a church in South Africa that was a bit surprised when, after inviting the children to intercede for one another one Sunday, the children felt empowered. “Usually only adults pray for each other in church,” the children’s pastor pointed out, but this time they were also being given the opportunity to pray. It made them feel important.”
“This particular day the Sunday school teacher spoke on Hannah and how she went to the temple to pray,” Pastor Noeleen Smerdon explained in an email. “During her lesson she noticed how sad the kids were, so she began to speak about Hannah’s feelings and how her sadness drove her to the temple. Then she asked the children to talk about what they were feeling.
“One little boy whose grandfather had just died said he missed him badly. A little girl spoke about how she was sad because her mother was getting another baby. Each child spoke of his or her challenges and feelings. The teacher then explained that when we feel down we must pray and praise. She asked them to pray for each other. And what a rejoicing there was because the kids felt empowered that they could also pray for each other!”
Learning from what happened that special Sunday, Pastor Noeleen said that church leadership now encourages children to pray, practice discernment, praise and dance in the church services that used to be geared primarily toward adults.
The children report being encouraged by their new prayer empowerment, Pastor Noeleen said. “Just last week a boy came to me and said ‘Pastor Noeleen, a miracle took place! We prayed in Sunday school and I am healed of asthma! God is awesome.’”
No Junior Holy Spirit
Jonathan Graf, the founding editor of Pray! magazine, likes to say that “There is no Junior Holy Spirit.” The same Holy Spirit who fills and empowers adults fills and empowers children. Of course Jesus didn’t make a distinction either. If anything, He was preferential to children, warning adults not to hinder them in coming to Him “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
I’m sure our churches don’t mean to hinder children from coming to God in prayer. But are there more ways we could encourage them so that they know that they can pray for one another and that their prayers are just as important as any adult’s?
My church is having a 24-hour prayer vigil Easter weekend, with groups of people praying in one-hour shifts from Good Friday evening until Holy Saturday evening. To prepare the congregation for this event, we decided to interview several adults who have inspiring prayer stories during the church services leading up to that weekend. Almost as an afterthought, one of our planning team members suggested, “What about a child? Jeremy [not his real name] asked for prayer after the church service one Sunday and God really came through for him. Let’s ask him to share his story during the children’s sermon.”
And so we did. After he shared, the children were invited to write their prayer requests on hand-shaped pieces of paper. These “hands” were placed on sticks and then on Palm Sunday, when ordinarily the children come into the sanctuary waving palm branches, instead they lifted up their prayers. And it is my prayer that these children will feel empowered, too, knowing just how much their prayers matter to God.
Pastor Noeleen’s church and mine aren’t the only ones who intentionally invite the children to pray. In a Pray! article from 2009, Carol Madison wrote about what happened in her church.
I recently led a prayer gathering for elementary school-aged kids that was filled with refreshingly simple, pure prayers. We put an open microphone in the center of the room and watched as the children, who at first felt a little shy and self-conscious, one by one gained the courage to pray aloud in front of the entire group. Soon the line to the microphone was long as the children would pray a short prayer and then run to the back of the line to wait their turn again. Their prayers ranged from “Jesus, I worship You” to “God, please be with all the children who don’t have dads at hone.”
For the next 45 minutes the kids prayed with simplicity and abandonment. Afterward several of them stated it was the most fun they had ever had praying and pleaded with me to use the microphone again at the next prayer gathering.
In another issue of Pray! (2007) Brad Jersak wrote about inviting children to pray for him during the communion service at his church:
One of my favorite meetings at the Lord’s Table is with Allison, a precious little girl whose parents adopted her into their family. When she was not yet three years old, she already was serving communion with her mom. She would say to me, “You need prayer. I want to pray for you. I want to put oil on you.” She would smear oil on my forehead, then lay her fingers there and pray. The last time she prayed for me, a migraine I had been suffering with for several days disappeared in the space of about one minute. In our fellowship, children have led us on a path to healed hearts and bodies. We are taking the prayers and ministry of children seriously.
How are children being encouraged to pray at your church? If you have an inspiring or creative children’s prayer story, will you share it with the rest of us here at PrayNetwork?
P.S. For more encouragement about inviting children to pray, visit the Pray! archives and look up these great articles: