Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1. 3-9)
How often when praying for those dearest to us do we find ourselves asking God to keep them safe, to make their path smooth, and trouble free? It is all too easy, and very natural since as parents we expend so much time and energy in protecting and nurturing them as they grow! But is it healthy for their growth in faith? I fear not, and this passage from Peter’s letter would suggest otherwise. It is of course very painful for parents to see their children suffer, or drift away from faith in the God whom we believe is yearning over them. I do not wish in any way to minimise how we struggle to bear it when our children are in trouble, or how our own faith is tested in those circumstances.
Nonetheless, we do them no favours if we will not recognise that their lives are outwith our control, that they belong first and foremost to God, and we cannot control his dealings with them! For some parents, this will entail watching a child walk deliberately away from faith, with no guarantee that they will live to see them return. For others it may be a time of physical or mental suffering, perhaps a broken relationship or failure in some cherished ambition or career path. Even for the child whose path appears to be smooth and secure, there is never any guarantee in our sin-sick world that it will remain so, and nothing can be taken for granted.
So how should I pray? Obviously until they come to personal faith in Christ, our prayer will be that God will be at work to remove the barriers to faith, drawing them to himself, and convincting them of his claim to be lord of their lives. We must accept that the paths they take may not be those we would choose. For as long as they deny Christ as lord, their decisions will not be based on seeking God’s will, and how could we expect otherwise? But they are never further from God than anyone else, no less likely to be reached by His love and power, and so we pray with confidence and trust in His saving grace for their conversion.
And for believing children, I think the most important thing we can pray is that God will be at work by his spirit in their lives to create resilient faith. What do I mean? I mean faith which is strong enough to weather storms, to face darkness and hold fast to God’s promises. The kind of faith which is modelled for us in so many places in the bible, by real people who endured struggle and loss and yet trusted in God. Think of Joseph, all those years in an Egyptian prison; or David, on the run from Saul and wondering if his promised kingship was a daydream; or Esther, who put her life on the line for her people, believing that she was God’s instrument at that moment for their deliverance.
This is the faith which Peter tells his readers is being created in them as they face persecution, and is it not true in our own experience that it is only as we face the reality of our own helplessness that we fully learn to rely on God? Am I modelling that kind of faith for my children? If I am serious about praying for my children – and in fact any disciple of Christ – then I need to pray for their trials and struggles, that they would glorify God in and through them by standing firm in their faith. God never wastes our experiences of trouble if we accept them as opportunities to experience and witness to his grace and perfect goodness in meeting our needs.
May we, and those we love, learn to say with the Psalmist:
Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.
Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.
(Ps 27. 13&14)