The most important tool in our parenting toolbox is invisible. As a result, we too often fail to put it into use until the last moment when we’ve tried everything with no success.
I had a husband and wife come to me and share that their five-year-old child refused to remain in bed after they tucked him in. Every night they went through a long routine of repeated encouragement, admonishment, and correction that lasted for upwards of an hour while their son again and again voiced excuse after excuse for why he couldn’t go to sleep. They tried waking him very early, the reward system, looking for the idol in his heart, and even allowed him to stay up late until he wanted to go to bed, only to discover the same result tucking him at midnight. They were at their wits end. “What else can we do?” they lamented in my office with tears. “We have tried everything.”
They were wrong, they forgot the invisible tool at their disposal. I noticed they hadn’t mentioned it and so I asked. “Have you tried prayer?” They were quiet as they dealt with the immediate embarrassment of the moment. After all, no respectable Christian wants to forget prayer. They remembered a few desperate prayers, but admitted that they largely were trying to fix the problem on their own. So I encouraged them with two things. First, God was probably working in their lives through this trial and helping them to learn to depend on him in it. Secondly, they didn’t have to walk alone but could pray and ask God to help them persevere and give their son more immediate rest. We only had one session–the problem resolved itself shortly after they began praying.
I can remember a time a few years back when the strong friendship between my two older daughters began to decline. My oldest daughter started looking to college friends, and even though her sister was 18 months younger and in the same grade, the younger sister was getting left out. I decided to commit the challenge to prayer. I made a prayer card to remind me. It was pretty basic it said, “Pray that God would grow Emma’s relationship with her younger sister Martha.” I prayed for my daughters daily for several months.
Then one morning, reminded by the card, I prayed that God would prompt Emma to invite Martha into her group of friends to help strengthen their relationship. On my way back to my bedroom to get ready for work, I heard Emma in a conversation with her sister though their slightly open door. This is what I heard Emma say, “I feel like we have been drifting in our friendship lately, and I think God wants to grow and strengthen our friendship. I am going to invite you to do some things with my friends.” I was floored and filled with joy for how God answered my prayers.
Not all my prayers are answered, but God has amazed me again and again with how my prayers really do produce results. I’ve seen my children repent of sin, turn to Christ, and find help for their particular needs and situations. We’ve prayed for God to catch them early in their sin – and he has. We’ve prayed that he will help them grow, and he has done that too.
So what about you? How quickly do you reach for the invisible tool of prayer for your family? God is able to help us in our time of need and strengthen us for the trials we are in through prayer. In prayer, you are conversing with the very same God who created the universe and keeps our planet spinning. Not only is he able to do that, he is able to care for us in our little needs. The problem is, we are too self-sufficient and full of unbelief. We trust in ourselves until God allows us to fail, leading us to cry out in desperation for his help.
When one of our daughters was around ten, my wife and I began to notice a serious pattern of sloth in her life. I’m not sure why we picked prayer as the answer. I think I reached back to the parenting tool box without looking and grabbed for a tool. I pulled prayer out, and my wife and I gave it a try. We prayed consistently for God to remove sloth from our daughter’s life and help her grow in diligence. We prayed for a while, but then suddenly one day, after she took initiative to clean the house without being asked. We realized God had completely changed her. Today, she is one of our hardest working kids and doesn’t procrastinate at all, working diligently to get things accomplished. The change was so dramatic that my wife and I see it as a miracle of God. No other tool could have accomplished the same result.
Not every prayer results in the same kind of dramatic change in the circumstance. Sometimes prayer changes us in the midst of our circumstances so that we are better able to minister to our children and guide them effectively. Whatever your challenge, don’t forget to pray. Make a list of all that you want God to do in your life and the lives of your children and pray. Pray believing God is able to do more than you ask (Ephesians 3:20) and that he knows your prayers even before you ask (Matthew 6:8). God won’t answer every prayer to suit our desires, but he will hear every prayer and give us what is best. Prayer is not a last resort, but our greatest tool. Yet because it is invisible, we too often don’t believe it is there until we are forced to trust it. The next time you run into a problem pull out prayer first and then expect God to move.