Paul’s prayer for the Philippians (1:3-11) is a beautiful passage revealing the heart of Paul’s prayers for a church with whom he was so very close. Since the birth of my first child in 1984 it has served as a model prayer for me as I pray for those to whom I am closest.
Thanksgiving for the memories. When I lift up my children, I do so with thanksgiving. This does not mean that everything has always gone great. Like any father, I have experienced a lot of ups and downs as I raised my children. But even in the times when something has gone wrong or I was stressed about something happening in the life of my children, I tried to spend time thanking God for them. In fact, I have found when I have been the most aggravated as a parent, going to God with thanksgiving can be a great way to lower the aggravation factor. Recalling the times when things were good. Re-living the times when we worshiped and prayed together. Remembering the times when God was faithful to bring about good even through trouble.
Confidence in the future. Paul was confident God was going to keep working on the Christians at Philippi. They were not the finished product, but God was going to see them through to the end. Through the years I have prayed, acknowledging the faithfulness of God to continue working in the lives of my children. They are not the finished product. God will see them through to the end. It is easy as a parent to grow discouraged when our children don’t learn something the first time we tell them. Sometimes the lessons they are slow to learn are the same ones we still haven’t learned after 20 or 30 years. God is not finished with us or them. God is faithful. So we pray with confidence in the future. Confidence in God. Confidence in our children. Confidence in what God is doing with our children.
Sharing God’s grace. God’s grace is what saves us and sustains us in our walk with God. Paul writes of sharing God’s grace with the Philippians. Likewise, we need to share God’s grace with our family. It’s easy to have one standard for my children to live up to and another very different standard for me. Truth is, we all are dependent on God’s grace. I need to be ready to share it with my children, because they are, after all going to sin, just like I do. God pours His grace out on me. God pours His grace out on my children, too. I need to share, not holding them to some standard of perfection that I could never keep. I pray for God to pour out His grace on my children, that they may know Him more fully.
More and more love. When praying for our children it is easy to get caught up in praying exclusively for material or physical desires. There is nothing wrong with praying about our child’s physical illness or for a job opportunity, but how much more valuable is it to pray for spiritual growth. “God, help my son love more and more. Father, help my daughter to abound in love. Help them to love You with all their hearts. Help them to love people with complete sincerity.”
Knowledge, insight, and discernment. Paul prayed for the Philippians to know God. We need to pray the same prayer for our children. Praying that they will come to know God. That they will grow to know Him more through every year of their lives. Praying that their knowledge of God will determine their worldview, giving them insights into all the challenges they face. When my children were young I watched them with a close and careful eye. But as they grew older I relinquished my control and turned it over to them. Especially during those years of transitioning control did I pray for them to have discernment. Discernment to know right from wrong was the prayer in the earlier years. Later it became a prayer for them to discern good, better, and best in their choices.
Pure, blameless, and fruitful. Paul’s prayer for the Christians at Philippi to be pure, blameless, while bearing the fruit of righteousness is a most timely prayer for our children, with all the challenges to purity they will face. But we need to understand praying for your child to glorify God can sometimes be a dangerous prayer. Sometimes the greatest glory comes only through struggle, problems, and pain. Do we really believe that when we are at our weakest that is the precise moment we are at our strongest? Are we ready for this prayer to be answered with our child with faith facing a tremendous challenge? Are we ready for this prayer to be answered with our child at a mission point 4,000 miles away in some remote location? Our prayers for our children need to be God-focused. Too often we pray for earthly success. Any pagan can desire that. But a Christian parent prays for matters of vital importance, like purity and righteousness.
Until the day of Christ. As a father, I tried to begin my parenting with the end in mind, always trying to think long-term about what I was doing. I pictured the end, the goal of my parenting, to set free my young adult children as responsible people and faithful Christians. Then I worked back in time, thinking, how is what I am doing as a father preparing them for the day I will release them? Is this preparing them for the day they will no longer be dependent on me? Is this preparing them to live out their faith in God? And yet, in reality, my best long-range plan was short-sighted. As Paul prayed for the Philippians walk with God “until the day of Christ,” so should we pray for our children. My children are both out of the house now. One is even “off the parental payroll.” And yet my prayers have not stopped, because as a father, I want more than anything for them to be ready when Jesus comes.
As Paul prayed for those he loved in Philippi, so we can pray for those we love in our household.