How to Pray Big for Your Child
Three characteristics of prayers God answers, and three characteristics to avoid.
by Will Davis, Jr.
Mariah approached the beginning of middle school as a happy, normal sixth grader. She was a good student, she would be attending her neighborhood school with her best girlfriends, and she was excited about the new adventure. But that all changed on the first day of school. Mariah basically experienced the equivalent of a panic attack. She started crying uncontrollably and inconsolably. Tragically, the scene was repeated almost every day of that school year. Her mother would drive her to school but was often unable to get Mariah out of the car. Other days, Mariah would make a brave attempt to face her school fears, only to spend most of the day in the counselor’s office or crying at her desk. Her new adventure had turned into a nightmare.
During that time, Mariah’s parents did everything they could to help her. They prayed for her and with her. She started seeing a professional Christian counselor, and her school counselor worked with her every day. She also started taking antidepressants.
The next year, as Mariah was about to enter seventh grade, she and her parents agreed that she would try a new school. It was a Christian school with a great reputation. Things started off smoothly enough for Mariah, but within just a few weeks, the panic attacks were back.
Mariah bottomed out in the late fall of her seventh grade year. Her mother, Kathleen, wrote, “It was the most gut-wrenching thing I’ve ever experienced, watching my child just try to slog through such misery. She was crying out to God. She was begging me for help. ... It’s so hard to convey how severe this was. I’m not talking about a bratty kid crying and refusing to get out of the car. I’m talking about true hysterics, rocking, making guttural sounds, etc.”
Things were so bad that Kathleen and her husband drove Mariah to a local psychiatric hospital. They basically told Mariah that if she couldn’t gain control of her fears, they would have to hospitalize her. It wasn’t a threat; these Christian parents really didn’t know how to help their daughter. The drugs, therapy, and prayers didn’t seem to be working.
Mariah reluctantly agreed to give school another try. Kathleen remembers dropping her off and watching her frightened but determined seventh grader weeping as she disappeared through the school’s doors. Kathleen wrote, “I got in my car and started sobbing, and then I prayed for her like I had done every other day. I was praying things like, ‘O God, please help Mariah. Please, please, please. God, I know you hear her crying out to you. Why won’t you help her? Please just help her put one foot in front of the other and make it through the day.’”
And then it happened. Kathleen had a breakthrough. As she sat in her car, praying for God to help Mariah survive the day, she clearly heard God say, “Is that really all you want from me?”
That’s a really good question, isn’t it? How many times have you gone to God in a moment of parental desperation and pleaded for mere survival? How often are we as Christian parents guilty of not asking for God’s best provision but simply his bare minimum? How quickly do we forget while in our foxhole praying that Jesus promised abundant life to his children? Have you ever heard the Holy Spirit say, “Is that really what you want from me?” in response to your prayers?
Kathleen felt the gentle rebuke in the Spirit’s question and decided to go for broke. She wrote, “So I just unleashed. I said, ‘No, that’s not all I want! I want Mariah to be great, not good! I want Mariah to be blessed! I want everyone who knows her to know that your hand is on her. I want everyone who meets my child to know that God has blessed her.’”
And that’s exactly what God did. Mariah didn’t just survive that day, she actually enjoyed it. She was great, not just good. And she’s been great just about every day since. Today Mariah is a happy teenager who is excelling in school. She has friends, dances on the drill team, makes good grades, and serves in her church. And she’s completely off the antidepressants. Mariah is prevailing, not just surviving, because her mother obeyed the leading of God’s Spirit and dared to ask for something big from God.
Pinpoint praying versus no-point praying
How many times have you settled for the “Lord, just help my child to survive” kind of praying that Kathleen wrote about in the last chapter? How often have you mumbled some weak, pathetic prayer in hopes that God would help you or your child just to get by? Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever thought about how ridiculously low we set the bar when it comes to praying for our kids? One would think that we were dealing with the little man behind the curtain who pretends to be the great wizard of Oz, instead of with the holy and creating God of the universe. Why do we frequently ask so little of God when it comes to our kids?
Perhaps you’ve prayed one of the following prayers:
- God, please keep Sally from getting pregnant.
- God, please help Jake to pass math.
- God, please help Timmy not to wet his pants today.
- God, help me and Joe not to argue today about his chores.
While there’s nothing really wrong with this type of praying, it doesn’t ask or require much of God. Do you hear the “Lord, just help us to get by” mind-set of those prayers? It’s as if the parent is approaching a God who is irritated and worn-out by the parent’s constant pestering—as if God might react as we parents do when we’re tired and irritable. But God is not an irritable parent. He never grows weary of our requests to him. And while there is nothing wrong with praying for little things, we should not settle for small answers when God has promised that all of his power is available to us when we ask. And when it comes to our kids—really, they’re his kids—we shouldn’t skimp. We need to pray with focus and not toss up weak and wimpy petitions to our holy God.
I’m talking about the difference between what I call pinpoint praying and no-point praying. We can’t afford to waste our time by praying no-point prayers for our kids. No-point prayers resemble the “God be with Bill” kind of praying that doesn’t ask anything of God. More specifically, no-point praying is:
- Too broad—No-point praying asks God to cure world hunger or save all the people on earth. Broad prayers sound good on the surface but rarely have any real courage or passion behind them.
- Too vague—This is the essence of the “God bless Joe” kinds of prayers. They’re fuzzy and have no real meaning. They don’t really ask anything tangible of God.
- Too safe—No-point prayers don’t require any faith. There’s no risk at all in praying them, because nothing that requires God to act is ever asked of him.
No-point prayers are completely inadequate when it comes to our children. They’re too broad, vague, and faithless to be offered as real prayers for our kids. You and I know our children deserve better. God also commanded us to pray better than that. What he expects of us is pinpoint praying.
Pinpoint prayers, as opposed to no-point prayers, have clear purpose, direction, and focus. They’re the kind of prayers that honor God the most, and they’re the kind that you and I want to be praying for our children. Pinpoint prayers are:
- Biblical—Pinpoint prayers are deeply rooted in God’s Word. They have authority because they flow right out of what God has already told us he is willing to do. There’s no guesswork in pinpoint praying. As a parent, you just take the world’s greatest prayer script (the Bible) and use it as your guide for what and how you pray for your kids.
- Specific—There’s nothing vague about pinpoint prayers. They’re typically short, direct, and to the point. Consider Jesus’s petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. His requests for God’s name to be glorified and for God’s provision, protection, and forgiveness are all very specific and focused. There’s nothing broad or uncertain about them. Pinpoint praying requires you to think through what you want God to do, build the case for it biblically, and then say it in the most precise and deliberate way possible to God. No flowery language, no King James English, and no long or theologically loaded phrases are required with pinpoint prayers. Part of their power lies in their directness.
- Bold—Pinpoint prayers don’t mess around. They don’t dance around an issue, hoping that God will get the hint and come through with a miracle without us really having to ask for one. Pinpoint prayers walk right up to God’s throne and plead for his best, for his kingdom, and for his favor in our lives and the lives of our children. This is not weak-willed praying. Can you think of any area where boldness, courage, and faith are more appropriate than in prayers for your kids?
Prayer is the most significant form of communication that humans, specifically parents, can engage in. When a Christian talks to God, all the power of heaven is at play, and cultures, nations, and history lay in the balance. For parents, talking to our kids is critical; talking to God about them is even more so. Ask God to equip you to believe and expect big things of him in prayer. Ask God to show you how to pray big, hairy, audacious prayers for your child.
Adapted excerpt from Pray Big for Your Child by Will Davis, Jr. © 2009 Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by Permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.
Will Davis, Jr., is the founding and senior pastor of Austin Christian Fellowship, a nondenominational church in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Pray Big, Pray Big for Your Marriage, and Why Faith Makes Sense.