As a child, I loved “popcorn prayer.”
It’s what my church called it when many people in a group just popped out little prayers spontaneously. Some people prayed longer prayers–even as part of popcorn prayer–but the idea was to have them be brief. I loved it because I could join in with the grown ups. This way I felt less awkward about praying out loud with others.
The great thing about popcorn prayer is that no one has to perform a beautiful prayer. It’s sort of not allowed. People can pray as frequently as they want to, but they need to give everyone a chance to join in. My daughter does a kind of popcorn prayer with her toddler. While she prays out loud, he adds in people and activities he’s thankful for or people he wants to pray for. At first it surprised me to hear him talking during our prayers. But when I realized what was going on, I thought it was beautiful.
Popcorn prayer usually gets easier as kids get older. We used to do it as a family in the car before each trip. But unplanned occasions for popcorn prayer can be when someone is upset or scared about something coming up. Sometimes these occur with hurting friends after church as we gather, having heard the pain. At home before meals could even be considered popcorn prayer at our house, as each person adds a little bit to the opening prayer.
But much more common for us are arrow prayers: those little “Help me, Jesus” prayers.
Those are probably the prayers we pray most frequently. A child cuts herself badly, our car is sliding on the ice, or someone shares something beyond awful that we do not know how to respond to appropriately. We call out for Jesus’ help and continue to ask for it as the crisis continues. Our children may not think to pray to Jesus every time something scary or unexpected happens. But they can learn to. A close friend shared with me her joy in learning that her teenagers had cried out to Jesus as they saw a falling telephone pole start to crash onto their stranded car. Her joy came first at her gratefulness for Jesus’ saving her children from sudden death. But her spiritual joy came from seeing her children know where to turn in danger. My friend has prayed with her children faithfully and now rejoices to see them own their faith.
My mom too had taught me to pray whenever I was scared or uncertain what to do, like when trying to befriend an ostracized schoolmate. I don’t think I remembered her advice often as a young child, but eventually I learned. Praying with my parents was initially much more comfortable than praying on my own.
Vivid memory of arrow prayers.
My personal first searing memory of shooting lots of arrow prayers at God was during a stay at a friend’s cabin in the woods hours from our house. Spending the weekend with a new friend and her parents, I did not expect to get my period and horrid cramps. At thirteen, I was too awkward with the facts of life to explain the situation to my friend’s crusty old mom. So I visited the outhouse frequently, curling up and crying out to God in pain. I did NOT want to have to ask my friends to drive me back home because of my pain. I also knew nothing yet about pain relievers for this distress.
Oddly, I remember a clear sense of embarrassment that I was praying to God about such an intimate matter. It makes me laugh now to think about it, since God’s the one who created my body. But thirteen-year-olds are young. I also remember God’s answering those prayers–not immediately–but much more quickly than was natural. It’s now clear to me that God used my little crisis to teach me the reality of my dependence on him. My pain made me see that dependence and cry out.
Attempts to grow.
Decades later, I’m trying to increase my arrow prayers during my time with my grandson. For example, instead of just kissing it to make it all better when he hurts himself, I’m trying to pray for healing or thank Jesus for healing in that moment. I figure the more often he hears me pray with him, the more natural it will become for him. That certainly continues to be true for me.
What is the best thing you’ve done for your children so far? How about for their knowledge of Jesus?
Many people know that James Dobson famously told fathers the best thing they can do for their children is to love their children’s mothers well. I’ve often wondered why he didn’t give the matching advice to mothers.
But do you know that one simple, regular action is reportedly 99% effective in keeping that marriage love alive? That marriage love is just as important for our children as for ourselves. And their understanding of the love of God for them is greatly aided by seeing godly love in family members.
General estimates put chances of divorce in general as about 50%. Unfortunately, other studies show that married people in the church do only slightly better.
Various studies indicate the staying power of marriages where people pray together as between 95 and 99%. Staggering data.
Simply going to church together seems to have little impact on the duration of marriages—according to surveys. Though my own experience is that attending church together strengthens marriages.
But prayer together out loud makes a dramatic difference in protecting marriages against the enemy.
That may seem impossible.
But what happens when we pray together? If we are sincere as we turn to God, we find the Holy Spirit working in us as we pray. I’ve had many times when I was irritated with a friend, yet praying for her caused me to see life from her perspective in unexpected ways. Even when I was not praying about the conflict.
It is true with our spouses as well. Often it may be too awkward to express all that we are feeling in our prayer. That’s okay. Any effort to go to God together unites us. God draws us closer to himself and closer to the person we are praying with.
My husband and I started praying together before bed for an embarrassing reason. Someone my age had brought up casually something about their prayer time as a couple before bed. I immediately got defensive and thought, “She’s not closer to God than I am! We should do that too!”
Obviously, that was totally the wrong motivation. A sinful motivation. But because my husband and I did come to God sincerely, he blessed us and our marriage tremendously.
For most people praying out loud with children feels less intimidating than with other adults. So if praying as a couple scares you, start with your kids. But remember how our marriages are strengthened when we pray out loud together regularly.
Maybe the easiest way to start praying out loud together is by praying with your children together.
When we think about wanting our children to experience the power of prayer in their daily lives, isn’t the best thing seeing it modeled by parents who talk to God regularly together?
What are some of the things that motivate or stand in the way of prayer with our spouses?
Wrestling with God is not unusual for me.
I often feel the need to pound on God’s chest and ask why he seems so slow with his answers. Especially when I’m praying for something good for his children. Hearing “yes” from God seems so essential. And urgent.
But the burden of a parent praying for a child in crisis—physical, emotional, or spiritual—is like no other type of wrestling with God.
And adult children have no fewer scary situations to pray about than young children. The trip home after the week of visiting our recovering daughter and tiny NICU grandson, born not breathing, was a clear example of that.
Heavy-hearted, we boarded the plane to return home. Our week with our daughter’s family following her complicated C-section and resultant repair surgery had ended. But her painful journey continued.
At our first airport, her text had just alerted us that she might need to return to the hospital for IV treatment of a stubborn incision infection. What about her tiny baby, recently released from NICU?!!
Arrow prayers for new mama, for baby, for new daddy, for healing, for stability, and for their peace in their Heavenly Father’s arms. Furiously I sent texts and messages to as many people as I could think of to ask for their prayers before I boarded that plane.
Then my real struggle began: “Lord, why? They have trusted you through so much already. Isn’t it enough? You are a good God. Remember your love for your children! Have mercy on them.”
I cried and prayed through the whole flight home.
And God reminded me that his mercy for my children is endless. In my pounding at his door for answers, he reminded me of his so-much-greater pain in Jesus’ death.
I realized that I often thank Jesus for his suffering for our salvation, while neglecting to thank the Father for the agony he suffered in causing his Son to go through such pain for me and for all who love Him.
His pain was exponentially greater than mine. I am in awe.
Father, thank you for your sacrifice as a parent. Jesus, thank you for your life of sacrifice and death of sacrifice. Holy Spirit, thank you for being with us and offering us your peace through it all.
My daughter’s text had requested prayer that quick healing—after so many failed antibiotics—would prevent her forced return to the hospital. If not, she requested prayer that she would be able to glorify God through her return to the hospital.
That request showed me an example of miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of his people. The Lord reminded me that he brings healing of all kinds.
He said to me, “Peace, my child. Be still, and know that I am God.”
Before God healed my daughter’s body, he healed my heart of a different ailment: the perceived need to be able to take care of my daughter myself. I needed to trust him to do that.
When God is silent.
What happens when God doesn’t answer our prayers? The Bible tells us that God always hears us, but sometimes we get absolutely no response to our prayers. God is silent. My friends and family have often heard me complain that I wish God would send a banner down from heaven to tell me what to do. I always feel certain that I want to do God’s will. I always believe I just need to know for sure what it is. But God has never worked that way for me.
However, I have had a few crazy stories of God answering my prayers instantly in the way I wanted him to.
Like the time early in our marriage when our washing machine sometimes worked for the spin cycle and just as often did not. Two mechanics could find nothing wrong and suggested we buy a new machine. We did not have extra money to spend on a washing machine, especially one we might not even need. But I was sick of having to wring clothes out by hand and have them in the dryer for what felt like forever.
So out of exasperation I prayed that God would please make the machine either never work properly again or never malfunction again until we needed to buy a new one. Ten minutes later the machine worked perfectly, as it did consistently for six more years. Wow. Sweet! If only I could always get God to answer my prayers like that.
Unfortunately, too often it feels uncertain whether God is answering or not.
When a friend is struggling in a marriage or a loved one is gravely ill, God can even seem to answer with positive signs and then follow with negative results. Or sometimes nothing changes at all. The waiting can drain me and make me feel angry at God.
Too often I identify with C. S. Lewis’s description of pounding at the door of God and feeling that God heartlessly hears and ignores the pounding.
What these experiences show is that often God wants me to listen to him in a new way.
Usually my waiting and listening produce growth–when I actually keep looking to God during my waiting. When God is silent, I need to keep looking at him, knowing he is working. I just can’t see his work yet then. Then, during my waiting, he usually produces a much better answer than what I had originally requested.
For instance, I didn’t know that my daughter’s struggles in her school would lead us to switch her to a far better school for her. We never would have considered doing that if God had answered our prayers by simply fixing the bad situations.
Years later, we prayed that God would end the continuing crises in my family. He didn’t, but I saw huge personal growth. My growth came through my stronger dependence on God and my sense of peace about his plans for my life.
Often when God is silent in my life, he is actually saying to me, “Be still, my child, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Are you much more comfortable praying silently than out loud?
Do you think others always “pray better prayers” than you do?
Do you feel blessed when others pray for you either silently or out loud?
Do you feel a special blessing when people pray for you in your hearing?
If you answered yes to all of the above, you are like the majority of us. Most of us feel blessed when other people pray for us but not comfortable praying out loud. Praying in front of others can make us feel a bit insecure.
This feeling is so normal that it motivated Jesus’ disciples to ask him to teach them how to pray. It also motivated him to teach them the prayer most of us refer to as The Lord’s Prayer.
Doing anything in front of others can make us feel self-conscious, especially praying. All the more reason to start praying out loud with our children at a very early age—and very simply. If we can remember that prayer is talking to God rather than performing for others in the room, we will all do better.
Children who first hear prayers in simple language—without any special churchy words—will easily learn to talk to God themselves naturally.
Simple prayers thank God for food, for family, for friends. They ask for healing of loved ones. They ask for God’s blessing on us for a scary day tomorrow. Or they praise God for being a loving God and for caring for us.
Such simple prayers just talk to God about the ordinary stuff of life. We can best model talking to God well by talking to him the way we do with our children and our friends.
I wish my parents had always prayed out loud with us in restaurants. The first time I was with someone who prayed out loud before dinner in a restaurant, I was weirded out. The first time my sister prayed with me over the phone felt very strange. I don’t know why.
I know God understands how phones work much better than I do. But I had to be led by others to pray in those ways that were uncomfortable for me at first. So it took a while for me to feel comfortable praying that way with my children, but it took them much less time to learn than it did for me.
Most of us feel less self-conscious with our children than with other adults. So it will probably be much easier than praying out loud with them than with adults.
The main benefit is that it will make it easier for our children to pray naturally. A side benefit is that it will probably make us feel more comfortable praying out loud with adults. Take baby steps, and watch God bless you.
How were you first introduced to prayer? Have you had positive experiences or negative experiences with trying to pray out loud with children?
All three of my adult daughters have commented at some moment that the best thing we did as parents was to have family prayer time.
Does this mean they always felt that way, or that it never felt like a chore to fulfill? I’m sure not. I know we parents often felt family prayer time was something we needed to power through in our exhaustion.
But our little girls experienced some of their best answers in response to family-time prayers. They often also found that time at the end of each day to be a bit of comfort . As a family, we shared concerns together we never would have otherwise.
We sort of stumbled onto it, but we came to value it highly. When our oldest first began talking, we started praying with her at her bed before saying goodnight. Like lots of parents.
My husband and I made a point of both doing this together with her.
That is probably the conscious decision that turned it into “Family Prayer Time.”
We started with very simple “God bless Grandma and Grandpa G.” kinds of prayers. She was an early talker. At two she was praying that I would have a baby sister for her. Then one day she got suspicious: “Mom, you and Dad aren’t praying too, are you?” I had to admit that we were not praying for that yet.
When she did have a little sister, we started having prayer time together in the little one’s room. In early years, it was the youngest who went to bed first. So we prayed together in her room.
Eventually, predictably, we parents began going to bed soonest and called for prayer time when we were ready to head to bed. By then we were so much bigger and older that we preferred the comfort of the family room.
When the girls were teens, prayer time usually took 15-30 minutes. But sometimes it took long enough for a parent or siblings to become impatient and wonder if the time were worth it. During this time I’m sure having to do family prayer time was often an annoyance to our older, busy kids.
One interesting fact, however, is that I have no memory of the girls complaining about prayer time. Church, yes. Baths, yes. Vegetables, yes. But never prayer time.
I asked one of my daughters recently if she had ever resented it. She was a bit surprised by the question: “No. It was just always something I thought was normal.”
The rewards have been tremendous!
We now see our grown daughters take their needs to Jesus regularly. We see them pray with others. And we have even learned of their leading others to know who Jesus is.
All became comfortable praying out loud with others at far younger ages than my husband and I did. We believe this is because of family prayer time.
Is there a version of this that could work in your home? Or do you have a different prayer tradition that blesses you and your children?
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