Please help my friend too!

Prayer works. This is something that both children and adults experience. It even works when we pray for others who have a problem that God can help with. Here are a few tips, and not just for children.

We have learned that we can ask God for anything. And we have learned that we should not only pray for ourselves, but also intercede for others in prayer. This is not to be a hollow gesture that we perform by simply asking God to make all human beings healthy. When we pray not only for ourselves but also for others, this does not mean that we shift all responsibility for our fellow human beings to God and then go back to what we were doing. On the contrary, anyone who intercedes for others in prayer wants to take responsibility actively and consciously for another person and for the world entrusted to them. They turn their attention away from themselves and towards others. When we see that someone needs something that we ourselves cannot give them, we turn to God and ask Him to help. Even so we must give our best. We must not sit back and watch God take care of everything. Let us rather ask God to help us help another person. That is honest intercession and active Christian love. There are people who may not be able to pray themselves, for example because they do not know God or because right now they are disappointed with Him and therefore find it difficult to pray. They need our intercession in a special way. We can come to God and pray on their behalf. Jesus Himself exemplified this by speaking to God on our behalf. Children can also learn how to pray for others.

Role models in prayer

Even the youngest children notice how their parents pray and imitate them. Children are very strongly orientated towards their respective role models and develop accordingly. Therefore what we do is more important for them than what we say. Children also understand the priority prayer has for us by how much time we take for our personal prayer. If too little time is taken for prayer, children do not learn all that can go into a prayer. You can make prayer more valuable for children simply by planning enough time for it and deciding together what you are going to tell God. The children themselves should get involved. If they are not yet able or do not want to pray out loud, the parents can ask the children about their concerns beforehand and then mention them in a joint prayer.

Talking about prayer

As children of primary school age are very inquisitive and question many things in order to understand how things relate, this is the best time to explain prayer to them in more detail. While mothers or fathers teach their children to pray by way of example and practise it with them on a day-to-day basis, they can also talk about prayer naturally and what it means. A short explanation before the prayer is enough: “We are going to pray now. That means we will be talking to God. He will be listening to us, even if we cannot see Him.”

When children pray for others

In their dealings with one another, children of primary school age develop a sense of equality and fairness. At this stage, they are particularly receptive to conversations about how all people can be treated fairly and that fairness does not mean treating everyone equally. The children assume that God does what is best, even if we do not understand it. In conversations, they will now start to ask why God does not help even though He could. If children ask why God did not help a friend, even though this friend had asked Him for help, it is important that parents answer honestly and also admit that they do not know.

At this stage, children begin to take responsibility for themselves and show empathy. They want to be accepted by their peers and nurture close friendships. At this age, they no longer expect friends to immediately return a kindness. This can be done later when the recipients themselves are in need of help. As a result, the children’s intercessions relate to the actual needs they see around them.

The parents should think about how they say something in prayer and how the children might understand it. If parents give their children the opportunity to pray to God without giving them the feeling that they are being put to the test, they can find out what kind of a relationship they have with God and what their understanding of prayer is.

Three tips to practise intercessory prayer

  • Newspaper prayer: Parents could read the newspaper together with their children and think about whom they can pray for on each page, and then pray together. For example, in the obituaries they can ask God to comfort the grieving. In reports on natural disasters, they can ask God to help the injured and provide shelter for those who have lost their homes. In political news they can ask God to help those in power make wise decisions. And if they come across reports of road accidents, they can pray for all who are out on the roads to be careful and pay attention.
  • The family could also page through a photo album together and choose relatives and friends and talk about what they might want to ask God for them.
  • On a walk through town, children could look around and think about what they could pray for. For example, that the old lady in the tiny house does not feel lonely, or that the grumpy neighbour finds something that brings him joy, or that the little girl around the corner recovers.

About the author: Maraike Finnern studied special needs education with a focus on maths, music, and religion. She is a teacher and school counsellor at a primary school in Hamburg, Germany. She is also responsible for the religious education of children in the region of District Apostle Krause.

Photo: Halfpoint -

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