By Dennis and Barbara Rainey
If other experiences in life have not humbled you and shown you how dependent you are on God, then try parenting a teenager! That will humble you pretty quickly. And repeatedly.
The sobering news about raising children is that we really have no ultimate control over whether they will choose the narrow gate that leads to life (Matthew 7:14) or the wide gate that leads to destruction. If other experiences in life have not humbled us and shown us how dependent we are on God, then parenting a pre-adolescent or a teenager will.
Understanding our desperate need to depend on God is the good news. Once we give up the naive idea that we parents can dictate the choices our children will make and the spiritual gate they will walk through—narrow or wide—then we are ready to slip on the knee pads and get serious about prayer.
What did we learn about prayer for our children as they prepared for and entered adolescence?
1. Pray regularly. Bring every concern, dream, and desire about your children to God in fervent, persistent prayer. (Luke 18:1-8 contains a great parable on persistent prayer that must have been for parents of teenagers.)
Two of the best times to pray with your children are on the way to school (if you drive them) and at bedtime—regardless of age. We lived about five miles from the school our children attended. Every morning we would pray about things most important to our children—tests, friends, teachers, activities, and struggles with peers.
As the car topped the hill right before the school building, we always concluded with the same request: “And Lord, we ask that You would keep each of our children from harm, evil, and temptation this day, that they would experience You at work in their lives and be used by You to influence others for your Kingdom. Amen.” Once our teenagers began to drive themselves to school, we would use breakfast for this prayer time.
Bedtime prayers can be more personal for each child. Pray for their future spouse, relationships, activities, challenges, temptations, and heart for God. Don’t assume that a teenager is too big for you to kneel beside his bed and stroke his face and pray.
2. Pray offensively. Before your children hit adolescence, pray for their peer group—that they will have at least one strong Christian buddy for the teenage years. Pray that God will give them the courage to be a positive influence in their peers’ lives.
Ask God to protect each child daily from others who would be an evil influence. Also ask God to help you spot your children doing things right so that you can encourage them in making right choices.
3. Pray defensively. On more than one occasion we sought the Lord’s help in removing a friend of questionable character from our child’s life.
From time to time we would feel that one of our teens might be deceiving us, but we could never be absolutely certain. In those situations we asked God to help us catch the child if he had been doing something wrong. God seems to feel sorry for parents who pray this prayer!
4. Pray intensely. One of the most misunderstood spiritual disciplines of the Christian life is prayer accompanied with fasting (the giving up of food for a prescribed period of time). Although fasting does not earn points with God, He nonetheless assumes in Scripture that we will fast and pray (see Matthew 6:16-18) and promises to reward us if we do it correctly. We know a couple who would set aside each Monday to fast, sunup until sundown, and pray for their struggling 14-year-old child.
Pray when God brings your child to mind. It may be your child, at that very moment, is facing a circumstance of critical importance. Some friends of ours felt a strong and sudden need one night to pray for their daughter. At the very time they slipped out of bed and to their knees, a police car was driving by their daughter’s car on a remote mountain road where she and a girlfriend had gone to look at the city lights, eat a sandwich, and talk. Unknown to them, an escaped prisoner was hiding underneath the car. The prisoner was apprehended, and the girls drove off unharmed.
And the parents learned that God does lead us to pray for our children.
5. Pray with your child. It’s easy for prayer to become an exclusive dialogue—you and God. Why not do what one mom, Nina, did with her teenage daughter, Natalie, and become prayer partners? Natalie’s teenage years were filled with special moments in which she and her mom knelt together and prayed over Natalie’s struggles and challenges.
You might consider putting your arms around your child as you pray. No child ever outgrows their need for a mom’s or a dad’s hug, even though they may never thank you for the prayer or the hugs!
6. Pray together as a couple. For over 50 years of marriage we have ended each day in prayer together as a couple. No spiritual discipline has protected our marriage and our family more than this daily time of communion together with God.
We prayed through more difficult situations than we can count. Often we felt helpless, and we begged God to show us what to do or say. Or in certain situations, what not to say. God loves what we call the “Prayer of the Helpless Parent.”
All of our six children have now made it to adulthood. Now that adolescence is behind us, you might think we are tempted to coast to the finish line. Hardly! We continued to pray more than ever for our children even after the turbulent adolescent years—and still do. Just last night I (Dennis) was awakened with the need to pray for one of our adult children.
God wants the same thing for you and your child. Talk to Him. James 5:16 tells us, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power.”
Your children need your prayers and you need the practice!
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