Previous article in this series: May 15, 2016, p. 374.
Many have written about the importance of prayer in our personal lives as Christians and for the church of Jesus Christ corporately. In this article we continue a short series on family worship.
Prayer should be central to our family worship, along with the reading and study of the Word of God. The family should routinely be gathered together to devote itself to prayer. Time and application must be given to this important spiritual activity in our homes. Our prayers should never be mere formal recitation of stock phrases, hurriedly uttered before we go off to our daily occupation and activities. Times of prayer must be heartfelt, earnestly seeking the face of God, worshiping Him, and continually giving Him thanks and praise.
The reality of the covenant of God in our homes is experienced in sincere family worship. Prayer is holy conversation with our covenant God through faith in our Lord Jesus. The true godliness of our family is promoted by prayer. The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us that prayer is the chief part of our thankfulness to God. Such gratitude is hardly possible without regular, hearty, zealous prayer to God.
The biblical pattern is morning and evening prayers. Daniel prayed while living in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar. He prayed regularly three times in his own apartment. In the busyness of his life and in the carrying out of his important daily responsibilities, he found time for prayer, realizing the urgent need for it. Many in the palace knew about Daniel’s prayer life. No one could stop him from this practice, not even his persecutors.
It is true that the Christian should be continually praying throughout the day. He should live a life of prayer. Many silent prayers arise from our hearts to God especially as we face various difficult circumstances of life and feel deeply our dependence on the Lord.
But though we may pray many personal prayers during the day, we need also to have set times of prayer with our family. These take on a more formal character, making mention of the great things of God, which the biblical examples of prayer teach us.
The father has a significant role in leading his family in prayer. He exercises his spiritual headship in his home when he leads his family in prayer. Father, by his daily prayers, will teach his children many spiritual lessons. It is often heartening to hear children using the same phraseology of their fathers’ prayers in the home. These prayers will reflect the kind of concerns that father commonly brought to the throne of God’s grace.
Scripture forbids carnal and worldly prayers that reflect the covetousness that is in the heart of man. Many prayers that one hears in public are full of carnal and, at times, even silly and foolish requests. God is not honored by such prayers. The biblical pattern for all prayer shows the lofty and exalted concerns that must always be primary. We must pray for the glory of God’s name, the performance of His sovereign will in the earth, and the coming of His glorious kingdom. Nothing should be more important in our prayers.
What a high calling we have in our homes and families to pray for the church of Jesus Christ among us! We must pray for her faithfulness to the Lord and for her holiness in this ungodly world. We must pray that the Lord will give her boldness and courage in these times of great apostasy. If father’s prayers hardly ever rise above the petty concerns of this life and our own earthly prosperity, how will he instill in his children the consciousness of the greatness and holiness of God and the proper attitude of fear and reverence before Him?
In our family prayers we teach our children to pray for the preaching of the Word in the local church, for the important work of the officebearers of the church, and for peace and unity among the members of the church. In our regular daily prayers we teach our children to pray for the coming of the kingdom. Our prayers must reflect the understanding we have of the greatness and majesty of the kingdom of Christ, and the ardent longing we have in our hearts for the coming of this kingdom.
Many prayers are wrongly uttered for our nation as though America were actually a Christian nation that has God’s constant blessing upon it. How many prayers wrongly equate the progress, success, and prosperity of America with the causes of Christ’s kingdom? Scripture speaks of the great wickedness that abounds in our land and of the coming of God’s righteous judgment on it. Rather, must we teach our children that our hearts are to be set on the majesty and glory of the kingdom of Christ, its perfect righteousness and truth, and its final glorious triumph over all the nations of the world.
In our times of prayer as a family we should teach our children to prayer regularly for the cause of missions, the powerful work of the preaching of the gospel among the nations for the salvation of God’s elect and beloved people. We ought not expect that our children will be interested in this ongoing mighty work of our exalted Lord if we do not speak of these things often in our family prayers.
In the communion of saints we must care for one another and, therefore, pray for one another. Real, godly love and concern for members of the church is kept alive in our homes by daily prayer for those who are going through severe trials in their lives. We as adults can be terribly self-centered in our lives. We need to be ashamed of how much of our daily time and concern and effort is focused on ourselves.
We often have great concern for the success and accomplishments of our children. We take pride as parents in the achievements of our children. But we must show by our prayers that we also have great spiritual concern for our children, for how they live and whether or not they are serving the Lord in their lives. “Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind each esteem the other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things but also on the things of others” ().
We have not yet addressed directly the need for the family to pray for itself and for each one of its members. Our prayer together as a family must be personal. Our Christianity must not be cold and doctrinaire; this leads to the great evil of dead orthodoxy. The personal nature of our Christianity should be revealed in the prayers that we pray together as a family. Husbands must pray for their wives. Fathers must teach their children to pray for their covenant mothers in the home. Mothers must teach their children to pray for their fathers and his uprightness in his daily occupation. Parents must pray that the Lord will keep their children from the temptations and vanities of this world as well as from the wiles of the devil. At times, we must pray for one another by name.
Family worship ought to include daily confession of sin. Parents must be an example of deep humility and real godly sorrow over sin. In the life of the covenant home there are sins committed every day. These must be repented of through prayer. There is no unrealistic ideal in any of our homes. Awful sins can and do appear even in our families. There is the evil of sibling rivalry among the children. Even the smallest children in the Christian home will display sins of pride and anger. At times, they speak evil of one another. Sometimes sins in the family are so grievous that they cause deep divisions and enmity among the members of this family. These sins must not be allowed to continue for days or even years without reconciliation. The covenant home should be the place of intimate covenant fellowship with God and a place of personal love and care for one another. There is great urgency of continual confession of sin in our homes—the sins against God and against one another. If we do not do this, our families will be unable to serve God’s wonderful purpose for the spiritual wellbeing of the members of the family. One of the chief ways intimacy, love, and blessed unity are promoted in the family is through family prayer. We must know how to bring each other as covenant family to the cross of Jesus Christ to find reconciliation to one another, and joy and peace in each other’s fellowship.
A matter that ought to be mentioned regularly in family prayers is the great need for God’s grace to endure the trials of our daily life. When great crises and difficult trials come in the covenant home in the providence of God, these must be the occasion for special prayer. The realization of the deep need for this should arise spontaneously. When there is serious sickness, when accidents happen to family members, the family should pray much together. Death takes away loved ones; grandparents, even parents at times are suddenly taken away. Covenant children so dear to our hearts are sometimes suddenly taken away. These are all traumatic experiences for the family. The genuineness of the faith of father and mother will be clearly manifested in how the family deals with these trials. Prayer keeps the family from falling apart and being overwhelmed with sorrow. Fathers and mothers must lead their children through these, and inspire in them real trust in the Lord.
Do we as parents find our hope, strength, and comfort in the Lord in times of great trials? Do our children experience this trust in the Lord in the depths of their being when they watch the behavior of father and mother? Prayer is such an important part of real trust in the Lord. Our children desperately need this kind of support and encouragement in times of trials.
Finally, we give great encouragement to each other when we continually give thanks to God for each other. Parents give thanks for serious godly children, and children give thanks for devout parents who have great spiritual concern for them and make so many personal sacrifices for them. This strengthens the bond of our covenant homes. Prayer is a wonderful blessing in the believing family.