A WOMAN OF INFLUENCE: HOW TO PRAY FOR YOUR CHILDREN
By: Jean Fleming
I have no regrets about the years I have spent as a full-time wife and mother. My feelings about them mirror the sentiments of the missionary to Korea whose gravestone says, “If I had 1,000 lives to give, Korea should have them all.” These words move me deeply. If this woman had been able to live her life over and over again, Korea would have had her first life and her 1,000th. But, like all of us, she only had one life to give.
I feel fulfilled as a mother. While many women feel the pressure to do something more with their lives, if I had another life to give, I would be a full-time wife and mother again.
I enjoy the challenge. The task of mothering can be as broad as I make it. Consider the endless variety of jobs a mother may do: that of teacher, nurse, dietitian, psychologist, chauffeur, trainer, disciplinarian, seamstress, baseball coach and interior decorator.
The aspect of mothering that excites me most is the knowledge that I am making a permanent difference in my children’s lives. I am a woman of influence. I impart values, stimulate creativity, develop compassion, modify weaknesses, and nurture strengths.
When I read my child a story, I am doing far more than entertaining him. I am expanding his world with language, words, thoughts and imagination.
When I sit beside my child’s bed at night to talk and pray, I’m doing far more than cultivating a bedtime ritual. I’m tuning in to what he is thinking, catching up on his day, and listening for fears, hopes and questions.
This personal time gives me an opportunity to point him to the Lord Jesus Christ and His relevance to the situations my child faces.
Ultimately, my greatest desire as a mother is that my child would become a member of God’s kingdom, and live life for His glory. Thus, prayer becomes one of the most important things I do to influence my child’s life in a deep and lasting way.
“WHAT IS IT YOU WANT?”
Think about each of your children. What would you want Jesus to do for each of them? What requests should you make for them? Are there any guidelines to help you know what to pray? How can you get beyond the simple, “God bless Charlie?”
Grappling with these questions forces us to examine our glib, quick, conscience-easer prayers, and to rethink our motives and the content of our prayers for our children.
Jesus faced a mother with similar questions many years ago. She was the wife of Zebedee, and the mother of James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples. (I like to refer to her, affectionately, as Mrs. Z.) Let’s look at Mrs. Z’s encounter with the Lord in Matthew 20:20-28.
Jesus’ followers were thinking of kings and kingdoms. As He moved toward Jerusalem, their expectations of future greatness rose. With high hopes, Mrs. Z and her sons followed in the wake of the popular mood.
Mrs. Z saw that her sons enjoyed a favored position with Jesus. Often when He withdrew from the crowds, He took James and John with him. So she approached Jesus to make her appeal. As she knelt before Him, Jesus focused His attention on her and asked, “What is it you want?”
AN ASTOUNDING REQUEST
Mrs. Z knew what she wanted. Her request was ready. She stated it simply and concisely: “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
What an astounding request! What more could you ask of a king than to be ranked second and third in his kingdom? This woman either possessed tremendous courage and vision, or tremendous gall.
Jesus gave her no assurance that he would ever fulfill her request, but said, “You don’t know what you are asking.” His Father alone would decide who would sit on his left and right in the kingdom. Only time will tell if she received her request, but Jesus promised her nothing.
When the other disciples heard about this request, they became highly indignant about such a grab at power. What right did James and John have to receive a more prominent position than the others?
Even though most Bible teachers today give this woman scant praise, I find plenty here to challenge my thinking about prayer.
1. She Made Time to Ask
This woman made time to approach Jesus to kneel and to ask. We, too, must make time for prayer. In Quiet Talks on Prayer, S.C. Gordon observes:
The great people of the earth are the people who pray. I do not mean those who talk about prayer; not those who say they believe in prayer; nor yet those who can explain about prayer; but I mean those people who take time and pray. They have not time. It must be taken from something else. This something else is important – very important and pressing, but still less important and pressing than prayer.
Unless I schedule time for serious prayer, I neglect it. Each morning I try to set aside time to read my Bible and pray. Whether long and reflective or brief and compact, my quiet time alone with God only happens consistently when I make it a priority. Only my commitment keeps the pressures and activities of life from squeezing this appointment with God out of my schedule.
My prayer times can expand if I develop the habit of praying in the midst of other activities. I can pray as I walk through our neighborhood, wash the dishes, stir the oatmeal, or walk to the car. When I eat lunch alone, I pray for my children. Currently, I’m trying to remember to pray for each family member as we eat dinner together.
When our children were small, my times spent apart in uninterrupted prayer were brief. But I found I could stretch my total prayer time if I allowed routine tasks to trigger prayer.
As I feed the children, I pray God will nourish their souls; as I bathe them I pray they will experience the spiritual cleansing Christ provides; as I dress them I pray they will be clothed in righteousness.
Time to intercede for our children may seem scarce, but if we plan at least a brief time to pray each day, and combine prayer with routine activities, we may greatly increase the prayer we invest on our children’s behalf. We must make and take time to pray.
2. She Knew What She Wanted
When Jesus asked Mrs. Z what she wanted, she didn’t hesitate. Obviously, she had already thought about what her request would be.
Planning ahead, for me, usually results in a list. I make do-lists, grocery lists and correspondence lists. My daily effectiveness is often closely linked to a handwritten, often jelly-splattered list. If I lose my list, the day is shot. Similarly, without an updated list, my prayer life crumbles.
A list helps me avoid a rambling, haphazard, hit-or-miss approach to prayer. It forces me to clarify and specify what I want God to do for our children.
Roger, my husband, writes prayer items on index cards. He keeps a card for each family member, listing his requests and recording answers when they come. Reviewing how God works increases his faith, and provides specific material for praising God.
Think carefully about your prayers for your children. Decide what you should ask Jesus to do for each of them, consider writing down your requests, and watch for God’s answers.
3. She Asked Big
However defective her theology, Mrs. Z knew that Jesus would soon be king, so she acted to ensure that her sons would have two of the key positions in the kingdom. Even if her motives were questionable, we can learn something about asking God to do something big for our children from her example.
But what is a big prayer request? Should we pray that our children will be healthy, wealthy and wise? Should we pray that they would pastor a large church, found a foreign mission, or speak for Christ before millions? Are any of these requests big in God’s eyes?
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28). If we want our children to be great, we must first pray that they become servants.
Confused goals and twisted values can distort our prayers. What seems good to us may not necessarily be good in God’s eyes.
A young Englishman named Forbes Robinson recognized long ago his imperfect concept of God, and prayed prayers bigger than his limited understanding. In a letter to a friend, Robinson wrote:
I want you to be one of the best men that ever lived – to see God and to reveal him to men. This is the burden of my prayers. My whole being goes out in passionate entreaty to God that he will give me what I ask. I am sure he will, for the request is after his own heart.
I do not pray that you may succeed in life, or “get on” in this world. I seldom ever pray that you may love me better, or that I may see you oftener in this or any other world – much as I crave this.
But I ask, I implore, that Christ may be formed in you, that you may be made not in any likeness suggested by my imagination, but in the image of God – that you may realize not my, but His ideal – however much that ideal may bewilder me, however little I may recognize it when it is created.
I hate the thought that out of love for me you should accept my presentation, my feeble ideal, of the Christ. I want God to reveal His Son to you independently of men – to give you a firsthand knowledge of Him whom I am only beginning to see.
Sometimes more selfish thoughts will intrude, but this represents the main current of my prayers. And if this is to be won from heaven by importunity, by ceaseless begging, I think I shall get it for you!
We may conclude that the mother of James and John asked for the wrong thing for the wrong reason. She was position-oriented and status-conscious when she made her request. But if she asked improperly, what is a valid prayer request?
HOW TO PRAY FOR YOUR CHILDREN
As I try to discern how God wants me to pray for my children, several guidelines help me check my motives and gauge whether my prayers are for God’s glory or my own. As you seek to “ask big,” these guidelines may be helpful:
1. Pray for them to have a place in the kingdom – pray for each child’s salvation.
2. Pray that they would be a credit to the kingdom – that each child will develop a godly character.
3. Pray that they would be used to promote the kingdom – that each child will become a servant of others.
1. A Place in the Kingdom
Our first consideration is for our children’s salvation. If they are to have a place in the kingdom of God, they must personally come to Christ and experience the new birth.
Monica, the devout mother of Saint Augustine, prayed fervently for her son’s salvation. But Augustine’s non-Christian father was as zealous to lead Augustine into sin as Monica was to introduce him to Christ – and Augustine showed little spiritual interest.
After he became a Christian, Augustine wrote in prayer of his indebtedness to his mother’s intercession:
And now didst thou “stretch forth thy hand from above” and didst draw up my soul out of that profound darkness because my mother, thy faithful one, wept to thee on my behalf more than mothers are accustomed to weep for the bodily deaths of their children.
Many centuries later, on a Saturday afternoon in 1849, another mother prayed for the salvation of her only son, Hudson Taylor:
Leaving her friends she went alone to plead with God for his salvation. Hour after hour passed while that mother was still upon her knees, until her heart flooded with a joyful assurance that her prayers were heard and answered.”
When Mrs. Taylor returned home, her son told her of his conversion. Hudson Taylor later founded the China Inland Mission. He ministered to countless Chinese, and his example has inspired thousands of missionaries. His life still speaks today to those who have been deeply challenged by his devotion to Christ.
Another mother I know, who is the wife of a Christian leader, sets an example to mothers by her perseverance in prayer. Several of her children have slipped in and out of fellowship with God over the years, but their mother keeps praying, tirelessly. Their growth in grace must be largely the result of her prayers.
Even when it seems God does not hear our prayers for our children, we must keep on praying persistently. Prayer may be our most effective ministry in our children’s lives. It is never too early to begin praying for our children’s salvation. We even prayed for our children before they were conceived.
On our wedding day, Roger and I knelt beside our bed to commit our marriage to God, to read several psalms, and to pray. God gave us an unexpected present during our first devotional time as husband and wife. He impressed on us a verse Psalm 147:13 – promising His blessing on our children. After we thanked God, Roger wrote “God’s Wedding Gift 7/31/65” beside that verse in our Bibles.
Throughout our marriage we have reviewed that encouraging word from God again and again. God’s promise to “bless our children within us” reassured us that we were waiting for a particular baby one blessed by God. And we prayed this child would know God’s salvation.
From the first fluttering movement, we prayed throughout the pregnancy for our baby’s eventual salvation. Finally, we had the joy of seeing Matthew, our new son. Holding him in our arms, we prayed that he would have a place in the kingdom. Night after night, as we laid our infant in his crib, we prayed for him. As the years passed, our prayers continued.
One night, he prayed and gave his life to Jesus. The Holy Spirit entered his life, and a new spiritual life began. He had a place in the kingdom.
We prayed for a place in the kingdom for each of our children, and we pray for our children’s children, too. It is impossible to begin too soon, or to pray too much for your children.
2. A Credit to the Kingdom
If our first prayer must be for our children’s salvation, our second must be for their character. They must gradually mature, becoming more and more like Christ.
Jesus Christ is our King, and we are His subjects. Christ’s goal for His subjects is the development of Christlike character and conduct. God wants His kingdom to be inhabited by a changed people, people whose characters are like His:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2:11-14).
Hannah is another example of a mother who helped make her son a credit to God’s kingdom through prayer. Painful years of waiting to conceive a child had already taken their toll when we first meet Hannah in the first chapter of 1 Samuel.
She wept and prayed because of her barrenness. Her husband loved her, but could not alleviate the anguish she experienced.
Hannah promised that if God would give her a son, she would give him to God for all of his life. God heard her cry, understood how she was suffering, and answered Hannah’s prayer by giving her a fine baby boy.
She never forgot that her son, Samuel, was an answer to prayer. She gave him a name that would remind her that he was God’s gift to her: “Samuel” sounds like the Hebrew phrase meaning, “I asked the Lord for him.” Each time she spoke his name she recalled how God heard and answered his prayers.
Hannah remembered her promise, too. She loved and cherished her son, but she knew he was not hers to keep. Samuel was to belong to God.
A struggle must have raged in Hannah’s heart because she would soon have to take her dear Samuel to the temple and leave him with Eli, the high priest. The struggle may have grown more intense if Hannah knew about Eli’s immoral sons, who “were wicked men” and “had no regard for the Lord”(1 Samuel 2:12). Dare she turn her son over to Eli’s care? How could she entrust her beloved Samuel to Eli, whose own sons were growing up to be so wicked? Hannah had vowed to give Samuel to God; she knew she must keep her vow.
Perhaps she thought about not being close enough to comfort Samuel when he fell ill, or to talk with him at night before he went to sleep. She would not share each day Samuel’s excited chatter about his lessons, or his disappointment when his day went poorly. She would not be near to warn Samuel about Eli’s wicked sons or to explain God’s plan for him.
As she pondered, she may have realized that prayer was her only recourse. She could have an impact on Samuel’s life through prayer, and experience the power and goodness of God as He answered her prayers.
Since we can pray anywhere at any time, our prayers are most effective means of influencing our children. Only prayer knows no boundaries. Neither separation, nor the present spiritual condition of the child, nor a mother’s lack of experience in prayer can hinder the lasting effects of prayer.
The Bible does not record any of Hannah’s prayers for Samuel after she left him at the temple, but certainly a God-fearing woman who prayed so earnestly for his birth would continue to pray faithfully for his protection and growth to maturity.
After Hannah left Samuel with Eli, she sang the song of praise to God recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. This song confirms our understanding of Hannah as a woman of spiritual depth. She knew how to praise, as well as how to ask. Only women who have spent time alone in God’s presence-agonizing, asking, searching and receiving comfort-pray like this. Jesus said, ‘Ask, and you will be given what you ask for. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7, The Living Bible).
Last year, a young Japanese who stayed in our home gave me a lovely himetemari – a ball of thread made by Buddhist mothers as they pray for their daughters. Japanese mothers wind the finest, most brightly colored silk threads around the ball, making an intricate design as they pray earnestly for their daughters’ future happiness and prosperity. These balls are passed on from generation to generation. The new robe which Hannah stitched each year for Samuel (1 Samuel 2:19) may have corresponded to this. Each new robe could have represented Hannah’s petitions rising lovingly before God as she wove and stitched. When she completed a robe, perhaps she eagerly anticipated taking it to Samuel and seeing in him the answers to her prayers.
What about us? Are the gifts we prepare for our children stitched and formed in prayer?
Samuel “grew up in the presence of the Lord” and “continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men” (1 Samuel 2:21 and 2:26). This reminds us of Jesus’ boyhood: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Isn’t this what we want for our children, too? Prayer can enlist God ‘s help on their behalf.
Is your child keeping bad company? Are you concerned about unpredictable influences in his life? What character qualities could you ask God to develop in your child’s life? Is he responsive to God’s word? Is he conscious of God’s presence? Is he seeking to obey God? Is he trusting God in prayer?
In each of these areas you can be an instrument for bringing about change in your child’s life. Like Hannah, you can have a significant influence through prayer.
3. A Promoter of the Kingdom
God has entrusted the advancement of His kingdom to men and women whom He calls shepherds, laborers, harvesters, ambassadors, teachers, stewards, servants and soldiers. To do this work, God looks for those who care about His concerns, His honor, and the advancement of His kingdom. This is the attitude we want our children to have, and we should pray to this end.
In the 1800s, Annie Rosell Fraser shared her concern for those without Christ with her children, and prayed that at least one of them would become a missionary. Her third son, James O. Fraser, went to China and pioneered a work among a totally unreached people in the rugged mountains of China’s interior.
Although it wasn’t easy, Annie Fraser gladly gave her son to God’s work. In Behind the Ranges, the account of James O. Fraser’s missionary life, we read:
To part with such a son was a heartache that only mothers can understand. Yet it was a willing sacrifice. “Jim, Dear, I am the happiest woman in London today,” she wrote in the little note he carried with him. And it was a job that continued, because the loneliness was for Jesus’ sake. “I could not pour the ointment on his blessed feet, as Mary did,” she said. “But I gave him my boy.”
Annie Fraser organized prayer groups to support her son’s work in China, and labored faithfully in prayer and correspondence to promote God’s kingdom.
We, too, should pray for laborers. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2).
When I pray that our children will serve Christ and further His work on earth, I don’t know what form their service will take. God may choose to have them promote His kingdom as missionaries in the Amazon, from a pulpit with stained-glass backdrop, from an invalid’s bed, or as teachers, farmers, secretaries or plumbers. The job description is immaterial. It is their heart for the kingdom that counts.
Your children can become a part of this much needed labor force, if you will pray. Ask God to use your children to further His kingdom. No spiritual cause can be advanced apart from prayer. In Quiet Talks on Prayer, S.C. Gordon reminds us, “You can do more than pray, after you have prayed. But you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”
Just as Jesus asked the mother of James and John, he now asks us, “What is it you want?” What’s your answer?
“Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:24).
How often do you find yourself quickly uttering a simple, “Lord-bless-Charlie” kind of prayer? Too often our prayers are dull and uncertain instead of vital and dynamic. So let’s consider a few more practical ideas to help us accomplish something for God through prayer.
USE THE BIBLE AS YOUR PRAYER BOOK
The prayers of Moses, David, Hannah and many others can be our patterns as we learn more about how to pray. In the New Testament, the prayers of Paul for his spiritual children are especially useful in learning what to ask for our children. Copy Paul’s prayers on index cards and use them as your models as you pray for your children. Consider passages such as these: Ephesians 1:17-19 and 3:16-19; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-12; Philemon 4-7; and 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12.
Allow the lives of Bible characters to guide your prayers. You might ask for protection from Satan’s deceitful tactics so they will not yield to temptation, as Adam and Eve did. You can also pray for the right mates for your children, just as God gave Eve to Adam.
Let your quiet time reading provide fresh stimulation for your prayer times. When you read God’s Word, look for qualities that honor God and ask him to build these qualities in your children’s lives. 1 Corinthians 13 is a good place to begin: patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, forgiving, truth-loving, protecting, trusting, hopeful, persevering.
Write down specific requests that come to mind as you read. This will help you pray purposefully, and keep your mind from wandering. Also write down the Scripture reference that inspired your request, and leave space to record how God answers. Recording and reviewing answers will strengthen your faith.
Pray with a partner. Perhaps your husband or another mother from your neighborhood, church or Bible study group would join you in praying for your children. Special power is unleashed when believers unite to pray. “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:19-20).
E. Stanley Jones, a missionary to India for 50 years, explains how his mother and another woman prayed regularly for him:
When my mother was dying, she called Miss Nellie and said to her: “These years I have prayed for Stanley. Now I am going. I’m turning him over to you, for you to take up my vigil of prayer for him.” Miss Nellie said to me years later: “I’ve been true to the entrustment.” I cannot think of Miss Nellie without thinking of that phrase: “I’ve been true.”
We, too, can be true to the entrustment as we faithfully pray for our children. We may have a part in our children’s salvation, their spiritual growth, their character development, and their service for the cause of Christ-all through prayer.
E.M. Bounds’ words remind us how much is at stake:
Woe to the generation of sons who find their censers empty of the rich incense of prayer; whose fathers have been too busy or too unbelieving to pray, and perils inexpressible and consequences untold are their unhappy heritage. Fortunate are they whose fathers and mothers have left them a wealthy patrimony of prayer.”
(The above material was published by Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs,
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