Four years ago, a major spiritual battle began in my home, and I was not prepared for it. Four years ago, my first child was born.
When I became a mother, I knew I wanted to instill a love for God in my children. I assumed I'd have plenty of time to read Bible stories and do cute projects to bring those stories to life. But by the time my second child was born, I realized that motherhood was much more time-consuming and difficult than I ever imagined.
My firstborn was a handful, and I lacked the ability to cope with raising both an active toddler and a newborn. I wondered how I would nurture a strong foundation of faith in my children, and I worried about leaving them vulnerable to the strong temptations in our secular culture. Finally in desperation, I began fervently praying for my kids.
Now, as the mother of three, I realize that prayer is where I should have started all along. I began to feel less alone as a mom, knowing my children were in God's hands. I felt like I was helping my children grow closer to God, and that God was already at work in their hearts. I began to feel that I couldn't fail because the King of all Creation was on my side.
I then started to discover many biblical examples of parents who brought their fears and concerns to God in prayer. Their stories inspired me to get specific in my prayers. Now instead of just pleading for God's help in moments of frustration (okay, I do that too!), I also focus my prayers on five areas of my children's spiritual formation.
You can use these same biblical examples to guide your prayers for your children. Here's how:
Pray for spiritual freedom
A desperate father begged Jesus to free his son from the life-threatening possession of an evil spirit. The boy's father knew Jesus could free his son from that bondage.
Most of us will never experience demon possession, but we all struggle with our sinful nature. Our children need constant prayer coverage in this area. They will face temptations every day, but God's strength will help them resist.
Pray for your children to develop wisdom, self-control, and compassion so they will make godly choices throughout their lives. Pray that they will not be slaves to their sinful desires but will instead know the freedom that comes from following God.
One of the first things I prayed for my children was that they would come to know Christ as their Savior at an early age. Even when my oldest child, Nathan, didn't yet understand the concept of salvation, he often prayed that Jesus would live in his heart because he heard others talk about it often. Thankfully, I have since had the thrilling experience of leading Nathan to Christ, and I will continue praying that my two other children will also give their lives to Jesus.
Pray that God will use them
Hannah's heart-wrenching plea was that God would give her a child after years of infertility. But Hannah didn't stop there. She also prayed that God would use the child, promising to make any necessary sacrifice to ensure that God's will was accomplished in the life of her anxiously-awaited little one.
We harbor all sorts of hopes and dreams for our children. Yet we tend to forget that God gives our children dreams of their own. Sometimes those dreams are a far cry from what we imagine for our kids. But when God places a desire in a child's heart, wise parents keep their minds open.
I know a couple who ignored this principle, and the results were devastating. Their teenage daughter Tonia (not her real name) was a committed Christian who felt God leading her to a Christian college, perhaps to enter the ministry. But her parents wanted her to be a doctor.
After months of intense conflict, Tonia finally agreed to attend a secular university. As the semesters passed, Tonia became less and less active in church. Eventually, her entire family stopped attending. The last I heard, Tonia had turned away from God completely, pursuing an ungodly lifestyle. How different things might have been if her parents had let their daughter follow the passion God had placed in her.
Pray for purity
Job was greatly concerned about his children's purity. He offered sacrifices and asked God to cleanse his children from sin, even though he wasn't aware of any specific sins they had committed.
Culture is saturated with sexual images and messages, so our children need God's help if they are to maintain pure hearts and minds. As our children grow up, they need to know where we stand on sexual issues. They need to know their purity is precious to us and to God, and that their sexuality can quickly turn from a blessing to a burden if it's not handled with care and respect. Our prayers can help.
As a college freshman, I heard about a couple that was committed to praying for their daughter's sexual purity. When she became a teenager, they gave her an expensive jar of perfume that could be opened only by breaking the jar.
They explained that this jar represented her purity, and shared their hopes and prayers that she would remain a virgin until marriage. At a time of intense temptation, this girl was saved from committing sexual sin by remembering her parents' gift and the prayer it represented. The prayers of this young woman's parents saved her from making a terrible mistake.
Pray for God's blessing
In Jesus' day, people understood that his blessing would make a difference in the lives of their children. In Mark 10:13, parents brought their children to Jesus, asking him to bless themdespite the disapproval of Jesus' disciples.
When we think about everything children seek to accomplish, we must remember that their paths will be made smoother when God blesses them. Whether at school, in their relationships, or in their first attempts to minister to others, our children need to know that God is with them, watching over them, and caring for them.
Recently, I saw a perfect example of this in the life of a friend's son. Nick, a shy teenager, took a step of faith in joining a weekly "tract blitz" in which his church youth group hit a neighborhood, offering tracts and prayers to people in the area.
The day of Nick's first outing with the group, his mom prayed that God would bless him that day. She later told me, "He came home and said his group had been teased by other teens in the neighborhood. He said, 'That didn't bother me and it's not going to make me stop. I'm going to pray for them because they don't know Jesus.'" Nick has always been sensitive about teasing, so it was amazing to hear his response. His normal fears were replaced by a desire to see others touched by Jesus. Now that's a blessing!
Pray for their protection
Jacob was terrified. After years of estrangement from Esau, the brother whom he had grievously wronged, Jacob was about to meet him again. Afraid that Esau would take revenge on Jacob's family, Jacob prayed for God's protection.
From dangers in our homes, schools, and neighborhoods, it seems like our children face constant threats. But we can rest in knowing God will always watch over our children as their loving heavenly Father.
My pastor recently gave an example of how God answered his prayers for the physical protection of his children. Jordan, his young son, had been playing in the hall outside of the pastor's office. When Jordan's play turned to silence, his dad popped out of the office in time to see Jordan putting his finger into an electrical outlet. Despite the pastor's terrified "No!" Jordan's finger went inbut nothing happened. My pastor later noted that Jordan could have been electrocuted, but wasn't. God's protection was evident.
While we can trust that God wants only good things for our children, it's also important to remember that God doesn't promise a life without pain and suffering. So we need to pray for more than just physical safety for our children; we need also to pray for comfort, understanding, mercy, and a forgiving spirit. When our children experience painphysical, emotional, or spiritualwe can help them turn to God for refuge and restoration. God's protection extends beyond the physical realm and into our hearts and minds as well.
THESE SPECIFIC PRAYERS can give shape to your prayers for your children. Pray alone, with your spouse, or with your children. Pray for one area each day or pray for all of them every day. What matters most is that you remember you are never parenting soloyou have the Master parent in your camp.
Kathy Kelly and her family live in Rhode Island.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today magazine.
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