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Praying the Scriptures for Your Children
discover how to pray God's will for their lives
By JODIE BERNDT
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2001 Jodie Berndt
All rights reserved.
Praying for your Child's Salvation
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." —Matthew 19:14
Julie grew up in a home where church attendance was sporadic and Jesus was never mentioned by name. It wasn't until high school that she found out who Christ really was. She became a Christian then, and, years later, when she married her high school sweetheart, she resolved that things would be different when they had their own family. They would introduce their kids to Jesus at an early age and bring them up to love and fear God. Secretly, though, Julie wondered whether she could do it. The Christian life had never been modeled for her as a child; how was she supposed to teach her children everything she had missed? What if she blew it? What if they didn't respond? What if they rejected the faith she held so dear?
Mollie had no such doubts. She and her husband strode confidently into parenthood, armed with principles gleaned from countless seminars, books, and personal devotions. They "cleansed" their home of anything that might be an obstacle to faith: out went secular books, movies, and music; in came Bible stories, family-oriented games and sports, and praise songs. Theirs was a close-knit, "model" Christian family in every way—until their oldest son met and fell in love with a Muslim girl in college. Where, Mollie wondered, had they gone wrong? Had they pushed their kids too hard? Would her son abandon his Christian convictions for this girl?
Barbara didn't become a Christian until four years after her divorce, at a time when her children were well into their teenage years. She had no illusions about her limitations; as a single mom it was all she could do to make ends meet, let alone offer her kids much in the way of emotional support or guidance. She assumed, as most of her friends did, that her kids would naturally experiment with things like sex, drugs, and alcohol—she just hoped that nobody would get pregnant. But when Barbara met Christ, she began to wonder, Was there hope for her kids? Or had the divorce, their financial struggles, and the total lack of any sort of Christian influence or instruction left them "too far gone" for God?
Julie, Mollie, and Barbara are not their real names, but these women are all friends of mine. Their questions are genuine. The good news for them (and for all of us) is that God is not bound by our human failings. No matter how many parenting mistakes we make, his grace is more than sufficient to cover them. The bad news is that no matter how many things we do right in terms of pointing our kids toward Christ, we cannot make them love the Lord. We cannot force them into faith or convince them that God's grace is real. As Jesus put it in John 6:44, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."
Does the fact that only God can draw people to himself mean that our job as mothers (or fathers) is simply to sit around and watch? Absolutely not. Experiencing God author Henry Blackaby says that seeing God at work is our invitation to adjust our lives and join him. As parents, we can "join God" in countless ways: We can expose our children to stories of God's faithfulness and protection; we can model the Christian life and introduce them to other believers; we can teach them, encourage them, sing to them, and love them. And most of all, we can pray for them.
The sooner we realize that it is not about what we do but about what God does, the sooner we will stop focusing on ourselves and our shortcomings, and begin focusing on God and his power. Likewise, the sooner we quit worrying about doing our part, the sooner we can start rejoicing in the fact that God is doing his part. And the sooner we recognize that God is at work, the sooner we can jump in and join him.
Salvation as the Starting Point
Before I started writing this book, I polled more than one hundred mothers to see what they wanted most for their children. My informal surveys, tucked into our family's Christmas cards and randomly distributed to friends and neighbors, listed everything from health and safety to academic success and strong family ties. I asked folks to check their top five desires or prayer requests, and I eventually used this feedback to shape the book's table of contents.
On the survey I also included an "other" category, where folks could comment on the topics or add their own thoughts. My friend Troy Lee shared this story of how God answered her prayers for her children:
Before each of my children was born I prayed that they would be first a Christian and second healthy. I prayed that as long as we would be allowed to enjoy our children on earth, it would be long enough for them to accept Christ as their Savior. In other words, please let them live to be saved—however old or however young.
This prayer has been answered for two of my children so far, but very significantly in Abner IV's life. You may know that he died at age seven and a half. Seven months prior to his unexpected death, Abner prayed with his father to accept Christ and was baptized the next week. God let him live long enough to be saved.
This is even more interesting as we found out exactly what Abner died of (it took nine weeks to determine). Endocardial fibroelastosis is very rare. We were told that Abner's case would be published in a medical journal because in the last forty years, only two other people in the world had ever lived past age one with this condition.
And I keep thinking, God let him live long enough to be saved. Praise Him!
Isn't this an amazing story? Where others might see only pain and loss, Troy Lee recognized the hand of God and the answer to her prayers. But, you might ask, shouldn't she have asked God to make her children healthy—no matter what? And if she had, would she have been spared the anguish of losing a child?
I can't answer these questions, but I know that in placing her children's salvation at the top of her prayer list—and in praying for them even before they were born—Troy Lee demonstrated an incredible maturity and depth of insight. She recognized what so many of us miss: that a relationship with the Savior is more important than anything else. A child can be blessed with a healthy body, good grades, an outstanding character, a wealth of friends, and an athletic scholarship to the college of his or her choice—but without a relationship with Jesus, it all counts for nothing.
Never Give Up
Salvation may be the starting point of our prayers for our children, but God doesn't always answer this prayer first. Praying for our children to know and love God often demands incredible patience, perseverance, and trust.
Helen has been praying for her three children for more than twenty years. Two of them love the Lord; one is what Helen calls "a work in progress." As she looks at the young mothers in her church, Helen remembers the days when nurturing her children's faith came easily, as their little hearts opened up to the Bible stories she read, the songs she sang, and the prayers she prayed. Now, though, Helen knows what it means to weep for her children, to long for them to come to faith, and to cry out to God on their behalf. "We mothers who have older children really grieve when they are not in the fold," she says.
Even so, Helen is not discouraged. Holding on to verses like Habakkuk 2:3 ("Though [the revelation] linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay"), she envisions the day when all three of her children will have a vibrant relationship with the Lord, and she is quick to encourage other mothers with some of the promises God has given her:
"'Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,' declares the Lord. 'They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future.... Your children will return to their own land.'"—Jeremiah 31:16–17
"All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children's peace."—Isaiah 54:13
"I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten ... and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you."—Joel 2:25–26
Along with promises like these, Helen has the assurance that her prayers line up perfectly with God's will for her children's lives. As 2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." God wants our children to be saved.
Poised for Prayer
If you are like Helen, and you have prayed long and hard for your children's salvation, you may be wondering why God has not yet answered your prayers. Author Jeanne Hendricks points to the example of Elizabeth, who lived faithfully and righteously despite the heartache of her inability to have children. But rather than become bitter over this unanswered prayer, Elizabeth chose to trust God and wait on him. As a result, she acquired an inner strength and fortitude that, Hendricks says, allowed her to become a "stronger woman and a better mother." Eventually, Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist —and God used her to encourage and strengthen Mary, the mother of Jesus.
"Godly patience," Hendricks says, "is the art of letting God set the timer." Whether you are just beginning to pray for your children, or whether you have spent years holding them up before the Lord, here are three things you can do to develop godly patience and the same kind of inner strength that sustained Elizabeth:
First, pray with an attitude of thanksgiving. Colossians 4:2 says, "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful." Remember that God loves your children, and that he does not want them to perish. Thank him for the work he is doing in their lives—even if you cannot see it at the moment.
Next, build your faith. Memorize verses like 1 John 5:14–15: "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him." Ask God to show you promises from his Word and make them a focal point of your prayer life. You can use the verses at the end of this chapter if you like, and insert your child's name into the blanks to turn them into personal prayers.
Finally, be persistent. In Luke 18:1, Jesus tells us that we should "always pray and not give up." Whether we are praying for our children's salvation or for something else, we can benefit from this advice found in the book of Hebrews: "You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised."
Praying for your Child to Love god's Word
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. —Psalm 119:11
I looked up from my gardening to see my two youngest children, Virginia and Robbie, in animated conversation. They made such a pretty picture, sitting in the grass with the sunlight dappling their little blond heads, that I couldn't resist creeping closer to listen. Picking up my trowel and a clay pot, I inched forward and made a pretense of planting a few geraniums.
As I fiddled with the flowers, five-year-old Virginia plucked a handful of long green acuba leaves from a nearby bush and handed several to her three-year-old brother. "Now wave them," she commanded.
Robbie complied, and Virginia continued to talk. "... they saw him coming on his donkey," she said, "and they waved their branches, saying 'Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'"
Watching the two of them wave their leaves to dramatize the story of Jesus' last days on earth, I wanted to laugh out loud—more from delight than from amusement. Virginia told the story with such passion ("They put nails into his hands, Robbie! NAILS!") that I found myself drawn into their little circle, overwhelmed by the power in her simple words. Speaking in the language of a five-year-old, she managed to communicate the anguish of the cross, the fear and confusion of Christ's followers, and the incredible triumph of the resurrection—all in the space of about two minutes.
"Now," Virginia concluded suddenly, breaking the spell, "you tell the story, Robbie. Start with the part where the disciples found the donkey."
God's Word: Guiding Light, Protective Shield
As this story illustrates, a love of Scripture can begin at an early age. How well we "read-aloud" moms know the tender joy of snuggling a small one on our lap or tucking him into bed with an adventure-come-to-life from the pages of a colorfully illustrated children's Bible.
But these bedtime rituals are only the beginning. Psalm 119:105 likens God's word—his laws, his commandments, his promises—to a lamp that sheds light on our path. Perhaps nowhere is this guiding light more necessary (or more welcome!) than when our children have outgrown our laps, when peer relationships, academic challenges, and other pressure points can generate a cloud of darkness or confusion in their lives.
Our prayers are undoubtedly the first line of defense against these clouds—and against the satanic schemes and assaults they often mask. Make no mistake: Satan wants to destroy our families, and he is always on the lookout for ways to sow seeds of tension, rebellion, and destruction. As 1 Peter 5:8 warns, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." But important as it is for us to pray, it is equally vital for our kids to be equipped to withstand Satan's attacks when they come. And their number one defense against the devil's pressures and temptations is the knowledge and prayerful application of Scripture.
Learning from Jesus' Example
Here's an example of how this defense can work. In Luke 4, the devil finds Jesus in the desert, hungry and alone. "Tell this stone to become bread," Satan suggests. Jesus replies, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.' "
Next, Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. "If you worship me," he says, "it will all be yours." Here again, Jesus doesn't argue; instead, he simply says, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.' "
Finally, Satan takes Jesus to the top of the temple and says (my paraphrase), "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. The angels will lift you up in their hands—you won't get hurt!" Once again, Jesus refuses to take the bait, choosing to quote another Scripture verse: "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
Jesus withstands the devil's schemes—not through intellectual prowess, physical strength, or willpower, but simply by knowing and using God's word. And like Jesus, the child or teenager who has moved beyond bedtime stories to the place where he knows and loves the Bible will be well-equipped to withstand the attacks and temptations that come his way. The pressures themselves do not disappear; rather, they become easier to address, given the lessons learned from Scripture.
God's commands are not meant to limit our freedom. Rather, they are meant to protect us and show us how to live life to the fullest. Let's pray that our children will see God's word for what it is: a guiding light that illuminates the pathway to God's blessings. Let's pray, according to Psalm 119:11, that our kids will love God's word, hiding it in their hearts to keep them from sinning against God and interfering with the blessings he wants to provide.
Excerpted from Praying the Scriptures for Your Children by JODIE BERNDT. Copyright © 2001 Jodie Berndt. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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