[Hannah] brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him...“I
prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now
I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”
And he worshiped the Lord there.
1 Samuel 1: 25,27,28
“How do you do it? How do you have the stamina to keep going out into that surf?” a tourist asked Keith, my college-age son, one muggy summer morning. She had just watched him pull a fourth swimmer in distress from the Gulf’s riptide.
Keith caught his breath as he lay exhausted on the beach beside his lifeguard station, then squinted through the sun to look her in the eye. “Lady, I know I have someone praying for me almost constantly—my mom.”
I’m sorry to admit he couldn’t always have said that, because for years I was a crisis pray-er. When my children got sick, I tried to bargain with God, promising Him all sorts of things if He would only honor my prayer. The rest of the time I uttered only general “bless us” prayers.
Somewhere along the way, I came to realize that if God gave me three children to rear, it was my responsibility—no, my privilege—to come to Him often on their behalf. But I honestly didn’t know how. Surely there was a deeper dimension to prayer than I had experienced.
Thus began my pilgrimage of searching the Bible and listening to others pray. Everywhere I went, I asked mothers, “How do you pray for your children?”
In the ensuing years I’ve discovered some basic “how-to’s” which have helped me, and may help you, too. I start my prayer time with what I call my Three W’s. I worship the Lord, then wait silently asking Him to give me His Word to pray for the current situation. Sometimes I use a fourth W—warfare—to stand against the enemy’s tactics, using the Word of God as my weapon. Always, though, I invite the Holy Spirit to show me how to pray so my prayers are aligned with God’s will.
Since the Bible encourages us to “enter his gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4), I like to begin my prayer time by praising God for who He is and what He does. (See the Appendix for a list of how I use the alphabet to trigger my worship time.)
Prayer also includes asking God’s forgiveness—both for sins I remember, as well as those I don’t recall. Sometimes I must ask the Holy Spirit to reveal my sins of word, thought, deed, omission or commission. Then I actually say aloud, “Lord, I am truly sorry. Thank you for forgiving me of that.”
For me this is a necessary step. I want the line of communication with God completely clear before I begin to petition or intercede for others. I want no unforgiveness, unbelief or unconfessed sin to block my prayers.
Setting formulas for prayer is not always helpful. I’m sharing prayer steps that work for me. You will have others that you have found profitable, too.
The blind man told Jesus, “I want to see.”
I remember sitting in a Bible school cafeteria listening to the discussion among my son and four of his friends—all single, in their late twenties. They were soon to graduate, and all five wanted to go into missions. But they had no clue as to which country or field they would go, let alone where they’d get the money to go.
I spoke up. “Guys, listening to your conversations, I think your needs can be boiled down to three M’s. I’m going to pray for guidance to your particular mission field, for money to go and a mate to love and help you.”
“Yeah!” they shouted in unison.
What a great day when Eugene, born in the Philippines but raised in Miami, called me from the land of his birth a year later. “I found her, Mama Quin,” he said excitedly. “Her name is Ruth. We’re getting married! You can stop praying for me to find my mate, but keep praying for the money and the right mission station so we can stay here and lead others to Jesus.” Today he is a pastor in the Philippines and his wife is a talented musician who assists him.
All five of those Bible school students I started to pray for specifically that day have since served the Lord in extensive ministry. Somehow there was always just enough money to provide for their next trip. God not only called me to invest my time in prayer for them, but also to give financially to help keep some of them where God had placed them. I call this “putting feet” to my prayers.
Hearing your own voice speak God’s Word strengthens your faith. The Bible declares, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
As we pray what Scripture says about our children, the power of God’s Word drives out anxiety and fear and produces faith in us. A Bible teacher once explained it this way: “The things we say are the things we will eventually believe, and the things we believe are things we will eventually receive.”
When my son was in what I called a temporary state of rebellion, I told him often, “Keith, you are a mighty man of God. You are a force of righteousness.” He didn’t act like it. He didn’t talk like it. But I knew what was deep within him. For five long years I hung in there—believing and praying with persistence. In the meantime, I cried. I fasted. I clung to every promise God had given me. I enlisted others to pray, too. Today Keith is a mighty man of God, having just completed seven years with the Youth With A Mission organization.
Write out your prayers in a notebook, noting the date. Then record when and how the Lord answered each prayer.
It seems clear that written records are important to God. In Psalm 102 we read, “He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea. Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord” (v. 17,18). And God commanded the prophet Habakkuk to record the vision he had seen so it would be a witness in the end times (see Habakkuk 2:2,3).
When God speaks to us, we may forget what He’s said unless we write it down. But when we record God’s promises, it builds our faith. And our children and grandchildren will have proof of God’s covenant relationship with us.
Ask God to reveal the things that are on His heart, then pray His desires for your children. Trust the Holy Spirit to drop thoughts or Scriptures into your mind, and include those ideas in your prayer. Sometimes during your regular Bible reading, verses will seem to leap off the page. These also can become a part of your personal prayers.
Remember that some prayers will be “waiting prayers.” If you pray for your children’s future mates or college choices while they’re still young, naturally you will have to wait for the answers. Why not begin praying future prayers now?
A wise gardener plants his seeds, then has the good sense not to dig them up every few days to see if a crop is on the way. Likewise, we must be patient as God brings the answers to our “waiting prayers” in His own good time.
In addition to these suggestions, I’ve discovered other exciting, profitable ways to pray. Some have come by trial and error, others by weeping and travailing, still others through reading my Bible. I’ve also learned there are ways God does not want me to pray—for example, bargaining prayers, selfish prayers, unbelieving prayers or prayers of self-pity.
Armed with God’s love, parents can be powerful prayer intercessors for their children. It’s usually from mothers that children first hear about God and learn their earliest prayers. May we embrace the challenge to pray for our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, as well as other children God brings across our paths. It doesn’t matter how old these children are; God loves them and wants none of them to perish.
My own son’s acknowledgment of my prayers the summer he was a lifeguard taught me what a privilege it is to pray for our youngsters.
Actually, it’s a good idea to begin praying for our children even before they are born. Scripture contradicts the popular pro-choice notion that a human embryo is only a meaningless mass of cells (see Psalm 139).
In his book, The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, Thomas Verny, M.D., reports that clinical studies show a baby in the womb hears, tastes, feels and learns. What he experiences begins to shape his attitudes and expectations about himself. For example, in tests, unborn babies responded calmly to the gentle music of Mozart but reacted with violent motion to performances of Beethoven and rock music. A baby in the womb, Verny says, learns to recognize his parents’ voices, is comforted by soothing tones and is upset, fearful and jumpy when parents quarrel.1
One couple, during the wife’s pregnancy, made a practice of praying for their unborn baby twice a day while laying hands on the mother’s abdomen. The father, a minister, wrote about their experience. “Our prayers were spoken out loud, but were simple. We were not trying to communicate with the child except through our attitudes, but we were communicating with God in the child’s presence.”2
Sometimes they prayed for themselves to be the kind of parents they should be for the child. They deliberately did not pray any preference for the baby’s sex, not wanting their child to feel any rejection due to their projections of partiality.
At other times they prayed specifically for the baby: “Fill this child with Your presence and Your life. Let this child be especially beloved by You. Watch over Your own child. Fill it with health and happiness and the great desire to be born, a great love for life, an excitement for things spiritual.”3
One father who prayed over two of his children before their births said, “I’m convinced that we could change our entire nation by simply praying for our unborn and newly born children. It doesn’t take special training, only love.”
Once while attending a friend’s wedding, I was surprised when the pastor paused midway in the wedding ceremony he was conducting for his son. Looking out across the sanctuary, he said, “My friends, I have something I want to share with you. This afternoon before the wedding, my wife and I brought all our children down to the church altar. As they knelt here, we literally gave all five back to God.
“Since our first child is now leaving home, we told the Lord, ‘We realize we are only caretakers of these children. We dedicate them once and for all to You.’” I squirmed in my seat. I’d never heard anything like this before, certainly not at a wedding.
“God says in His Word,” the pastor continued, “that children are a heritage from Him. I look on ours as gifts entrusted to us for a while.”
For several days I couldn’t shake what he had said about dedicating his children to God. One morning during my Bible reading, a passage seemed to leap from the page into my heart. It was Hannah’s “surrender prayer” to God for her little boy Samuel.
I asked the Lord to give me this child, and he has given me my request. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life (1 Samuel 1:27,28, NLT).
“Now I am giving him to the Lord....” It rang over and over and over in my mind. I stopped reading, repeated the prayer as my own, and inserted the names of our three children. I thought, My children are now in junior high, not small like Samuel, but I have today given them back to God.
Little did I know what a test I’d go through just a few years later when we thought our son was missing at sea. As we gazed across the black, white-capped waves late that summer evening, my husband grabbed my arm and prayed, “God, You know we’ve dedicated Keith to You. He was baptized in this very gulf at his own request two years ago. Now we commit him totally to You—dead or alive.”
My heart pleaded, Oh Jesus, don’t let him be dead. Please find him for us.
As I walked the beach and prayed, I finally came to a point where I could surrender him unconditionally to his Creator. But, oh, how relieved and thankful I was when he was found safe!
Becky, a South Dakota mother of seven, wrote to me about her “surrender” experience. “A little more than a year after I had been born again, my husband and I faced a crucial problem with the increasing misbehavior and disobedience of our 14-year-old son,” she wrote. “We talked to him, reasoned with him, and punished him, but with little visible effect. His mind was like solid concrete.
“One evening as I was preparing for bed, I sat down on the edge of the bathtub and said, ‘God, there is nothing more my husband and I know to do for this child. I give him over to You—completely.’”
Becky calls it “total release.” Within three weeks, the impossible situation her son had gotten himself into was resolved.
“Undoubtedly, God moved on our behalf,” she wrote. “This child was one of the first to ask Jesus to be his Savior. In fact, within six months my entire family, including my husband, seven children, two of their spouses, and one fiancée all were saved. It was not my elaborate prayers. But it was God’s Word fulfilled in the life of a believer: ‘The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective’ (James 5:16).”
Dedicating our children to God doesn’t guarantee that within a matter of months we’ll see answers to prayer as Becky did—although it can happen. But such an act of surrender does carry with it great responsibility. It means we’ll not only depend on the Lord to help us raise them, but we will also accept those children just as God made them.
My former pastor’s wife, Johnnie Lord, taught me much about prayer. When her oldest son, Richard, and a friend drove off from Florida heading for California in an old car with their surfboards, Johnnie admits her imagination went wild. She’d heard all about evil things happening to surfers in those early days of the drug scene.
She kept remembering how she had given Richard to the Lord even before he was born. But now as she battled her fears, she prayed. The Father seemed to say to her, “Johnnie, if I do all you want Me to do for Richard, I’ll never be able to do what I want to do for him.”
Somehow God was letting me know that from now on things were going to be different. I saw that as our children entered new stages of life our ‘giving them to the Lord’ had to be extended to include that stage, too....Not without apprehension, I hesitantly but deliberately went around Richard’s life and clipped each string, releasing him in a brand-new way to our heavenly Father, so He could work as He needed to accomplish His plan. When the transaction was completed, God’s wonderful peace began to move into my heart.4
I’ve met some mothers—even Christians—who harbor deep resentments toward their children. One baby disrupted his mother’s promising professional career. Another child brought his mother such heartache that she inwardly hated him. “I wish I’d never had him,” she cried. I prayed with these women and asked God to enable them to forgive their children so their relationships with them could be healed.
Jesus tells us that if we want our prayers answered, we must forgive: “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).
It’s never too late to honestly ask God to forgive your resentment, lack of acceptance, or failure to love a child. He never asks you to do something without giving you the power to do it. So you can also ask Him to give you His love for these children.
We learn to pray for our children by (1) giving them back to God, (2) forgiving them and (3) loving them unconditionally.
If you are having a hard time liking them, let alone loving them, you might try paraphrasing Romans 5:5 like this: “God, pour out Your love in my heart by the Holy Spirit so I can love with Your love.”
At a time when my children were in college and not exactly serving God, I had a dream that was bigger than life. I saw all three of them sitting at the feet of Jesus in a big, open meadow—talking, laughing and listening to Him. I watched from afar as Jesus wrapped an arm around all three in a group hug. There was such a close, personal relationship flowing between them.
I saw myself back away from the scene as I whispered, “Jesus, I leave them in Your care.” It was so real that I later said it aloud again, “Jesus, I leave my children in your care.”
Did that mean I stopped praying for them? Never. It meant I had moved to a new level of trust in His ability to do with them and for them what I couldn’t.
I’ve lived long enough to see that dream come to pass, as today all three of them have a close, personal relationship with their Lord. After college, when they had each returned to their Christian roots, they attended Bible school. Among the three of them, they have since traveled to four continents doing missions work.
In addition to specifically dedicating your children to the Lord, here are some godly goals you can begin to pray for them. Add others of your own as you find them in the Scriptures.
1. That Jesus Christ be formed in our children (see Galatians 4:19).
2. That our children—the seed of the righteous—will be delivered from the evil one (see Proverbs 11:21, KJV; Matthew 6:13).
3. That our children will be taught by the Lord and their peace will be great (see Isaiah 54:13).
4. That they will learn to discern good from evil and have a good conscience toward God (see Hebrews 5:14; 1 Peter 3:21).
5. That God’s laws will be in their minds and on their hearts (see Hebrews 8:10).
6. That they will choose companions who are wise—not fools, nor sexually immoral, nor drunkards, nor idolaters, nor slanderers, nor swindlers (see Proverbs 13:20; 1 Corinthians 5:11).
7. That they will remain sexually pure and keep themselves only for their spouses, asking God for His grace to keep such a commitment (see Ephesians 5:3,31-33).
8. That they will honor their parents (see Ephesians 6:1-3).
1. Thomas R. Verny, The Secret Life of the Unborn Child (New York: Summit Books, 1981), pp. 19, 20.
2. Francis MacNutt, “Prayers for the Unborn,” Charisma (November 1983), p. 28.
4. Peter Lord, Keeping the Doors Open (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1992), pp. 172, 173.