I have a prayer problem. Instead of letting prayer draw me closer to God, I can 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 Peter, I start to focus on the waves instead of the Savior, waves that haven’t even arisen and probably never will.
I recently taped a photo of each of my four kids into my prayer journal so I could look at them when I prayed. As I began to pray, my sister came to my mind. She’d just been through a devastating divorce and had written about her story.
As I looked into the innocent eyes of my kids, I thought about her pain. I thought about the trials God was preparing for my own children. Would he spare them from the tragedy of a broken marriage? What about physical pain? Would he keep them from harm?
Then I thought about the reason my sister chose to share her story. She didn’t offer five easy steps for avoiding 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.”
There’s nothing I want more than for my children to walk with their Savior and be used for his glory. But I cannot pray for that and pray that God spare them from all earthly pain. Why not? Because pain and trials are God’s promise to all believers (John 16:33; 1 Pet. 1:6). Because Christians should consider trials normal (1 Pet. 4:12).
I don’t want mere “fire insurance” so my kids go to heaven. I want them to enjoy 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 make an impact for the gospel. Even more than a pain-free life, I want all of that for them; I want the whole package.
Refinement Means Fire
This means that my children who profess faith in Jesus will go through a refinement process. But refinement means fire—and fire means pain. It means they’ll spend every day fighting against their flesh and against the world. They’ll be ridiculed. They’ll groan with aching bodies for their heavenly home. They’ll have earthly comforts taken from them by a hand that wants to give them so much more.
If that’s what it means to be a follower of Christ, then it’s what I want for my kids. Does this mean I should pray they’ll 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 it means trials. And it will.
Bread from the Father
So is it okay to pray for earthly protection? If my child breaks his arm, can I pray for quick healing and prevention of future accidents? Scripture clearly says yes.
I think about the father who didn’t give his son a snake when he asked for a fish (Luke 11:11). Part of God’s merciful care is providing for our comfort and safety. Beyond that, we can boldly ask him for our daily bread, but we ask too much when we demand to know what the bread will look like.
When I hold my toddler, hot and crying with an ear infection, I pray his pain will leave. Of course that’s not wrong. It’s asking for bread from my Father. But I know his definition of bread might be different from mine. It’s kind of like when my 5-year-old asks for a cupcake right before dinner, and I say no. He’s simply too young to understand why I won’t give him what he wants.
Though I can and should pray for health and safety for my kids, I ultimately have to trust God knows best. He knows what they truly need. He knows how to use them for his glory and their joy. If more pain means more glory, God will help me accept it—even help me praise him for it, perhaps through tears.
Sometimes our prayers skip the specifics and go straight to the end result: “Make my child like Jesus.” To avoid 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 heartbreaking loss. But I do know that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3). I don’t know that my child will get a good job and be financially stable all his life. But I do know that God is a “shield to all who take refuge in him” (Ps. 18:30). I don’t know whether my child will avoid every devastating disease. But I do know that “those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles” (Isa. 40:31).
When I bring requests to God from the standpoint of what I already know about him, I can leave the hypotheticals behind and pray his faithfulness over my kids. My prayers become less about what could happen and more about who God is.
Of course we never desire pain for our children. But when we put on gospel-centered glasses, we’re freed to pray for things that offer far more than earthly comfort. We begin to pray that God wouldn’t simply prevent every hardship that could come their way, but that he’d use them for his renown. These prayers accomplish much for my children, and replace worry with confidence in my heart.