“Mom, why don’t you ever pray and ask God for nothing bad to happen to me?”

My youngest and I were snuggled in his bed. We had just finished our bedtimes prayers, and I was about to leave when he asked me this question. I paused, because how do I explain to my 4-year-old that I used to pray that very thing? How do I explain the transformation in my prayer life when I’m not sure I understand it myself? What words could I use that would help him understand there is something more important than his safety?

My first prayers for my children began the day I learned I was expecting. As they grew inside their snug cocoon, I prayed for their growth, health, and safety. I prayed for each of their tiny fingers and toes. Through each stage of pregnancy, I prayed for all their parts to form perfectly as God intended. As God did his knitting, I did my praying.

After each of my children were born, I prayed for them to sleep—-a prayer I offered up quite often. As they grew, I sought God’s wisdom for behavioral issues. I prayed for patience and strength to endure the tantrums of the twos and threes. I beseeched God when potty training was going nowhere fast. When they were sick, I asked for a quick recovery (and prayed the preschool teacher wouldn’t notice their sniffles and send them home). When they drove me crazy, I prayed for sanity. And every day, I repented over my own temper tantrums.

In recent years, the Spirit has effected a complete overhaul in my prayer life. It was the apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians that opened my eyes to see that my prayers for my children were lacking. They were focused on all I wanted God to do in my children’s life to make my life better. They were about me and my comfort. While praying for their health and behavior isn’t wrong, I had lost sight of the most important prayer—-for their heart.

Heart, Mind, Soul

In response to my son’s question that night, I said, “The Bible says that the most important thing is that we love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. That is why I pray that for you each night. Because God loves you so much, you don’t have to worry about anything bad happening. Jesus already took on for us the very worst thing that could happen. You can trust God to be with you no matter what happens.”

Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:17-19 inspired this prayer of my heart:

Dear Heavenly Father,

You are a gracious and merciful God, whose love is unending. You are always patient with me, forgiving me time and time again. I am so thankful for Christ’s death, which opened the curtain into your presence, allowing me to call you Abba.

I come before you today to pray for my children. I confess that I so often pray about their health and behavior more than anything else. I’ve prayed for their healing from illness and from surgeries. I’ve prayed for particular behavioral changes. I’ve asked for help and wisdom in dealing with tantrums and defiance and in weeding out discontent and selfishness.

But increasingly, I’ve come to see that while those prayers are good, that you hear them and accept them, there is one prayer that stands above them all. While asking for healthy bodies and good behavior certainly makes my life easier, it doesn’t address my children’s most serious and deadly ailment: their heart.

The most important prayer I can pray for them is that they would see their sin and need for you. I ask that you humble them before you. Pierce their heart so they would see their need for the gospel of grace. I pray that they would know there is nothing they can do to earn your love or to keep your love. Each time they stumble into sin, draw them back to the gospel and foot of the cross. I pray that they would be overcome and overwhelmed by your love for them, that their love in response would overflow beyond measure.

I pray, along with Paul, that my children would know the hope that is theirs in Christ. I ask that your Spirit would enlighten them, grant them wisdom and understanding. Give them a desire to know you more deeply and intimately.

You have been teaching my own heart that change happens from the inside out. Help me to parent them in this way. I ask that you would give me grace to speak to their heart and model the grace of the gospel in all my interactions with them. Please keep me from being a barrier between them and you.

I thank you for the power of the gospel. May it be the motivation for my children’s growth in you as well as my own. I thank you that because of Jesus, all is grace.

In Jesus’ name, Amen