Friday, July 23, 2010

July 18 Sermon: Childhood Prayers

It’s one of the true blessings of parenthood to watch and listen to your children pray. It seems that children have much more wisdom about God than we oftentimes give them credit for.
After spending time with children, we see what Jesus means by saying “their angels constantly look at the face of his father in heaven.” What an odd, mystical way of saying it—but it’s true! Children and the child-like oftentimes possess a faith that is unclouded by doubt and over-rationalization. And they are un-jaded by cynicism and criticism. Thank God for our children and their prayers, that probably keep us all afloat.
But, we adults have a part in this too. You heard it from the Proverbs of old in our call to worship, and you hear it from the proverbial wisdom of modern science and psychology.
11 years ago, Judith Rich Harris wrote a book that became a Pulitzer Prize finalist in non-fiction. In it, she challenges the commonly held assumption that parents are the main contributors’ to a child and teenager’s personality. Instead reports from her studies that peers are the main influencers.
This book has created much debate and study in the decade since in child psychology and family therapy, and her findings have held up: peers are a significant, and perhaps the most significant, influence on our children.
But, you can’t deny that parents have some influence on their kids. I, after all, still remember those prayers my parents taught me to say at bedtime, and now have taught them to my own son, even with the nonsensical little routine that I used to love doing that my parents and I incorporated into the prayer after I started mimicking what they always said to me after the praying was done and I would leap from my knees up into the bed:
Now Get In Bed!
So, with what we know from the Bible and the Proverbs about the importance of teaching our children in the ways of our faith, coupled with what we know about children influencing each other, coupled with our Christ mandated concern for our neighbors and community, it is perhaps one of the most charitable and beneficial actions we can undertake to raise up a generation of kids who pray and who cling strongly to a real and tangible connection with God, so that they can in turn influence instead of be influenced by their non-praying peers.
Everyone always talks about “prayer in schools” as the common solution to all the problems we find in school today, but my opinion on the matter is that prayer is a great opportunity to teach and connect with my own children, and I would rather someone else who doesn’t share my values and primary concerns and that of our family tradition being the one who instilled those treasures in my children. If I entrust someone else with the job of teaching my children to pray, am I doing what God is asking me to do as a parent? What if the person teaching my child doesn’t practice the same kind of faith as my family practices?
Oftentimes I encounter people who are nervous about praying. Have you ever met a child nervous about speaking to his mom or dad? Not likely, I would say. More likely, what people who are afraid to pray in front of others are concerned about is the performance of prayer. They might be hesitant because they don’t think they know what they are going to say. They haven’t had a chance to plan it all out, so they may ramble (like their pastor does) and perhaps even repeat the same thing twice unknowingly.
But look at the way a child speaks to his or her parents. They speak plainly. Sometimes they repeat things over and over and over again until they feel they are heard. You know what Jesus said about that? Luke 18: 2-8

Children's Morning Prayer
Lord, in the morning I start each day,
By taking a moment to bow and pray.
I start with thanks, and then give praise
For all your kind and loving ways.
Today if sunshine turns to rain,
If a dark cloud brings some pain,
I won't doubt or hide in fear
For you, my God, are always near.
I will travel where you lead;
I will help my friends in need.
Where you send me I will go;
With your help I'll learn and grow.
Hold my family in your hands,
As we follow your commands.
And I will keep you close in sight
Until I crawl in bed tonight.
-- Mary Fairchild

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