More than we may realize, children’s brains can memorize the exact wording of popular phrases, songs, poems, and prayers long before they understand and process the meaning.
Examples are all around us. How many four-year-olds think “LMNO” is a single letter? When they come to a crosswalk, it’s not uncommon for a second grader to sing, “To cross the street safely day and night, look to the left and look to the right,” but then unthinkingly step into traffic completely neglecting to actually look left or right. In the same way, when a middle schooler sings along to some nasty lyrics to a current pop song, there’s a good chance they don’t even know what they’re singing.
If you sense your grandchild is reciting words or singing lyrics without a full understanding of the meaning, you have the option to let it slide or take full advantage of that teachable moment. That’s your call.
When it comes to words of a prayer that may be unclear or confusing to your grandchildren, your faithful explanation is always welcome. Every family is different, but there’s a good chance your grandchildren are already familiar with several rote prayers they’ve heard at mealtime, bedtime, or a children’s ministry program. And that’s great. Let’s applaud anytime our grandkids are exposed to sincere prayer. Nonetheless, children do need to move from the mindless parroting of words to a full and rewarding awareness of their meaning.
Keep in mind Jesus’s instructions on memorized prayer, “When you are praying, do not use thoughtless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7 NASB)
In other words, rote prayers recited without thought or understanding may not even make it passed the ceiling. That’s a warning every generation needs to take to heart.
Not coincidentally, a few verses down in that same chapter we find Jesus continuing his instruction on prayer with the words, “Pray, then, in this way:” which leads directly into the “Lord’s Prayer.” When this generation of grandparents was growing up, there’s a good chance that most kids in the neighborhood were exposed to the “Our Father,” as it was called in some denominations.
So here’s the question: What awareness do your grandchildren have of the “Lord’s Prayer”? And, if they can recite it, do they really know what it means?
In general, you’ll want to get mom and dad’s permission before diving into this kind of teaching. But, without a doubt, this is the exact kind of wisdom and application that grandparents should be delivering to those young people you love so much. Especially because moms and dads are often falling short when it comes to sharing these lessons. They are either too busy, don’t realize how important it is, or tend to leave the spiritual training of their kids up to the professionals at church.
Before diving into the hermeneutics and exegetics of Matthew 6:9-13 with your grandkids, take time—perhaps across multiple visits and interactions—during which they see you or join you in praying the entire prayer. Not as part of a lesson, but as . . . well, a heartfelt prayer.
Then at the right time, ask if they’ve ever thought about the meaning behind the words of the prayer. When they say “No, not really,” you’ve opened the door to say, “Well let’s see if we can figure it out!” Then together open your Bible or simply write down each phrase one at a time. Ask questions, express surprise, and model the joy of interpreting scripture. What a gift that will be!
Biblical scholars have penned countless volumes exploring the meaning of this model prayer, but let’s briefly go over some of the highlights you want to make sure your grandchild grasps.
Our Father in heaven. The Creator of the Universe wants a relationship with each of us. He’s real. And he’s living in a place of eternal glory. He sent Jesus. He sent the Holy Spirit. But God the Father never leaves heaven.
Hallowed be your name. Even God’s name is set apart. Holy. Just mentioning his name unleashes unstoppable power.
Your kingdom come, your will be done. Those are true statements. God reigns. God’s will triumphs. But they are also prayer requests. We are asking God to send his Son back for his triumphant return. Soon. And we are surrendering our will for his. He knows what’s best for us anyway.
On earth as it is in heaven. These are two different places. But God is in control of both. Humans can’t even begin to understand how the world and universe work. There’s no way we can grasp the awesomeness of heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. This is pretty straightforward. Except it’s not just bread. And it’s not just daily. God supplies all our needs. From oxygen to sunlight to the way our brain turns squiggly lines printed on this post into ideas on how to pray with our kids. How it all works together is God’s gift to us.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. This could be considered the centerpiece of the Gospel. We must acknowledge our brokenness and ask for God’s forgiveness. It’s the blood of Christ that washes away our sins. If we understand the critical nature and power of forgiveness, then we will also follow God’s example. But our job is easier. All we have to do is forgive those who have wronged us, one person at a time. We can’t begin to compare that to God’s promise to forgive all the sins of all the people throughout history who believe and trust in him.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. To be clear, God would never lead us into temptation. But he did give us free will, which means he allows us to be tempted. Which means we need to ask him to save us from ourselves. The second part pinpoints the urgency. Satan is real. And we can’t face him alone.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. We’ve come full circle now. He’s our Father in heaven. And his glory will last forever. He is the Alpha and the Omega.
Having fun yet? This idea works with kids of any age, but perhaps best with elementary and middle school age grandchildren. The goal is to present this prayer as amazing and useful good news. Along the way, feel free to stop and help your grandchildren imagine Jesus, the Son of God, delivering this message to scores or perhaps hundreds of people—disciples, faithful, curious, skeptics—early in his earthly ministry.
Then, stop before they get restless. Leave them wanting more. If your kid-friendly hermeneutics and exegetics go well, share your strategy with your grandparenting friends. And drop us a line at christiangrandparenting.com. We love to hear about grandparents who make spiritual connections with upcoming generations.