Train them to have a habit of prayer.
Prayer is the very life-breath of true religion. It is one of the first evidences that a man is born again. “Behold,” said the Lord of Saul, in the day he sent Ananias to him, “Behold, he is praying” [Acts 9:11, KJV]. He had begun to pray, and that was proof enough. Prayer was the distinguishing mark of the Lord’s people in the day that there began to be a separation between them and the world. The Bible says, “At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD” [Genesis 4:26].
Prayer is the distinction of all real Christians. They pray—for they tell God their needs, their feelings, their desires, their fears; and they mean what they say. The person who is a Christian in name only may repeat prayers over and over, but he goes no further. Prayer is the turning-point in a man’s soul. Our ministry is unprofitable, and our labor is in vain, until you are brought to your knees. Till then, we have no hope for you.
Prayer is the one great secret of spiritual prosperity. When there is frequent private communion with God, your soul will grow like the grass after the rain; when the communication is infrequent, everything will come to a stop, you will barely keep your soul alive. Show me a growing Christian, a strong Christian, a flourishing Christian, and I am sure, that he is one that speaks often with his Lord. He asks much, and he has much. He tells Jesus everything, and so he always knows how to act.
Prayer is the mightiest weapon that God has placed in our hands. It is the best weapon to use in every difficulty, and the surest remedy in every trouble. It is the key that unlocks the treasury of promises, and the hand that draws forth grace and help in time of need. It is the silver trumpet that God commands us to sound in all our necessity, and it is the cry He has promised always to listen to, just as a loving mother listens attentively to the voice of her child.
Prayer is the simplest means that man can use in coming to God. It is within the reach of everyone—the sick, the aged, the paralytic, the blind, the poor, the uneducated—everyone can pray. It gains you nothing to plead your need of learning, and need of books, and your need of scholarship in this matter. So long as you have a tongue to speak of your soul’s state, you must and should pray. Those words, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” [James 4:2], will be a fearful condemnation to many in the day of judgment.
Parents, if you love your children, do all that lies within your power to train them to have a habit of prayer. Show them how to begin. Tell them what to say. Encourage them to persevere. Remind them that if they become careless and slack about it. Let it not be your fault, if they never call on the name of the Lord.
Remember, that this is the first step in religion which a child is able to take. Long before he can read, you can teach him to kneel by his mother’s side, and repeat the simple words of prayer and praise which she puts in his mouth. And as the first steps in any undertaking are always the most important, so is the manner in which your children’s prayers are prayed, a point which deserves your closest attention. Few seem to know how much depends on this. You must be careful that they don’t say their prayers in a hasty, careless, and irreverent manner. You must beware of giving up the oversight of this matter to others, or of trusting too much to your children doing it when left to themselves. I cannot praise that mother who never personally looks after this most important part of her child’s daily life. Surely if there is any habit which your own hand and eye should help in forming, it is the habit of prayer. Believe me, if you never hear your children pray yourself, you are much to blame. You are not much wiser than the bird described in the Book of Job, “She lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand, unmindful that a foot may crush them, that some wild animal may trample them. She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labor was in vain.” [Job 39:14-16]
Prayer is, of all habits, the one which we remember the longest. Many an elderly man could tell you how his mother used to make him pray in the days of his childhood. Other things have passed away from his mind perhaps, but not this. The church where he was taken to worship, the minister whom he heard preach, the companions who used to play with him—all these have passed from his memory, and left no mark behind. But you will often find it is far different with his first prayers. He will often be able to tell you where he knelt, and what he was taught to say, and even how his mother looked while they prayed together. It will be as fresh in his mind as if it was only yesterday.
Oh, dear friend, if you love your children, I charge you, do not let the early impression of a habit of prayer slip by. If you train your children to do anything, train them, at least, to have a habit of prayer.
By: J.C. Ryle