How to Teach Kids to Pray the Psalms
This article is by Marty Machowski and published by ERLC
Most children are introduced to prayer through prayers offered before meals and before bed, but when trials strike, those traditional prayers fall short of helping our kids through life’s most difficult days.
Is there a prayer to pray when your best friend moves away? How do you approach God when you lose the big game? How do you face God the day after you get caught cheating on a test? What can help our kids connect with God through a more severe trial like when a family member is hospitalized or when a beloved grandparent passes into glory?
The Psalms provide Spirit-inspired examples of petition, confession, declaration, and lament for our kids and us to learn and follow. Turning to these prayers in times of trouble move our focus away from our weakness and onto God’s strength.
Examples from the Psalms
Reminding ourselves of God’s control: Consider David’s declaration in Psalm 139, reminding himself of God’s sovereign control
O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether (Psalm 139:1–4).
These verses provide a wonderful prayer for our kids to memorize. Are you in trouble? Just remember, God knows what you need even before you ask!
Trusting in God: Our children need to learn that when life’s troubles and disappointments come, it is OK to talk to God about them; God wants us to cry out to him. The Psalms are full of these prayers, and simply reading through the book of Psalms with your family will expose your kids to their example.
I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes (Psalm 6:6–7).
Learning to rest: A regular diet in the Psalms helps us give our children the tools they need to trust God in times of trial. They learn that we can find rest as we trust him. Sometimes our troubles last for more than a day. When these extended trials fall, we can find rest at night when we pillow our heads through prayer: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).
Pointing to Jesus: In addition to the help through life’s daily difficulties, the Psalms are rich with gospel references that point our kids to Jesus.
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame (Psalm 103:8–14).
The Psalms tell the story of the crucifixion:
For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots (Psalm 22:16–18).
Jesus prayed the Psalms from upon the cross in his greatest time of trouble.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)
The Psalms even foretell of the resurrection.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption (Psalm 16:10).
Comforting our souls: We can use the Psalms to lead our kids to Christ and help them find comfort in times of trouble. What a comfort for our kids to learn they can rest because God is always on the job; he never rests or takes a break from watching over us.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (Psalm 121:1–4).
These are but a few examples of the many prayers recorded in the book of Psalms that can help our children walk through the many challenges that life brings. By familiarizing your children with this wonderful book, you will equip them to learn how to pray and rely on God through life’s most challenging moments.
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