When my son was just a toddler, I often observed him grappling with a toy, a task, or something else that wasn’t coming together the way he wanted. I would wait for him to ask for my help, but he usually tried everything else first—taking the thing apart, putting it back together (wrongly), trying to hide the problem, crying or even throwing a tantrum—before sheepishly bringing me the pieces.
Our grown-up attitudes to prayer are not too different from the scenario I just described. Even though as parents we are quick to school our children on the importance of prayer, we often wait until our situation becomes desperate before turning to the Lord. Why?
Why We Don’t Pray More
The Bible assures us that God responds when we talk to Him (Psalm 145:18–19); that He wants us to bring Him our requests (Philippians 4:6); and that He answers prayer (Psalm 65:2).
The Bible shows us that turning to God and talking to Him is the one activity we cannot afford to neglect.
And we do pray—in church along with the rest of the congregation, when we lead our children in saying grace before meals, and during an emergency such as when a friend is hospitalised.
But what about in the day-to-day business of family life?
As I reflect upon my own failure to communicate with God regularly as a parent, I realise that my heart is held captive by a few false assumptions that I might never say out loud:
- “Prayer is a luxury I don’t have time for.”
This mistaken idea is centred on the mountain of tasks ahead. It tells me to pay attention to what appears urgent, rather than seek God’s perspective and priorities in ordering my day.
- “I’m on my own here.”
I forget that Jesus has promised never to leave or forsake me, and that I can turn to Him at all times. As a result, I feel alone and anxious, like my son when he was a toddler. This gives rise to the next falsehood:
- “It’s up to me to take charge.”
Again, like my toddler son, I choose to depend on my own strength or ability to fix a problem. It makes me feel less weak and reliant on someone else, and hence avoid the uncomfortable feeling of neediness. I’d rather feel independent and competent, doing things my way. Can you relate to this, too?
- “I don’t really believe prayer will work.”
Or more precisely, I don’t really think prayer will work in the way that I want. I want good things for my children—for them to be happy and comfortable in life, to do well at sports or play a musical instrument. It may not be wrong to desire good things for our children, but God may have other priorities for them—such as to grow them in knowing, trusting, and obeying Him. And if I insist on achieving my priorities above God’s, I may end up feeling disappointed, discouraged, bitter, or even distant from God.
My failure to pray could indicate that I doubt whether God is really devoted to my welfare as well as that of my children. This could be what is making me turn elsewhere for help—to my own wisdom, to human “experts”, or worldly advice.
But the Bible shows us that turning to God and talking to Him is the one activity we cannot afford to neglect.
A Spiritual Battleground
In Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul addresses relationships within Christian households.
Faith is our shield; we can choose to believe in Jesus rather than in the lies that prevent us from praying more.
In this everyday context, he instructs us to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (v. 10). Our enemies are not “flesh and blood”, but the devil, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (v. 12).
Parenting is nothing short of war against Satan and against the sin in ourselves, in our children, and in the world we live in.
How do we fight this war? Paul uses the imagery of a full set of battle armour and weaponry:
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. – Ephesians 6:14–19
As writer and speaker Rose Marie Miller explains in The Gospel Centered Parent: “The armor of God by which we stand against the devil’s schemes is simply Christ and all He does for us. The pieces point us to Him.”
Righteousness and salvation come to us through Jesus. In paying the penalty for our sin, He reconciles us to God—this is the good news, the gospel of peace.
Faith is our shield; we can choose to believe in Jesus rather than in the lies that prevent us from praying more. Therefore, we are to stand armed with God’s promises in His Word.
But up to this point in Ephesians 6, Paul has made no call to action, beyond suiting up for battle.
What follows in verses 18 to 20, then, is the equivalent of the “Charge!” command—without it, the army may stand ready but the war cannot be waged and won! And that remarkably unmilitary command is: PRAY!
It is so important that Paul says it four times: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”, “always keep on praying”, “Pray also for me”, and “Pray that I may declare [the gospel] fearlessly”.
And Always Keep On Praying
Asking our Father “in the Spirit” means being alert not only to our own desires, but also to God’s purposes.
What does such prayer look like?
In good times, we can thank God and ask for help to keep obeying Him.
In times of suffering, although we long for our pain to end, we can ask for God’s help to endure it in a way that shows we trust Him.
Prayer “in the Spirit” connects us to the magnificent power of Jesus, who alone has conquered evil, sin and death. We need Him!
When people hurt or disappoint us, we ask God to help us forgive them, and turn our gaze instead to the Saviour who never lets us down. You may have many more examples.
In seeking God’s purposes, we recognise that our daily struggles are battles in a spiritual war that Jesus has already won. That is why prayer is our most powerful weapon—prayer “in the Spirit” connects us to the magnificent power of Jesus, who alone has conquered evil, sin and death. We need Him!
So, fellow parents, whenever parenting brings us to our knees, let’s thank God and ask Him to give us humble and persevering hearts to abide in the posture of prayer.
For talking to Him is a gift made possible by Jesus’ costly sacrifice. How wonderful to be always in our loving Father’s presence and care! “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).