Editor’s Note: The following article includes excerpts from Prayers of a Parent (P&R, June 2021), used with permission.
Praying for the children of the church is a church-wide job. Congregations often stand up and promise to help parents nurture a child in the fear and admonition of the Lord—and that includes praying for that child. I look back through years of parenting and see the church continually and prayerfully flanking our family, and I thank God for his people all along the way.
We believers can help one another in praying for our children. That’s one reason I wrote the volumes of Prayers of a Parent: simply to encourage fellow Christian parents in Bible-based prayers for the various aspects of our children’s lives, in every different stage. I needed that encouragement from others, and still do. We can join our prayers together in a chorus for the generations coming after us. They need our prayers.
Shared Words of Prayer
Why write down our prayers? I often think of the prophet Hosea’s call to the people of Israel: “Take with you words and return to the Lord” (14:2).
It’s easy to pray without giving our full attention. It’s easy for many of us to pray inarticulate prayers that are something like floating clouds of scattered thoughts. Sometimes it’s just a quick, muttered “Thank you” or “Help me,” and God surely hears and understands such prayers. But when we read many of the prayers of Scripture (the psalmists’, for example, or the apostle Paul’s), we learn the beauty of prayers developed in thoughtful, intentional words.
Now, we can use Scripture’s prayers to pray; that is one of God’s gracious provisions in his Word. What a gift—perfect words that help and teach us to pray. But the Bible’s prayers also teach us the good pattern of prayer: taking regular time and effort to put the praises and petitions of our hearts into words that we bring into God’s presence, in the name of Jesus our Savior. We can help each other practice this good process, with spoken and written words shaped by his Word.
Shared Benefits of Prayer
Practicing together this process of articulating prayers, specifically for our children, is good for our children and good for our own souls. Christian parenting, as we all know, involves a lifelong releasing of our children into the hands of our Father in heaven, who made them, knows them, and loves them perfectly. As we offer words of prayer to our Father, our hearts trust him more and more, and our hands loosen their grip to give our children into his perfect providential care.
Sharing our prayers is not a quick or casual process. And of course everyone uses words differently; that’s part of the beauty of coming together with diverse voices that blend, instruct, and encourage. The Spirit and the Word bind us together as we pray, because we share faith in the living Lord Jesus who took our sins, died in our place, and rose from the dead, as the Scriptures tell us.
A Few Shared Prayers
In writing down some of my parent-prayers, it was helpful to think through the way our prayers for our children grow through the different stages of parenting. For young children, of course, our prayers begin with thanksgiving to our Creator God, and turn quickly to petitions that our children would come to know and love him through his Son. This prayer grew out of musings on Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:
For the Gift of Eternal Life
How you give the gift of life that never ends—
as Nicodemus learned—
is full of mystery,
like the invisible wind that blows
and bends the branches as it will.
For this child I pray your Spirit’s breath
will bend his mind and heart toward you, Lord God,
that as he hears of Jesus and his love,
his death in our poor place,
his resurrection from the grave,
early this child may believe
that Jesus is the Christ,
your Son who died to save,
the risen Lord who lives to intercede
Many petitions I would make,
O loving Father;
this one remains all for now
and all for ever. Would you,
by your grace,
bend down to give my child
the gift of eternal life?
The prayers for teens include thanksgiving for God’s providential hand on our fast-growing, fast-moving children—and requests for growing hearts for the Lord and his Word in the midst of the busyness. Here’s a prayer focusing on friendships, so crucial in the teen years. I was thinking on Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
Lord, lead my child to grow in company of faithful friends;
teach her to be the faithful friend willing to suffer
losses small or large for one she has befriended.
And first, let her be coming close to Christ
the friend of sinners.
Lord, let my child identify and name an enemy’s kisses;
teach her to ferret out false words, false promises,
embraces of all kinds that draw her
toward the path that leads to death, not life.
And first, let her be coming close to Christ
the friend who knew the kiss of his betrayer
but who suffered such a kiss for us his friends.
Lord, would you bring along her path
a faithful friend, or two, or three,
to share the fears and joys and wonderings
that come with turnings, inclines, rocky passes;
give her heart to be the faithful friend
willing to slow her pace to steady one close by.
And first, let her be coming close to Christ
the friend who left behind all heaven’s glory,
showing up right next to us in rockiest passageways,
for the sake of making us the friends of God.
Prayers for young adults involve giving these almost-grown children into God’s hands in new and stretching ways, as they establish independent pathways of life and work. In praying for a young adult child to face fears with God’s help, I thought of Jesus telling his disciples not to fear “those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”—but rather “him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” And then Jesus spoke those wonderful words about God knowing every sparrow that falls, and every hair of our heads (Matt. 10:28-31).
For Facing Fears
It’s you, all you, to meet him in his fears, O Father—
not that it was ever anything but you, finally you,
who calmed and satisfied him when he was afraid.
But now as he walks forward into life
(and as I practice peace in opening my hands, again),
I pray that he would learn how to allay his earthly fears
in light of you his heavenly Father
whom he fears above all else,
the one who holds his soul and body in your hand
for all eternity.
Help him seek you, when he’s afraid—
whether of failure in an overwhelming task,
or scorn from those who have no heart for you,
or physical danger, even death—
whatever fears he faces, may he look to you his Father,
knowing that not even one small sparrow falls upon the ground
apart from you,
who value him much more than many sparrows….
Adult children continue to need our prayers; when physically active parenting roles diminish, our praying roles often deepen. And they expand, as we pray for the next generation spreading out over the globe and by God’s grace passing on the good news of Jesus. “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4).
For a Teaching Heart
Grow in her faith and knowledge of you
that overflows to those ready to learn,
ones she is able to encourage and instruct,
as she commends your works to them, O God,
and passes on your faithfulness
fully revealed to us in Jesus Christ your Son.
Let her not hoard the store of wisdom
you by grace allow her to enjoy;
let her not overestimate her store,
but let her not judge it small,
when it is given by your hand.
Let her not look for large, impressive audiences;
if they come, may she speak humbly, clearly, truly.
Let her develop keenest eyes for individuals near and far—
in the family, in the church, in her city, across the globe—
who need to learn the Word
from one who’s learned to know and love the Savior.
O Father God, give her a teaching heart
that longs for others to know you, and know you well.
Let her faith and knowledge never strut, as on a stage,
but rather flow and overflow like living water
shared from the abundance of your Spirit,
for the glory of your Son.
How amazing to think that Christian parents, along with the family of believers, can keep reaching out in prayer to God our Father, who has shown his love to us in his own Son—and who gives us his Holy Spirit to help us pray, according to his Word. He hears and answers our prayers. Let’s share in prayer for our children.
About the Author:
Kathleen Nielson is an author and speaker who loves working with women in studying the Scriptures. She has taught literature (PhD, Vanderbilt University), directed women’s Bible studies in local churches, and served as director of The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Initiatives from 2010 to 2017. She and her husband, Niel, make their home partly in Wheaton, Illinois, and partly in Jakarta, Indonesia, where Niel helps to lead a network of Christian schools and universities. They have three sons, three daughters-in-law, and eight grandchildren.