I was reminded recently of what is frequently referred to as “The Shema.” Shema Yisrael (hear, O Israel) are the first two words of a section of the Torah. The Shema is the title of a prayer that serves as a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services. It is the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
It begins with the affirmation that there is only one God and then instructs us to love Him with everything we are. Then verse 6 reminds every parent of the responsibility we have to teach our children the things of God so that they will not only know about him but that they will truly know and love Him.
A part of that instruction includes teaching them this very prayer – the Shema. This was and is read or recited morning and evening in faithful Jewish homes. Children would grow up knowing it, being able to repeat it and, in the course of time, it would have a great impact on their lives. God’s intention was that parents would prepare the subsequent generations to follow Him.
Perhaps the most important lesson or lessons we can teach our children is to pray. They best way they can get to know the Father is through prayer. They will never love a God they do not know. They will not know a God with whom they do not talk.
Where are our children learning to pray? The greatest responsibility falls on parents. Children need to hear and see their parents praying. Children need to see that their parents are dependent on God in prayer. They also need to see that their parents delight in the Lord and that they are frequently in the place of prayer.
Obviously, our Sunday schools and children’s ministries should be places of prayer where children can learn to pray but, according to this passage, the responsibility still rests with the parents. We need the next generation to be a praying people. Let us not neglect to teach children to pray.
Susanna Wesley, mother of 19 children including John and Charles Wesley, was a woman committed to prayer. Her children knew that daily she went to her room for secret prayer for them. An hour in the morning and another in the evening were set aside for communion with God. After prayer Susanna would rejoin her family, bright, cheerful, and calm.