“Family worship” is a term we use a bit loosely for our dinner table devotions each night. My husband usually reads some Scripture, one of the kids prays for a neighbor or someone from church, and we all sing the Doxology together. The highlight for my two boys is to compete in levels of silliness, especially when it comes to singing. There are many corrections, plenty of spills and messes, and lots of laughter.
Our boys are learning to pray, and sometimes it’s hard not to chuckle at what comes out of their mouths when it’s their turn to address the Almighty. One child starts all of his prayers in the middle of a sentence without any greeting or “thank you,” while the other child focuses exclusively on supplication for going outside to play.
Next to the table, we keep a coffee mug full of popsicle sticks labeled with names of our friends and church members, and there’s usually an argument over whose turn it is to select a popsicle stick for prayer. When we ask our kids what they think people need to have prayed over them, we get a lot of comments about health, material needs, and happiness. Though we do acknowledge and pray for pressing needs in those areas, we want to teach our children to pray for what people need the most.
As we’ve worked through how and what to pray with our boys, we’ve landed on a very simple request that can apply to any person we commit to pray for. It’s simple enough that our kids can remember it, but it cuts to the heart issue in that we can pray it for both our saved and unsaved family, friends, and neighbors: “Lord, may they treasure Christ the most, follow Him faithfully, and know they are loved by Him.”
Our simple prayer is based on Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesians 3. Paul prays that the believers in Ephesus would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19).
For the names on the popsicle sticks that love and follow Christ already, we are essentially praying that those believers continue in faithful Christ-following. Praying for believers to “treasure Christ the most” means we pray that the pull and allures of the world will not gain traction in their lives and that Christ will be more glorious and satisfying to them than anything else that life has to offer.
In order for them to see Him this way, we believe that Christians need regular exposure to the Word of God to reorient them to His character. So, in praying for them to treasure Christ more than anything, we’re praying that they would seek Him regularly in His Word.
As we pray for them to “follow Jesus faithfully,” we’re praying that the profession of faith they’ve made in Christ will touch every facet of their lives and that the world will know they belong to Christ. And in praying for them to “know they are loved by God,” we are praying for confidence in God’s approval and love for them, a confidence that is rooted in Christ’s work at the cross. Paul calls that being “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19).
When my husband and I pray, we flesh out these branches of the main prayer, but our children are learning what it means to treasure Christ, follow Him, and know they’re loved by Him in very basic terms.
For the names on the popsicle sticks that do not know or profess Christ, we pray the same thing but with a different lens. “Lord, may they treasure Christ the most.” Here we pray that God would open their eyes to see their need for a Savior, and that they would believe the gospel of Jesus. If they have not been made alive in Christ already, then this is their greatest need. While we are concerned for health or financial issues, our main concern is their spiritual state before God
When we pray for unbelieving friends to “follow Him faithfully,” we’re still praying for their salvation. We’re praying that they would come to saving faith in Christ that profoundly changes the way they live their life. We’re praying that Jesus would become everything to them, that He would fully encompass their lives.
And when we pray for them to “know they are loved by Him,” we are praying they see God’s kindness and love in sending Christ to save people from their sins. We are praying they understand that God has showed us what real love is in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (see Rom. 5:8).
Rooted in Scripture
Dinnertime devotions continue to be a loud, messy affair in our house. But I believe that, between the spaghetti splatters and the off-key singing, God is doing good work. His Word applies to our simple family prayers for the people we love.
We don’t have to dumb down or oversimplify important facets of Christ-following just because our children are children. Using the Bible as our compass, we can teach them to pray like Paul, to proclaim the gospel like Peter, to wrestle with discipleship like John, and to sing like David.
The prayers we pray around our dining room table can and should be rooted in Scripture. They should give our children the language of faith, hope, and love that they need as they themselves learn what it means to treasure Jesus the most, to follow Him faithfully, and to know they are loved by God.
Our sons recognize the words because we pray them over each boy before bed every night. Sure, we still pray for hurt feelings, upset tummies, and scary storms, and we certainly encourage our children to pray from the heart. But through Scripture, God has given us the language we need so that even our prayers from the heart can be rooted in His desires, His will, and His kingdom. He has graciously given us what we need to pray for our deepest needs, and He is pleased to work things for good for those who love Him.