Thursday, September 6, 2012

Developing Godly Family Life: Family Prayer (Revisited)

Fall is in full swing!  With some sadness I let the air out of our beach toys and look for a place to hang our body boards.  Although I’m still hoping to get us to the beach more before it actually gets cold, the new schedule has us running around as a family again.  I’ve been concerned about how we will fit everything in to our days and weeks, especially time to seek the Lord together as a family (and individually!).  Back in the beginning of 2009 I published several articles in our newsletter on what it means to develop godly family life.  As we begin a new fall season with school beginning, ministry schedules ramping up, and life generally getting crazy, I recently pulled these articles out and read them again to remind myself of the basics of devotion to Jesus.  I’d like to put them out there again to you in an updated form over the next few months.  Some of you may remember these, and like me perhaps you need to refresh on these essentials.  Or you may be new to NCPC in the last few years. Either way, these articles are designed to encourage you in fostering rich biblical patterns of home life that promote godliness.  This is not easy in our culture!  So let’s struggle together through this and ask God to give us grace in establishing patterns based on truth.  The first issue I’d like to start with is prayer. 
Philippians 4:6-7  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

One of the things we’re trying to weave into the fabric of our home life is family prayer.  As a father of three, I’m feeling the burden to foster a lifestyle of Godward dependence in all of us (and I’m at the top of the family list of those who struggle on this score).  One of the chief ways that dependence is expressed is through prayer, particularly as Paul says in Philippians 4:6 “In everything by prayer and supplication…”  So we are trying to train our children to pray about any and every situation.  I want them to know that Jesus wants to have a relationship with them where he speaks (in the Word) and they speak (in prayer).  But my desire is twofold:  I want them to hear their Dad and Mom praying for them, and I want them to develop a lifestyle of praying to God themselves.  Let’s think about each for a moment.

Parents, your children need to hear YOU pouring out your heart before God, laying before Him the concerns in your life (at least the ones appropriate for little ears).  They need to hear you confess your sin, particularly when you’ve sinned against them (how will they learn how to repent of anger, worry, impatience, coveting etc. if you do not model repentance before them?). They need to hear you plead for more grace, ask for sufficient mercy for every trial and perhaps most important, they need to hear you plead with God on their behalf.  What a deep spiritual impression it will have on them to hear Daddy pray:  “Lord pour out the gift of faith and repentance on Emily, Kaitlin and Caleb. Incline their hearts toward you so that they might love you will all their might.  Keep them from sin and Satan.  Make them mighty warriors for your kingdom!”    Our children will learn to pray (or not!) by the patterns of their parents.  If you do not pray out loud in their hearing, they will not have the sense that it is important, and eventually they may sense that YOU are not depending on God because they don’t know that mommy and daddy speak to Him. 

But here is the overlap with my second strategy for family prayer:  they not only need to hear you pray, but it is in this very act that you will lead them and teach them how to pray themselves. Set aside some time each day to lead your children (at whatever age!) in prayer.  This may seem odd, but I don’t think it is ever too late to begin.  Particularly with young children, it is vital to help them know how to express themselves.  Pray a phrase at a time and have them repeat it.  As they grow more comfortable and able to speak, gradually lengthen the phrases and add richness to the language of prayer.  What you will gradually see is your children wanting to try it more on their own, and pretty soon you’ve gone from a coach to a guide to a counselor in the area of prayer. And YES this means you must foster the richness of your own prayer life.  How? Open your Bible to your favorite Psalm and pray God’s word back to him.  Ask Donna Pipkin for her five-finger prayer resource. Teach kids to go through the stages of adoring God: “Lord you are more beautiful than________.”  Giving thanks:  “Lord thank you for ________.”  And confessing sin:  “Lord forgive me for _____________.”   Lead them through these before asking Him for things or praying on behalf of others.

Make no mistake: the spiritual benefits will become evident as you persevere in this area.  One thing we see is that our kids don’t have reticence about praying out loud in front of other people, because they do it regularly at home.  But the major spiritual benefit of developing the habit of prayer came out recently.  Just this week as Emily and Kaitlin awoke for the first day of school, they were both filled with anxiety.  In their room by themselves they spoke about their nervousness as they began a new year at a new school with so many unknowns before them.  What did they do?  Emily grabbed her Bible, opened it and read aloud from Genesis (where Abraham rescues Lot), and then they prayed together that God would give them strength to face these new challenges.  (Picture Dad beaming at this moment….)  They related this to me at breakfast, and I couldn’t help praising God for HIS WORK (not mine or Priscilla’s) in their hearts. Don’t misunderstand me; I know that their dependence on God was a direct result of God’s Holy Spirit working in their hearts.  God blessed them with a desire to depend on Him in prayer!  They knew where to turn in time of struggle, and that only comes from Him. 

But God also uses means: you as a parent can lead them to the fountain daily as you pray with and for them about anything and everything.  (“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” 1 Cor. 3:6). It doesn’t have to be an hour of prayer.  It could be a simple prayer in the car before you drop them off.  Or a prayer as you sit at breakfast, or in the evening before bed.  In fact, brief but regular prayer patterns may indeed teach them that prayer is a conversation with God that can and should happen continuously throughout the day. 

Let me encourage you this week to develop or bolster patterns of prayer in your family life. In a world of self-sufficient people, let’s foster Godward dependence on our knees as we pray with and for our kids.

Fighting the good fight with you –

Pastor David