Rooted in Prayer: How the Word Teaches Us to Pray
This week, on both sides of the Rooted blog, we want to take a close look at what it looks like to pray for our students and children. Today on Rooted Parent, we make the case for praying scripture over our children, and on the youth ministry side of the blog, we offer a “prayer rubric” from the Apostle Paul. In the days ahead, we will model those different variations in prayer, using scripture as our jumping off point. We want to pray these prayers together as a community – wherever the Rooted blog can be read, from Colorado to Indonesia – for the young people in our care. Join us this week, Rooted in Prayer for your students!
Nothing has ever humbled me more than being a mom. Holding my tiny son for the first time, I was overwhelmed by adoration and inadequacy. Never had I wanted to love so well; never had I seen my own weakness so clearly. Powerless against the harsh world I brought them into and powerless to save them myself, I turned to God in prayer.
Tim Keller says that prayer is “helplessness accepted and given to God.” When I began to realize I didn’t even know how or what to pray for my sons, Scripture offered me the wisdom and the words I was seeking. What follows are some of the things I have learned, and practical ways I have applied Scripture to specific issues we have faced as a family. Grasping the implications of the Gospel and learning to pray Scripture have been God’s best gifts to me as a mom.
Why do I pray Scripture?
God tells us to pray in the Spirit, and Scripture is written by the Holy Spirit Himself. If I am truly committed to praying according to His will, the best place I can start to find His will is in His Word. I know, because He has promised that if I pray according to His will, I will receive what I have prayed for (1 John 5:14-15).
Praying Scripture changes me. As I pray, the Holy Spirit leads me to look beyond temporary circumstances and behavior issues, to pray that the character of Christ will be formed in my child. Because the Word has real power to discern the thoughts and intent of my own heart, the praying works on me as I pray (Hebrews 4:12). It aligns my heart with what God wants for my child and helps me to see my child as God sees him. I find I pray less about the math tests and the college admissions (which are very valid concerns for prayer – we’ll come back to that) and more about their hearts. After all, if my child truly learns to love God deeply, he will also learn to make godly choices. He will develop a gracious spirit and live with integrity. I am less focused on my child’s outward behavior because I see these things for what they are: symptoms or “warning lights” about the condition of his or her heart.
Praying Scripture humbles me, because I am acknowledging my own powerlessness even to pray rightly. I cannot know my child’s heart like God does, and I don’t know what they need like God does (even though I often think I do). God is my child’s Father in the truest sense of the word, and while I have an extremely important role in my child’s life, God is ultimately responsible. Relieved of the burden of my own helplessness, I am less anxious, a little lighter. My child and I are free to enjoy each other a little more.
How do I pray Scripture?
Have a dialogue with Scripture. I like to use a notebook or journal for this. I use the left-hand page for copying out a passage of Scripture and the right-hand side for my conversation with God. The Psalms and Proverbs work really well with this type of prayer. Here are a couple of hypothetical examples:
A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke (Proverbs 13:1); Father, I desperately need your wisdom – and patience – as I try to parent this son who I am sure You have noticed is quite the smart-aleck these days. But You have promised wisdom to those who ask it, and so I am asking (James 1:5). Teach me as I teach him. Please also give my son the wisdom to listen to and accept and obey what I tell him. He’s pretty sure he is smarter than I am, Father, and I am worried he will resist authority when he shouldn’t.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:26). Oh Father, my girl is having such a hard time right now. You see her, spending her days in sweatpants watching Netflix and avoiding her friends. Her heart is failing, and mine is too, because I don’t know how to help. You are her strength, and You are mine too; I pray You will draw her to Yourself and help her to see that Your love is better than life (Psalm 63:3). You are near to those whose hearts are broken; stay close to my daughter and help her see Jesus (Psalm 34:18).
Pray through longer passages of scripture too. You can pull out single verses, like the examples above, using your index or a concordance. Yet it can be even more effective to find a longer passage and “talk” with the Scripture, because working through the surrounding verses often takes your focus off the problem and onto God. Say, for example, if you have a child who has been harmed by gossip, you might turn to Psalm 37, which begins, “Fret not thyself because of evildoers…” The verses that follow give a very specific list of how you can pray for your child’s heart to be healed in the situation: “Trust in the Lord… Delight in the Lord… Commit your way to the Lord… Be still before the Lord….” In this way, you aren’t just praying for your child to feel better, you are praying that God will work in the circumstance to help your child love Him more.
Pray the Lord’s Prayer for your family. One thing you will notice very quickly is that much of the prayer is about God: adoring Him, and asking for His will and His kingdom and His glory, rather than our own. I take the Lord’s Prayer phrase by phrase and meditate on each one, slowly:
Our Father, who art in heaven. Here I thank Him for being such a good Father, for meeting all our needs, protecting us, and guiding us through our day. I reflect thankfully and specifically on the ways He is fathering our family in the moment, and ask Him to open my eyes to where else He is moving.
Hallowed be thy name. I tell God that I want us to be a family that reveres Him. Here is where I reflect on who He is, what He has done for us in Christ Jesus, and how His kindness and goodness are beautiful to us.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. I might share a yearning for His kingdom here, but I always tell Him that I want His will to be done in our home. I might also confess that I frequently move out of His will, running ahead of Him by operating out of my own so-called wisdom. I also ask Him to reveal His will in specific circumstances we are facing. Sometimes I confess that I don’t really want His will, but that I want to want it: “Father please help me want Your will because I think I might prefer my own. Help.” If we can be real with anybody, we can be real with God.
Give us this day our daily bread. Here’s where I get to petitions. The amazing thing is, by this point in my prayer, all the things I had planned to pray for (baseball tryouts, a clear mind on the test, a good summer job) have shrunk considerably in importance. Praying for “daily bread” – that which is actually necessary and needful to conform my family to the image of Christ – immediately exposes my idols of success and performance. “Daily bread” reminds me to pray for heart issues that really do matter, like patience with a crabby child or kindness between siblings. Daily bread is much more about what we need that only God can give than it is about what I want for myself and my kids.
This is not to say we don’t ask for things we want for our kids. It would be fake piety and utter silliness to pretend that we don’t want good things for our family, even the good things of this world. God already knows what we want anyway. So we do ask God for good grades on math tests and a spot on the volleyball team, but these outward things are put in perspective. We want blessings that draw our child closer to Christ and make them useful in His kingdom.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Confession is everybody’s least favorite part of prayer, but receiving forgiveness is one of the best. I examine my motives and behavior with my people and confess my sins before God. I can also ask for forgiveness for my kids – Job did this, and Job was a righteous dude (Job 1: 4-5).
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. This is every mom’s go-to prayer: protection. Please God, keep them safe. I thank you that you have given believers the power to resist temptation, and that no one can snatch them from Your hand (John 10:29).
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen. Praise frames the close of the prayer, reminding me that all power to save and to develop my child into maturity rests squarely in the hands of our heavenly Father, not with me. And all the glory for His grace in our family’s life goes to Him, not to me.
Search Scripture for passages about a particular concern and pray those back to God, inserting your child’s name into the prayers. I have a three-ring binder for these, and each page focuses on a topic I want to pray for: salvation, perseverance, anxiety, comparison, whatever has come up in our family life. I use indexes, concordances, and different translations to write prayers for my children, and I stay very close to the original language. My intent is never to add to or distort what God has said, but to apply His truth to my prayers.
My sons (like their mother) tend to rebel sometimes, which concerns me. I looked up rebellion in a topical index, found Hebrews 3:7-12, and wrote this prayer on my “rebellion” page. The blank space is where I inserted my child’s name:
Oh Father, I pray that _____ will not harden his heart and rebel against You
Like Israel did in the wilderness.
You were angry with them.
Father I pray that _____ will not go astray in his heart, but instead, that he would know Your ways
And may enter Your rest.
Father, I pray that _____ will beware, lest an evil heart of unbelief cause him to depart from You.
Two caveats when praying God’s Word:
- Books that suggest verses or write the Scripture into prayer for you can be really helpful as a place to start. Rooted recommends Melissa Kruger’s 5 Things to Pray for Your Kids; it focuses on core issues and it’s handy for a briefcase or purse. But let a resource like this help you dig into the Scripture for yourself. Your conversations with God will be a lot more meaningful if you do the work of searching His Word for yourself.
- Be very careful to read each verse you pray in context. Take, for example, that glorious gift-box embellishment, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” If we use that verse out of context, it is a whole lot easier to misread it as a promise for some sort of glory-filled future in this life. But the next couple of verses reveal what His plans really are. His will for Jeremiah (and for us) is, “You will call upon me and come and pray to me” and His promise is, “You will seek and find me, when you seek with all your heart” (v. 12, 13). Context always enriches our understanding of a single verse and always gives us more reason to worship Him for what we discover.
I am no expert on parenting, and I am certainly no expert on the riches of Scripture. Praying God’s Word back to Him has been a way to acknowledge my helplessness and give it to God, but this is not some sort of method for perfecting prayer so God will give me what I want for my kids. Ultimately, my inadequacy runs so deep that the Holy Spirit must help me in my weakness, interceding for my family with groans too deep for words (Romans 8:26-27). The Helper Himself perfects our words, hopes, and desires according to the will of God, so we enjoy gospel rest even as we labor for our children in prayer.