When I was five-years-old, I fervently prayed for a little sibling. I hated being the youngest in my family. The idea of a having a younger brother or sister sounded cool. I could play with a baby, the old people would stop telling me how cute I was, and there would be someone else to blame for my messes. By God’s grace, my little sister was born. So did God answer my prayer? Did he answer the prayer of a little unconverted preschooler?
How we answer that question has huge implications for how we raise our kids. The answer to the questions shapes how we teach our kids to pray. So…did God answer my prayer?
The answer is:
How Prayer Works
As one theologian said, prayer is “Our response to God as he speaks to us.” Our ability to reach the ear of God is tied to the work of Christ. To cry “Abba Father,” we must be members of God’s family. God listens to our prayers not because we are impressive. He listens to our prayers because we are in Jesus. The Father always hears the prayers of his son (John 11:41-42). Since we are sons with Jesus, we can be confident that the Father hears us as well. When Christians pray to the Father, he does not see dirty sinners. He sees sons redeemed by the death of Christ on the cross (Gal 4:6-7). Our ability to reach God is directly tied to our identification with his son. If we have not died to our sin and if we have not been risen again, then we cannot reach God.
Moreover, prayer is based upon the word of God. Good prayers are passed on God’s Word. We ask God to fulfill his will. Those who do not believe the Word, cannot meaningfully speak to God (I John 5:14-15). Yes, sinners can ask for things selfishly. But, they cannot ask for things according to the scriptures that they have rejected. They cannot respond appropriately to the Word of God.
In short, every unredeemed man, women, and child is unable to access the throne room. They are not sons of God but slaves to sin. Most of their prayers but one goes unheard. So did God answer my prayer? No.
What Do We Tell Our Kids?
Should we every encourage our kids to pray? Yes and no. Yes, it is good for kids to learn how to pray. It is good for them to confess to God that every good gift comes from above. By recognizing God’s authority, they may avoid the prideful boasts that doomed both Nebuchadnezzar and Herod. One went nuts; the other died boasting. Prayers like the following: “I thank you for mommy, daddy, grandma JoJo, the dog, and basketballs, Amen” are good and proper offerings. They help kids understand their relation to their divine creator.
Even more importantly, kids should pray because salvation comes through prayer. When one believes, he cries out to God the Father for salvation through the Holy Spirit. The new believer confesses Christ through prayer. Because prayer plays such a key role in salvation, parents should introduce their kids to prayer. And parents should encourage their kids to pray for forgiveness. Parents should teach equip their kids to cry out to God.
And now for the negative. While Parents should encourage prayer, they must also place biblical limits when and how their kids pray. Because unsaved kids cannot reach the throne room of God, we should not charge them to pray for the family, to pray in church services, or to pray for those in need. We should let unredeemed sinners (even the cute ones) offer prayers for in our stead. God will not hear those prayers. Rather as believers, we should pray alongside or in place of our children for specific requests and needs. And then, we should explain to our kids that Christ only hears the prayers of his children. In short, keeping a proper perspective on childhood prayer will lead to more gospel conversations with our kids.
So did God answer my prayer for a baby sister? The answer is no. But I still have a little sister. What happened? God had planned to bless my family with my little sister. He did in fact work out his plans through the prayers of my mother and other believers. But he did not answer my prayer. I had no part in his divine will. And while it is good for us to teach our kids to pray, we must always remind them that only the sons of God can reach their father.
How do you handle prayer in your family?