What wise parents do when they don’t know what to do.
“Something’s going wrong in the heart of my child, and I’m not sure what to do!” Ever been there, parent? Have you ever seen the fruit of attitudes, behaviors, and decisions growing from the young branches of your child’s life, and been terrified by what’s producing that fruit—what sinful root might be fueling a destructive direction? What do you do in these situations?
It’s easy to feel powerless, to feel like parental failure, or to panic in over-reaction. The simple fact is—parenting is one of the most overwhelming and daunting responsibilities that an adult can assume. To be responsible for the physical, emotional, relational, intellectual, and spiritual development and health of another soul is flat scary! It’s scary because we’re know we’re in over our heads. Too often, our parental panic is merely a subconscious reaction to the fact that we don’t really know what we’re doing!
Here’s some great news for you. When you feel helpless—you’re not. When you feel powerless, you’re not. When you feel that you don’t have the knowledge or expertise that parenting requires, you have access to the greatest Parent of all time. You and your child have instant access to the Perfect Father, and He is eternally capable of helping you navigate difficult family circumstances. He is ready and waiting, in a split-second, to come to your side, give you wisdom, and help you understand deep issues of the heart and how to respond.
Look at God’s promises to us when we “call upon Him.” Psalms 50:15— “And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Psalms 91:15— “He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.” Psalms 145:18— “The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.”
The single most powerful parenting practice is simply prayer—calling upon God. And the most powerful expression of that practice is when you pray with your children. Does that sound simplistic—it isn’t.
Yes, it’s simple, but oh so difficult and complex. If you’ve tried recently to pray with your children or family—you know what I’m talking about. And I’m not referring to praying before a meal. I’m talking about coming together in a focused moment to talk to God and seek His help and guidance. No parenting effort will ever encounter as much spiritual resistance. No parenting exercise feels so awkward (at first). And no parenting practice is more powerful and transforming to the heart and relationships.
When you pray with your children, you are doing the one thing Satan fears the most, and the one thing that most brings God’s power and presence to bear in your situation. So buckle up for some resistance. Prepare to press through some awkwardness. Let’s investigate this a bit more with some practical steps to praying with your children:
1. Accept the Responsibility of Spiritual Leadership. Dad, this begins with you. It begins with understanding that God has called you to pastor your family—to lead your family spiritually. He expects you to be the initiator of walking with God, and taking your family on that walk with you. If your family will grow spiritually, it should be with you leading the way. What your dad did is irrelevant. If you are in Christ, your Heavenly Father is your perfect role model now, and He will empower you and enable you to be what you need to be for your family. Believe it and embrace it.
2. Decide on the Best Time to Pray Together. For many families this would be bed time or the beginning of the day. For some of great reasons, I challenge you to end the day with your children in prayer. After a busy day, what could be better than opening our hearts together before God, placing the events of the day in His hands, and acknowledging His Lordship in our lives? What better way to fall off to sleep than having just spoken to our Heavenly Father together? What better way to say to your child, “I love you and cherish you as a gift from my Father” than to say it to the Lord in the presence of your child?
3. Pray Together Individually and as a Family. There’s something special about praying as a family—everybody taking a turn to speak to the Lord. But there’s also something special about kneeling by your child’s bed—one child at a time—and talking to God just the two of you. It’s impossible to continue in a fight or with contention during these moments. Pride breaks down. Strong wills melt. Bad attitudes dissolve in the presence of Jesus. The most divided parent-child relationship cannot stay divided much longer when both commit to praying together on a daily basis. These are amazing, supernatural growing moments that nothing else can create!
4. Pray Personally and Transparently. Don’t preach at or lecture your child through your prayer. Begin by thanking the Lord for all of His good blessings—especially your child. Confess out loud your love and commitment to this child. Thank the Lord for giving you this child and letting you be the parent of someone so amazing! Then, pray for yourself. Confess that you need God’s help to be a good parent. Ask for wisdom. Ask for guidance. Ask for help in leading this young life to love the Lord. “Lord, help this son/daughter to know how much I love them and you! Help me to be a good father…” Finally, pray for your child. Again—don’t preach. Pray. “Lord, give him strength tomorrow. Give him wisdom to do the right thing. Help Him to walk with you, love you, and grow in your grace. Help him have the strength to fight temptation. Give him the courage to talk with me if there is a struggle in his heart…”
5. Express Physical Affection During Your Prayer. Again, whether your parents were affectionate—or whether you are the “affectionate type” or not is irrelevant. Kids need our physical affection, so no excuses here. Just be affectionate. Hold them in your arms. Hug them. Put an arm around them. Hold their hand. Put your hand on their arm or neck. Put yourself in some sort of physical contact with your child as you pray. This communicates love and acceptance. And if your child responds in kind, it communicates a tender, open heart toward you. Make this open, affectionate relationship your goal. If you don’t share it, pursue it until you do.
6. Visit for a Few Moments. Bed-time moments are critical moments. Make the most of them. Play around a bit. Tickle your younger children. Wrestle with your boys. Tell a story. Ask them how their day went. Express interest and attentiveness. And then, in the shadow of your Heavenly Father, and in the presence of your loving acceptance, let them drift off to sleep with good things on their mind.
In conclusion—let me share a few observations about this most powerful parenting practice.
First, if this is new for you, it will be difficult at first, but will soon be natural. In our “flesh agains the Spirit” battle this takes some time to feel natural. Press through that awkward stage, just like you did when you first dated your spouse. Like every other spiritual step, the foreign feel of this will dissipate in time and it will become as natural as any other conversation.
Second, don’t force your child to pray. If there is some relational distance or damage, or if this is a new discipline for you, your son or daughter may feel uncomfortable at first. Give them some space and don’t get frustrated. In time, if you accept their hesitation, they will come around. They will soon be attracted to speaking to such a wonderful God!
Third, understand that your child’s heart was designed for this. Your child’s heart was created for closeness with you which should ultimately lead to closeness with the Heavenly Father. You are attractive to your child—knowing you, being accepted by you, being close to you matters to them. It’s a craving of their soul. And so also is being close with God and knowing Jesus. Their hearts will blossom and thrive in His presence. It’s up to you to lead them there.
Fourth, don’t make this a marathon. We’re not talking about an all-night prayer meeting here. It doesn’t need to be long, but it does need to be sincere and genuine.
Finally, this is tough. It requires time and sacrifice. It requires that you turn off the TV, even if a news story really has your attention. It requires that your spouse work with you as a team, reminding you, even nagging you if necessary. It requires courage, faith, commitment, and tenacity. It requires obedience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to pray even when it’s tough to pray.
Think of a moment recently when you were most at your wits end in parenting. What did you do? What was your natural response? When you discovered your child did something that dishonored the Lord; when you received that call from the school office; or when that parent approached you with difficult information—what did you do? When your child suddenly and openly defied you, or rejected you—what did you do? What will you do when that happens again?
Think of it this way. You can turn to yourself and your limited understanding and perspective to pull together some human solution which won’t work. You can fight it out, wounding each other, and escalating a conflict until both hearts are hard and cold in the relationship. You can panic, over-react, and later regret your carnal response. You can make a bad situation worse by ignoring God’s desire to be involved and bring resolution and growth.
Or you can pray. You can swallow hard, grab each other’s hand, get on your knees, and invite Jesus to change your hearts and your situation. Only He can soften your spirits and resolve your conflict until both hearts—parent and child—are soft and close once again. Only He can give you wisdom and grace to rise above your natural, carnal responses and give you Spirit-filled, Christ-like responses.
It’s up to you.
Do you know where this all begins? It begins with believing that it matters—believing that prayer can make a difference. Prayer is a simple act that packs nuclear spiritual power. But if you don’t believe that, you probably won’t unpack that power. If you choose to ignore this powerful practice, you’re doomed to continue a long string of recurring parenting mistakes. And you’re leaving your child to themselves in discovering a personal, wonderful, amazing Heavenly Father!
Isn’t it about time you unpacked the nuclear power of prayer in your family relationships? God’s arms are open. His attention is yours. He loves to hear from you. And He loves to help parents and children nurture healthy relationships with Him and each other. Why don’t you begin entering His presence with your child today!?
“Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” (Jeremiah 33:3)