September 4, 2019

Surprisingly One of the Best Things You Can Do for Yourself…

Gary Thomas — 

I’ve been in several marathon training groups that begin meeting months before a marathon. It’s astonishing to see how a little bit of daily training takes very ordinary, often very unathletic people, and gently but steadily leads us to a place where we can start running twenty-six miles around breakfast time and finish sometime before lunch.

If we took spiritual progress this seriously—and we should (Matt. 5:48)—what “spiritual workout” will move us steadily and consistently toward spiritual fitness?

William Law, a classical writer who taught the church almost three centuries ago, says that one of the most effective workouts we could ever perform for ourselves is regularly praying for our children’s spiritual welfare.

How does praying for our kids help us grow?

Law makes the sensible connection that if a parent is praying regularly for their children’s spiritual growth, that parent is going to be compelled to excel in the same virtues they long for their children to embrace. “How naturally would a parent grow ashamed of lacking the very virtues he or she thinks necessary for their children?”

Psychologically and spiritually, when we want something for our children, it reinforces to our own minds how important that same thing is for us. That’s why praying for our children to grow in faith and character is one of the most effective ways of reminding ourselves of what we need to aspire after.

Jenna was beside herself trying to get her oldest daughter (8) to be more patient with her younger sister. She began praying regularly that God would help her daughter to encourage her sister rather than resent her whenever she made a mistake. When the younger sister spilled some glitter all over the floor, the older sister cried out, “You’re such an idiot!” There was a moment of painful spiritual revelation when Jenna realized her daughter was repeating verbatim what she had heard Jenna say of another driver who cut in front them on their morning trip to school. With sincere conviction, Jenna realized she was praying for her daughter to stop being like…her mom. It’s not a surprise that Jenna began praying for more patience for herself whenever she got into the car with her children.   

Another benefit of regular intercessory prayer for our children is that when we earnestly call upon God to show favor to our children, it naturally makes us want to maintain a clean heart before God. William Law writes, “If a father considered himself as an intercessor with God for his children to bless them with his prayers, what more likely means to make him aspire after every degree of holiness that he might thereby be fitter to obtain blessings from heaven for them? How would such thoughts make him avoid everything that was sinful and displeasing to God, lest when he prayed for his children God should reject his prayers?”

James 5:16 tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” So if I want to be spiritually “fit” to be an effective intercessor for my children, I’m going to watch my life, in the same way someone training for a marathon might think twice about having that second helping of ice cream. 

The third thing regularly praying for our children accomplishes is that a life of intentional praying inspires a life of more intentional training. If we pray to God that he will work in our children’s hearts, we’re going to want to become his assistant, a partial answer to our own prayers. For example, if we pray that God will move them to value eternal things, we’re less likely to fall into affirming worldly achievements. If I ask God to give my children hearts of purity, I’m not going to bring impure shows into my home, which would undercut my prayers. If I ask God to make my children love kindness, I’m going to think up ways for them to use Christmas, as an example, to display kindness to others rather than just focus on their own wish lists. If I pray they will hunger for God’s Word, I’m going to scour bookstores for Bibles and helps that make the Bible come alive to my young children.  

All of these benefits begin with praying for our children: earnestly, passionately, and persistently. Because of God’s kindness, these prayers will surely bless our children. The surprising news, according to William Law, is that they will bless us—the parents who pray—just as much.

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11 responses to Surprisingly One of the Best Things You Can Do for Yourself…

  1. I must believe that God can restore the “years the locusts have eaten” in my life and my children’s lives. Of course, “he can” is a separate question from “he will,” and separate yet again from “we will obey.”

    God is my only hope, therefore I pray.

  2. It occurs to me that it would be good to acquire the Jewish Sabbath/Shabbat practice of speaking blessing over those at one’s Sabbath table. Perhaps an equivalent might be speaking blessings over those at our Sunday dinners? One can find Jewish Sabbath blessings online if models are needed. Revisiting the Sabbath scene in “Fiddler on the Roof” might be an example of speaking those blessings.
    Just a thought.

  3. Good word!!

  4. Kendra Templeton September 4, 2019 at 8:50 am

    Excellent! I love this!

  5. Thank you Gary….I always try to connect to scripture what any Christian teacher expresses or shares. As I was reading this, it inspired me greatly as I heard the Spirit bring forth what Paul taught about exercise (your analogy of training for a marathon and how many hours and time spent training is done – imagine the spiritual “benefits” received from delving deeper into prayer than what we spend pounding the pavement, riding our stationary bikes, posing and stretching on our yoga mats, swimming laps – hmmm…look at what we are told happens in the LONG RUN (words chosen on purpose) when we invest time in prayer…

    “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

    Incredible – godliness – the only way we can become Godly is through prayer and unity with the Spirit of God – and what is promised …

    Present & future

    All scripture and prayers breathed infuses us with needs and Grace for the present but also, for the future.

    No form of exercise does that. We always have to continue in the exercise form to get the benefit.

    Not so with prayer – it keeps delivering long after we have utters the prayer. Because prayer is living and active and Christ manifests the prayers we pray that are according to His Will.
    If it is in His Word, the prayer uttered with faith and aligned with His will WILL be answered in ways that go “exceedingly beyond what we hope for or imagine”

    That is why it is so wonderful to be able to pray and release a prayer into the Hands of a living and loving God. And with faith, believe. He will answer the prayer but transform us who are the ones praying.

    Thank you for a beautiful reminder to not stop praying and also, for the beautiful work Christ does through chiseling our hearts and minds to be the reciprocal recipients of the virtues we are praying for about our children.

    He is a Gentle, surprising and Grace-FULL God of restorative Love. All through prayer – not despair and desperation prayer – just quiet contemplative prayer that believes and prays for His desires. Such freedom in that. Very grateFULL for this post.

    • Janine,

      You might enjoy a section from William Gurnall’s “The Christian in Complete Armor.” It’s a ridiculously long book by a Puritan (over 1200 pages in print), but about 3/4 of the way in, he has pages and pages on the benefits of prayer with some very rich material.

      Thanks so much for sharing these wise musings!


  6. William Law has always been a favorite of mine. Are you citing a specific work if his? If so, what? Your posts are always enlightening for me. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Mary. I’m guessing this quote is from A Serious Call for a Devout and Holy Life, but it could possibly be from The Spirit of Love. A Serious Call, in my view, is a better work than The Spirit of Love. I’ve recently read A Practical Treatise on Christian Perfection which may be the most convicting classic I’ve ever read. I can’t go quite as far as Law does in some of his conclusions in this book, but wrestling with the challenges has been a spiritual workout in the best sense of that phrase. I wouldn’t recommend it to a legalist, but most of us fall toward complacency far more than we teeter toward legalism…Some contemporary writers and speakers seem to think legalism is the only error, so Law is a good antidote to that.

  7. Thank you, Gary! I was needing this. A couple of weeks ago, I began an orchestrated campaign to pray daily at a set time for each of my children. And I’m coming against resistance both in myself and in my schedule. Today’s article was a blessed confirmation that I need to persevere in this worthy endeavor. Right now I’m praying the children through the book of Proverbs. My plan after that is to pray through Revelation, followed by the gospel of John, and ending the year praying through the Psalms. I wish I had started this years ago. But I’m glad I’m doing it now.

    Thanks again for another great article. You and your wife and children are a great blessing to the body of Christ!

    • Gwen, sometimes resistance is a mark that you’re on the right track! As another classic writer put it, “War against us is proof that we are making war.” Press on!