One of the great privileges of being a pastor is always having a good reason to speak to the children of the church. I love getting down to their level (i.e. sitting on the floor), talking to them, and hearing about their lives. A question I love to ask them is this: How can I pray for you? We ask this same question on Wednesday evenings when our church gathers for our mid-week service. The children go off to classes to learn about Jesus while adults go and spend an hour in prayer. But before we dismiss the kids we ask them the question: How can we pray for you tonight?
The answers are as likely to be hilarious as they are poignant. Sometimes it is all I can do to stifle laughter as they express what at that moment is so important to them. It might be a friend’s uncle’s daughter’s pet rabbit that has a cold. Or it might be a not-so-subtle critique of an older brother (“Pray that my brother stops being mean to me” while brother is sitting in the very next seat) or an embarrassing criticism of mom or dad. Sometimes the answers pose a kind of a dilemma like when two children each want prayer that their own team will win the upcoming tournament. But then often the requests are real and important and even painful.
I ask the children how I can pray for them because what is important to them ought to be important to me as their pastor. They are learning that when something is important to them, they ought to take it to the Lord and plead their case with him. And who am I to determine what is important enough to take to the Lord? And so I pray for them and count it a privilege.
There is another benefit in praying with and for children. By speaking to them and hearing their prayer requests I get a glimpse of how God must regard some of my prayers. I have greater maturity and (I trust) greater wisdom than the children and this allows me to see just how mundane or funny some of their concerns may be. Yet God is infinitely greater than I am, he sees the end from the beginning, and he still chooses to hear me pray and to take my requests seriously. He tells me to pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17), to pray instead of fretting (Phil. 4:6), to continue steadfastly in prayer (Col. 4:2), and assures me that all the while the Holy Spirit is interceding on my behalf (Rom. 8:26). He hears, and loves to hear, even those requests that show a lack of trust, a lack of knowledge, a lack of insight.
Praying for children and praying with children allows me to serve them, but it also provides the opportunity to get just a glimpse of God as he patiently hears my requests which must be so petty and so simple to figure out. Yet these things are on my heart and if they are important to me, they are important to him.