My 4-year-old son clasped his hands together and squeezed his eyes shut. He scrunched up his face with intense focus. In his sweet little voice he prayed, “God, please send dreams about Jesus to Muslims. Amen.” He uttered the last word emphatically.
My heart soared. Few things bring me more delight than hearing my boys pray—unprompted—for people across the world who don’t know Jesus yet. While I struggle to consistently disciple my children well in missional prayer, I’m amazed at what settles into their hearts when I take small steps.
While storybook Bibles, children’s devotionals, and Scripture memory programs are plentiful, the resources to teach our kids about missions can be sparse. But we don’t need a well-crafted curriculum to convey God’s heart for the nations to our children. With a little intentionality, we can help our kids develop a global perspective through prayer.
A Vision of God’s Greatness
Before embarking on this adventure, it’s vital to understand why we should disciple our children in missions.
Throughout Scripture, we see that God desires for the nations to know and worship him. From God’s promise to bless the nations through Abraham (Gen. 12:3), to non-Israelite Ruth’s inclusion in the lineage of Jesus (Matt. 1:5), to the powerful image of people from across the earth fervently worshiping our King in heaven (Rev. 7:9), Scripture reveals God’s plan to redeem people from every nation and language.
Our God is not only God for America but for people in every country. He is so great that everyone must know and worship him (Isa. 49:6). If we fail to cast a vision for how awesome God truly is, our children will miss a key aspect of his character. We risk having small thoughts about the Lord and unintentionally teaching our children that he is a local deity rather than the ruler of heaven and earth.
If we fail to cast a vision for how awesome God truly is, our children will miss a key aspect of his character.
If God is worthy of the worship of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation and desires for his salvation to be made known, then as Christians we should delight to join this work. We may not all be called to leave our loved ones and homeland to serve oversees, but prayer is a key way everyone can participate in God’s global mission.
Cultivating Family Prayer
Here are four practical ways to cultivate a prayerful heart for the nations in your family. Consider selecting one to focus on for the next few months.
1. Designate a specific time to pray for unbelievers around the world.
Since my boys are early risers, we pray for people around the globe after our morning devotions, before the busyness of getting ready for the school day envelops us. Be creative and find a time to integrate global prayer that fits well with your family’s schedule. It could be during dinner prayer, while traveling to school on Tuesdays, or before the kids go to bed.
You can use resources like Window on the World: An Operation World Prayer Resource, Joshua Project, or Prayercast to gain a better understanding of how God is at work in specific places around the world, then incorporate these requests into your regular prayer times. Or you could let your kids select a country from a world map or globe. The prayers can be short and sweet, but this practice will have lasting influence on your kids.
2. Invite international students to your home for a family meal.
Perhaps there are international students who attend your local church. If not, your church may have connections to international student ministries you can engage with, or you can reach out to college campus ministries in your area to be connected with a student.
Even if you can’t commit to regularly hosting meals, holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter provide ideal opportunities to bring an international student into your celebration. When they come over, be sure to ask questions about their family and culture. When you thank God for the meal, include thanksgiving for your new friends and their countries.
As I learned when I lived overseas, spending time with people in their homes can foster spiritual conversations. By having an international student over, your family can learn how to pray for a different part of the world and you can have a specific friend in mind as you intercede.
3. Read books about other places and cultures along with missionary biographies crafted for kids.
Expanding your child’s view of the world through reading will foster an understanding of people and places different from your context and provide a connection point when you pray. As we read stories from around the world, we see how people from each culture display God’s image and how people from each culture need redemption just like we do. Reading can show us the potential for gospel transformation across the earth and better inform our prayers.
Reading can show us the potential for gospel transformation across the earth and better inform our prayers.
Select books with main characters from a different culture, religion, or country. Consider asking your local librarian to help you find an age-appropriate book with a global outlook. You can also peruse a list of handpicked books from the International Missions Board to raise globally minded kids, along with tips for reading with a missional mindset. Or check out the Hidden Heroes series as a starting place for children’s missionary stories.
4. ‘Adopt’ a missionary from your local church.
Your local church likely already supports missionaries. Select one individual or family your church is committed to walking alongside. You can learn about the country, religion, and culture where they serve by checking out library books, making recipes from that region, and following their regular updates.
As you pray for specific requests together, your family can be encouraged by how God answers. And watching God work in response to your prayers can foster a desire to keep interceding. When the missionary returns for a stateside break, invite them to share a meal—and pray with them.
As we direct our prayers beyond the walls of our home, church, city, state, and country, we catch glimpses of how great our Lord is—and this will captivate not only our children’s hearts, but our hearts as well.