Bedtime Prayers With My Children
There is a definite sense in which non-Christians-people who have not been "born again" (John 3:3), who do not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 3:16)-cannot pray. At least, they cannot pray in a way that pleases God, as they are by nature alienated from and hostile toward God (Col 1:21) and are constantly objects of His anger (Psa 7:11). And yet-just as faith is commanded (Isa 45:22) though no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws them (John 6:44), making them spiritually alive (Eph 2:5), and granting them the gift of faith (Eph 2:8)-so also prayer is indiscriminately commanded. Prayer is a duty enjoined upon all people everywhere at all times by virtue of their having been given life from their Creator. If a non-Christian does not pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ (Matt 6:9; John 14:13), then that person is simply adding sin to sin (Isa 43:22).
Due to these considerations, and because I am commanded to train up my children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph 6:4), I teach my children to pray even though I do not think that they have yet come to genuine saving faith as evidenced by "fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matt 3:8).
And so my children observe regular times of prayer throughout the day.
The Rationale for Bedtime Prayers
One of the times that I regularly lead my children in prayer each day is at their bedtime. I believe that there is biblical precedent for bedtime prayers: David prayed morning, noon, and night (Psa 55:17), and he remembered and meditated upon the LORD while he was in bed (Psa 63:6). It is appropriate to begin and end each day with prayer.
"Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep"?
Thinking about how to guide my children in prayer at bedtime has required a great deal of thought. It did seem wise to provide my children with some simple model of how to call out to God. But I'm not thrilled with the traditional "now I lay me down to sleep" prayer. Though that traditional prayer does remind children of eternity and the need to be safe in the Lord (both excellent features), it is not concluded in Jesus' name, and it is extremely limited in scope. In fact, I am not even sure that it is a prayer. By saying, "I pray the Lord my soul to keep," it seems more like it is describing a prayer than actually praying to God. (I suppose it could be edited to "I pray You, Lord, my soul to keep," although that sounds like awkward phrasing.)
Bedtime Prayer: First Model
After much experimentation-always endeavoring to keep genuine, heartfelt calling out to God paramount when praying with my children-I arrived at this model bedtime prayer:
Thank You, Lord, for this day.
Help us get the sleep we need.
Keep us safe through the night.
Fill our hearts with love for Jesus.
Help us be kind to one another.
In Jesus' name,
Added to this basic formula, we pray for various occasional needs (ailing or hospitalized friends or family, etc.).
In the past few months, however, when I pray at bedtime with Christian (6 years old), I have been transitioning to a different form of coaching him in prayer. (Georgia Grace, my 3 year old, cannot quite think in the terms outlined below at this stage, so when I pray with her, I still use the model prayer mentioned above.) My bedtime prayers with Christian now follow the ACTS model. ACTS stands for:
Putting the ACTS Model into Practice for Bedtime Prayers
I now put the ACTS model into practice almost every night with Christian. After reading him a bedtime story and singing a spiritual song with him, I usually ask him a series of questions, drawing out responses in accordance with the ACTS model. These questions are:
1. What is one thing that you know about God that you should love Him for? [This is also a good opportunity to review some of his Baptist catechism questions concerning who God is.]
2. What sin or sins have you done today that you need to confess and ask God forgiveness for?
3. Who is one person you have seen or what is one thing you have done today that you can thank God for?
4. What is one thing that you or someone else needs that you can ask God for? [At this point I often remind Christian of specific needs his friends or family has.]
Lately, I have been reading from biographies of U.S. presidents (versions written for children) to Christian each day. (Yes, I am a former Political Science teacher!) In conjunction with this, and due to 1 Timothy 2:1-2, I also have Christian pray for President Obama each evening.
After Christian answers all of the questions listed above (so that he has thought through what he is about to say to God), I have him pray.
Bedtime Prayers as a Tool for Evaluating My Child's Spiritual State
One benefit of using the ACTS model for praying, along with the questions I've mentioned, is that the conversation that takes place before prayer allows me a window into Christian's spiritual condition. For example: I have learned that when the Apostle Paul mentioned people whose "god is their belly" (Phil 3:19), he must have had a prophetic vision of my son in his mind. Seriously, though the boy eats roughly his own body weight in food each day, his mind is still constantly focused on eating. (Once, when we were reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Christian told me that he wants to be Augustus Gloop!) If I do not direct him away from this tendency, our bedtime conversation will invariably take the following form: