I'd be lying if I claimed to be an expert on prayer. While it's natural for me to shoot up prayers for my friends' and family's health or progress in school or work, I know enough about God to realize this isn't all he desires when he invites me to carry my loved ones to him in prayer.
As I've begun connecting the things I readily pray about for the people in my life—their physical health, their success at school, their career advancement—with deeper, more eternal requests, my prayer life's become richer. And I've seen answers to my prayers beyond what I could have imagined! The following three shifts in the way I pray for my loved ones have deepened my prayer life and my understanding of God's higher ways.
From Physical Growth to Spiritual Growth
Although I'm not a parent, many of my close friends are. Some of them, such as my friend Nina and her husband, Craig, have taught me a great deal about how to pray for the growing-up people in my life.
Craig entered their marriage with two teenage children from a previous marriage, and together Nina and Craig adopted two children from Russia (a prayer odyssey in itself). Since the first days of their marriage, this couple has prayed regularly for their family. In fact, as parents to two active toddlers and two vibrant teens, they're quite practiced at it! But not only do they pray for their children's physical growth, they pray for their spiritual growth as well. Nina recalls one memorable answer to such a prayer for Craig's daughter Carrie.
When Nina sensed Carrie's growing commitment to Jesus, and saw her consistent participation in church activities, she felt Carrie was ready to make a profession of faith through baptism. "I wasn't sure how to mention it to her, because I wanted her to be baptized out of love for and obedience to God, not to please us," says Nina. "So Craig and I decided that instead of saying anything to Carrie, we'd make it a matter of daily prayer.
"Hardly a week went by before we received a letter from our church addressed to Carrie. Since Carrie was only with us on weekends, we usually opened that kind of mail for her and read it to her over the phone. When we read this letter, we learned it was from the youth pastor confirming Carrie's interest in being baptised!"
Nina concludes, "I believe God orchestrated that sequence of events to encourage me to pray more and speak less, and to pray specifically about our children's spiritual well-being. I also believe he planned it to confirm to Carrie she was hearing God's call and following him."
And so from my friends Nina and Craig, I've learned to pray my young friends will grow up strong and healthy in spirit—as well as in body.
From Intellectual Knowledge to God's Wisdom
Though I'm not in as frequent contact with my cousins as I'd like to be, I've prayed for them often over the years. Since dispersing to different universities is what initially separated us geographically nearly two decades ago, I've often prayed for their educational and career goals across the miles. Because I didn't know where each of them stood in their relationship with God, I paired these requests for intellectual wisdom with requests for spiritual wisdom. I prayed every night at bedtime that each would choose to build a relationship with him. For a long time I even kept a chart to be sure I covered each name at least once each week.
As my cousins graduated and built careers, their educational successes were easy to monitor. But spiritual growth isn't as readily evident. I wondered whether my prayers had accomplished anything, until one of my cousins and I met for brunch a couple years ago. She told me her husband, who grew up in a godly home, had been a great influence in drawing her to a deeper commitment to Christ. Today, they're raising their family on a strong spiritual foundation.
I'm certain other people also have prayed for each of us cousins through the years. But somehow I feel as though I was a participant in this young family's spiritual growth simply by praying for my cousin's wisdom—both educational and spiritual.
From Our Will to God's direction
Similarly, my friend Janet and her husband, Joe, have spent many hours praying for the educational and spiritual health of their now-grown children. What I find intriguing about these prayers is that Janet and Joe paired their requests for their children's academics and work with spiritual service to God. And they consistently asked for God's direction to be evident in their children's lives.
Recently Janet shared with me a list of requests she made for her son, Paul. Here are a few items from her list:
"Give him discernment in choosing a career."
"Give him a dream of God's choosing to pursue."
"Let him find favor with God and his professors."
"Lead him to a school for post-doctoral work."
"Let him conduct his life in a way that brings honor to God."
"Keep him faithful to his calling and to God."
What strikes me about Janet's list is what it lacks. There's no overtone of trying to control her son's decisions or exert her own wishes upon his life. Instead, Janet asks God to provide direction, goals, insights, and vision to Paul and her other children.
As I examine Janet's prayer list, I'm moved to re-examine my own. I'm struck by how often my prayers smack more of my desire to control my loved ones' decisions than to have God direct them. Janet's submissive prayers remind me of Jesus' prayer at Gethsemane: Not what I want, God, but what you want (Matthew 26:39).
It's not that I don't mention to God the plan I think is best. But once I've voiced my opinion, I choose (sometimes through clenched teeth) to be content with the choice God makes. Even though I may ask for what I think is best, I remember to ask God for what he knows is best for my loved ones.
All these lessons became more real to me two years ago when my mother faced potentially serious health issues. When-ever a doctor refers you to a specialist and that specialist says "biopsy," chills run down your spine. That's the word the specialist used in relation to two growths found on my mom's thyroid. As we proceeded through all the prescribed tests, I spent endless hours in the hospital waiting room while Mom sat on a cold metal hospital table just beyond the waiting room doors. In those hours I prayed—or at least I tried to.
I didn't quite know what to say: "God, please take these growths away from my mother"? But what if he didn't? Or how about, "God, please don't let there be any cancer cells"? But what if there were? Or, "God, just let this be treatable"? But what if it wasn't? So here's what I prayed: "God, I don't want to go through this. And I don't want Mom to go through this. Yet you must have Mom and our family here for a reason. Help us depend on you during this difficult time. Now, God, I really don't want to lose her. But since I truly want your will above my own, I leave my mother in your loving hands—as difficult as that is to do. Amen."
One of the first answers to that prayer was a peaceful calm in myself and in both my parents. The second answer was the good report from the doctors: The growths were benign. But even if they hadn't been, my trust in God had been challenged to mature as a result of the prayer I'd learned to pray for Mom.
As we pray in fresh ways for the ones we love, this kind of growth in our relationship with God can be one of the greatest benefits of all.
Julie-Allyson Ieron, an author and speaker, lives in Illinois. She is author of numerous books including Praying Like Jesus (Moody).
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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