What is the best thing you’ve done for your children so far? How about for their knowledge of Jesus?
Many people know that James Dobson famously told fathers the best thing they can do for their children is to love their children’s mothers well. I’ve often wondered why he didn’t give the matching advice to mothers.
But do you know that one simple, regular action is reportedly 99% effective in keeping that marriage love alive? That marriage love is just as important for our children as for ourselves. And their understanding of the love of God for them is greatly aided by seeing godly love in family members.
General estimates put chances of divorce in general as about 50%. Unfortunately, other studies show that married people in the church do only slightly better.
Various studies indicate the staying power of marriages where people pray together as between 95 and 99%. Staggering data.
Simply going to church together seems to have little impact on the duration of marriages—according to surveys. Though my own experience is that attending church together strengthens marriages.
But prayer together out loud makes a dramatic difference in protecting marriages against the enemy.
That may seem impossible.
But what happens when we pray together? If we are sincere as we turn to God, we find the Holy Spirit working in us as we pray. I’ve had many times when I was irritated with a friend, yet praying for her caused me to see life from her perspective in unexpected ways. Even when I was not praying about the conflict.
It is true with our spouses as well. Often it may be too awkward to express all that we are feeling in our prayer. That’s okay. Any effort to go to God together unites us. God draws us closer to himself and closer to the person we are praying with.
My husband and I started praying together before bed for an embarrassing reason. Someone my age had brought up casually something about their prayer time as a couple before bed. I immediately got defensive and thought, “She’s not closer to God than I am! We should do that too!”
Obviously, that was totally the wrong motivation. A sinful motivation. But because my husband and I did come to God sincerely, he blessed us and our marriage tremendously.
For most people praying out loud with children feels less intimidating than with other adults. So if praying as a couple scares you, start with your kids. But remember how our marriages are strengthened when we pray out loud together regularly.
Maybe the easiest way to start praying out loud together is by praying with your children together.
When we think about wanting our children to experience the power of prayer in their daily lives, isn’t the best thing seeing it modeled by parents who talk to God regularly together?
What are some of the things that motivate or stand in the way of prayer with our spouses?
Wrestling with God is not unusual for me.
I often feel the need to pound on God’s chest and ask why he seems so slow with his answers. Especially when I’m praying for something good for his children. Hearing “yes” from God seems so essential. And urgent.
But the burden of a parent praying for a child in crisis—physical, emotional, or spiritual—is like no other type of wrestling with God.
And adult children have no fewer scary situations to pray about than young children. The trip home after the week of visiting our recovering daughter and tiny NICU grandson, born not breathing, was a clear example of that.
Heavy-hearted, we boarded the plane to return home. Our week with our daughter’s family following her complicated C-section and resultant repair surgery had ended. But her painful journey continued.
At our first airport, her text had just alerted us that she might need to return to the hospital for IV treatment of a stubborn incision infection. What about her tiny baby, recently released from NICU?!!
Arrow prayers for new mama, for baby, for new daddy, for healing, for stability, and for their peace in their Heavenly Father’s arms. Furiously I sent texts and messages to as many people as I could think of to ask for their prayers before I boarded that plane.
Then my real struggle began: “Lord, why? They have trusted you through so much already. Isn’t it enough? You are a good God. Remember your love for your children! Have mercy on them.”
I cried and prayed through the whole flight home.
And God reminded me that his mercy for my children is endless. In my pounding at his door for answers, he reminded me of his so-much-greater pain in Jesus’ death.
I realized that I often thank Jesus for his suffering for our salvation, while neglecting to thank the Father for the agony he suffered in causing his Son to go through such pain for me and for all who love Him.
His pain was exponentially greater than mine. I am in awe.
Father, thank you for your sacrifice as a parent. Jesus, thank you for your life of sacrifice and death of sacrifice. Holy Spirit, thank you for being with us and offering us your peace through it all.
My daughter’s text had requested prayer that quick healing—after so many failed antibiotics—would prevent her forced return to the hospital. If not, she requested prayer that she would be able to glorify God through her return to the hospital.
That request showed me an example of miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of his people. The Lord reminded me that he brings healing of all kinds.
He said to me, “Peace, my child. Be still, and know that I am God.”
Before God healed my daughter’s body, he healed my heart of a different ailment: the perceived need to be able to take care of my daughter myself. I needed to trust him to do that.
When God is silent.
What happens when God doesn’t answer our prayers? The Bible tells us that God always hears us, but sometimes we get absolutely no response to our prayers. God is silent. My friends and family have often heard me complain that I wish God would send a banner down from heaven to tell me what to do. I always feel certain that I want to do God’s will. I always believe I just need to know for sure what it is. But God has never worked that way for me.
However, I have had a few crazy stories of God answering my prayers instantly in the way I wanted him to.
Like the time early in our marriage when our washing machine sometimes worked for the spin cycle and just as often did not. Two mechanics could find nothing wrong and suggested we buy a new machine. We did not have extra money to spend on a washing machine, especially one we might not even need. But I was sick of having to wring clothes out by hand and have them in the dryer for what felt like forever.
So out of exasperation I prayed that God would please make the machine either never work properly again or never malfunction again until we needed to buy a new one. Ten minutes later the machine worked perfectly, as it did consistently for six more years. Wow. Sweet! If only I could always get God to answer my prayers like that.
Unfortunately, too often it feels uncertain whether God is answering or not.
When a friend is struggling in a marriage or a loved one is gravely ill, God can even seem to answer with positive signs and then follow with negative results. Or sometimes nothing changes at all. The waiting can drain me and make me feel angry at God.
Too often I identify with C. S. Lewis’s description of pounding at the door of God and feeling that God heartlessly hears and ignores the pounding.
What these experiences show is that often God wants me to listen to him in a new way.
Usually my waiting and listening produce growth–when I actually keep looking to God during my waiting. When God is silent, I need to keep looking at him, knowing he is working. I just can’t see his work yet then. Then, during my waiting, he usually produces a much better answer than what I had originally requested.
For instance, I didn’t know that my daughter’s struggles in her school would lead us to switch her to a far better school for her. We never would have considered doing that if God had answered our prayers by simply fixing the bad situations.
Years later, we prayed that God would end the continuing crises in my family. He didn’t, but I saw huge personal growth. My growth came through my stronger dependence on God and my sense of peace about his plans for my life.
Often when God is silent in my life, he is actually saying to me, “Be still, my child, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Are you much more comfortable praying silently than out loud?
Do you think others always “pray better prayers” than you do?
Do you feel blessed when others pray for you either silently or out loud?
Do you feel a special blessing when people pray for you in your hearing?
If you answered yes to all of the above, you are like the majority of us. Most of us feel blessed when other people pray for us but not comfortable praying out loud. Praying in front of others can make us feel a bit insecure.
This feeling is so normal that it motivated Jesus’ disciples to ask him to teach them how to pray. It also motivated him to teach them the prayer most of us refer to as The Lord’s Prayer.
Doing anything in front of others can make us feel self-conscious, especially praying. All the more reason to start praying out loud with our children at a very early age—and very simply. If we can remember that prayer is talking to God rather than performing for others in the room, we will all do better.
Children who first hear prayers in simple language—without any special churchy words—will easily learn to talk to God themselves naturally.
Simple prayers thank God for food, for family, for friends. They ask for healing of loved ones. They ask for God’s blessing on us for a scary day tomorrow. Or they praise God for being a loving God and for caring for us.
Such simple prayers just talk to God about the ordinary stuff of life. We can best model talking to God well by talking to him the way we do with our children and our friends.
I wish my parents had always prayed out loud with us in restaurants. The first time I was with someone who prayed out loud before dinner in a restaurant, I was weirded out. The first time my sister prayed with me over the phone felt very strange. I don’t know why.
I know God understands how phones work much better than I do. But I had to be led by others to pray in those ways that were uncomfortable for me at first. So it took a while for me to feel comfortable praying that way with my children, but it took them much less time to learn than it did for me.
Most of us feel less self-conscious with our children than with other adults. So it will probably be much easier than praying out loud with them than with adults.
The main benefit is that it will make it easier for our children to pray naturally. A side benefit is that it will probably make us feel more comfortable praying out loud with adults. Take baby steps, and watch God bless you.
How were you first introduced to prayer? Have you had positive experiences or negative experiences with trying to pray out loud with children?
All three of my adult daughters have commented at some moment that the best thing we did as parents was to have family prayer time.
Does this mean they always felt that way, or that it never felt like a chore to fulfill? I’m sure not. I know we parents often felt family prayer time was something we needed to power through in our exhaustion.
But our little girls experienced some of their best answers in response to family-time prayers. They often also found that time at the end of each day to be a bit of comfort . As a family, we shared concerns together we never would have otherwise.
We sort of stumbled onto it, but we came to value it highly. When our oldest first began talking, we started praying with her at her bed before saying goodnight. Like lots of parents.
My husband and I made a point of both doing this together with her.
That is probably the conscious decision that turned it into “Family Prayer Time.”
We started with very simple “God bless Grandma and Grandpa G.” kinds of prayers. She was an early talker. At two she was praying that I would have a baby sister for her. Then one day she got suspicious: “Mom, you and Dad aren’t praying too, are you?” I had to admit that we were not praying for that yet.
When she did have a little sister, we started having prayer time together in the little one’s room. In early years, it was the youngest who went to bed first. So we prayed together in her room.
Eventually, predictably, we parents began going to bed soonest and called for prayer time when we were ready to head to bed. By then we were so much bigger and older that we preferred the comfort of the family room.
When the girls were teens, prayer time usually took 15-30 minutes. But sometimes it took long enough for a parent or siblings to become impatient and wonder if the time were worth it. During this time I’m sure having to do family prayer time was often an annoyance to our older, busy kids.
One interesting fact, however, is that I have no memory of the girls complaining about prayer time. Church, yes. Baths, yes. Vegetables, yes. But never prayer time.
I asked one of my daughters recently if she had ever resented it. She was a bit surprised by the question: “No. It was just always something I thought was normal.”
The rewards have been tremendous!
We now see our grown daughters take their needs to Jesus regularly. We see them pray with others. And we have even learned of their leading others to know who Jesus is.
All became comfortable praying out loud with others at far younger ages than my husband and I did. We believe this is because of family prayer time.
Is there a version of this that could work in your home? Or do you have a different prayer tradition that blesses you and your children?
[photo by jordan-whitt-1453271.jpg]
How much do prayers matter?
Have you ever felt nervous telling your child about something you are praying for? You know prayers matter, but you’re nervous about sharing a prayer with your child because you’re sure God’s answer will be “No.” I have.
Prayers matter more than we know, as my first daughter can tell us.
One morning hours after taking my baby and toddler to a huge neighborhood garage sale, I panicked. I realized I had left my beautiful, new stroller sitting on the busy sidewalk.
My internal debate began: –Oh, no! I can’t believe I was that stupid when I was packing the kids up.
–Please, Lord, let it still be there.
–Oh, I need to pray out loud, so that Katie can see that you are the one we turn to for help.
–But I can’t pray out loud because I know this was my stupidity and not something you are probably just going to fix for me.
–I really don’t want her to decide that you don’t answer prayer, just because your answer is No on this one.
–But I also don’t want her to think we don’t pray about things just because we’re the ones that messed them up.
As I turned the car back toward that busy corner, I explained all of this to my three-year-old.
Little Katie interrupted me, saying, “Mom, you drive. I’ll pray.”
As we drove, she prayed with folded hands and tightly closed eyes. The only way she knew to pray. She peeked every now and then and finally saw the corner.
Katie said, “There it is! I knew God would put his angels around it to hide it from the bad guys.” Today she recalls this as the first time she was sure God was real.
My second daughter’s earliest memory of prayers answered came with her detachable bed bar.
Somehow we had left it in an unknown motel.
Julia instantly decided she was going to pray and knew God would bring it back to her. Though we didn’t argue with her, we nervously thought that it wasn’t that simple.
“The mail carrier will bring it to me,” she told us. A few days later she looked out of her bedroom window and announced, “There comes the mail carrier with my bed bar!” Sure enough, a motel whose address and number we had never written down had found our address. They had shipped our toddler’s bed bar back to us. This experience created in Julia a simple, absolute faith that her prayers matter to God.
Our youngest daughter’s earliest memory of answered prayer was the recovery of her Angela baby doll.
Angela went everywhere with her but one day disappeared. We searched for hours, assuring Stephanie we would find her. When bedtime came and we had looked everywhere we knew without finding her, we were baffled.
During our family prayer time, we prayed that God would keep Angela safe and out of the rain that night. We even prayed that someone loving would find her and adopt her, if she had to be gone for good.
The next morning, walking our oldest to school, I saw notices tacked up on trees and telephone poles down the street: “FOUND. A MUCH-LOVED BABY DOLL. CALL ###-#### TO CLAIM.”
Someone walking his dog before the rain started had found her, evidently dropped out of Stephanie’s stroller. Stephanie was thrilled and knew at that moment that God loved her enough to care about her Angela doll too!
Each of these instances reminds me that God used my broken ways of bringing my daughters to him to create faith in their hearts. He showed them their prayers matter–even when my own prayers were faithless.