My Prayer Problem
It's true. I have a prayer problem. Instead of letting prayer draw me closer to God sometimes I let it take me down winding paths of worry. “Let’s see. What should I pray about for my kids? Well, let’s start with all the things that could go wrong. That sounds logical.” Like the disciple Peter I start to focus on the waves instead of the Savior - waves, I might add, that haven’t even happened yet and probably never will.
Last night I opened my prayer journal and saw four sweet faces staring up at me from the pages. I had taped a photo of each child in the journal so I could look at them when I prayed. As I began to pray I found that my sister was fresh on my mind. She recently went through a devastating divorce and she had just written about her story (read it here). As I looked into the innocent eyes of my children I thought about her pain. I thought about what trials God was preparing for my own kids. Would He spare them from the tragedy of a broken marriage? What about physical pain - would He keep them from harm?
But then I thought about the entire reason my sister chose to share her story. She wasn’t giving five easy steps to avoid pain in your life. It was just the opposite. She wanted to show the unparalleled beauty of a faith refined through trials. “Don’t be afraid that being used by God will mean future pain,” she writes. “Of course it will. And hallelujah.”
The Whole Package
I looked at my children. Used by God? I knew there was nothing I wanted more in this world than for them to walk with the Savior and be used by Him for His glory. But I could not pray for that and pray that He would spare them from all earthly pain at the same time. Why not? Because pain and trials are a promise from God to all believers:
“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.” (1 Peter 1:6)
“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
In fact, Christians should consider trials normal.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12)
Even more than I want my kids to have a pain-free life, I want them to be like Christ. I want the whole package. I don’t just want “fire insurance” so they go to heaven. I want them to have sweet communion with their Savior every day, to experience more than the superficial comforts this world offers. I want them to know their Maker. I want them to have an impact for the gospel in this world.
That means going through a refinement process. Refinement means fire. Fire means pain. It means they will spend every day of their lives fighting against their own flesh and against the world. They will be ridiculed. They will groan with aching bodies for their heavenly home. They will have earthly comforts taken from them by a loving Hand that wants to give them so much more.
“So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:7)
If this is what it means to be a follower of Christ, this is what I want for my kids. Does that mean I should pray that they experience pain? No - but I should be praying every day that God will draw them to Himself and make them like His Son, even if that means trials. And it will.
Bread from the Father
Is it okay to pray for their earthly protection? If my child breaks his arm can I pray for quick healing and prevention of future accidents? The Bible clearly says: Yes.
I think about the father who did not give his son a snake when he asked for a fish (Luke 11:11). Part of God’s merciful care is providing for our daily needs of comfort and safety. We can boldly ask Him for our daily bread, but we cross a fine line when we presume to know what that bread should look like. We do know the end goal of everything God does: His glory.
When I hold my toddler, hot and crying with an ear infection, I pray that the pain will leave. That’s not wrong. It’s simply asking for bread from my Father. But I know that His definition of bread might be different than mine. It’s like when my 5-year-old asks for a cupcake right before dinner and I say no. He is too little to understand why. I can ask and ask and ask for health and safety for my kids, but I have to trust that God knows what they need. He knows how to use them for His glory. If more pain means more glory, God will help me accept that. He will help me praise Him for it.
Silencing the Hounding Hypotheticals
Sometimes we can skip the specifics of the “what if’s” by going straight to the end result: “Make my child like Jesus.” Instead of getting caught up in all the hypotheticals it helps me to pray for what I don’t know in the context of what I do know:
I don’t know that my child will never experience a heart-breaking loss. I do know that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
I don’t know that my child will get a good job and be financially stable all his life. I do know that God “is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.” (Psalm 18:30)
I don’t know that my child will avoid every devastating disease. I do know that “those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles.” (Isaiah 40:31)
When I start to bring my requests to God from the standpoint of what I already know about Him, sometimes that’s enough. I can leave the hypotheticals behind and pray God’s faithfulness over my kids. My prayers become less about what could happen and more about who God is.
We will never seek pain for our children. But when we put on our gospel-centered glasses we can pray for things so much greater than earthly comfort. We begin to pray that God won’t simply prevent every hardship that could come their way, but that He would use it for their good and His glory. These are the prayers that accomplish much for my children and replace worry with great confidence:
“Make my child strong in the grace that is in Jesus Christ.” (2 Timothy 2:1)
“Let my child take refuge in You all of his days.” (Psalm 91)
“Please perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish my child in Your Word.” (1 Peter 5:10)