How to Prioritize Family Prayer as a Leader

A Signature of the Christian Home

One of the most obvious signs of the primacy of God in the Christian home is prayer. Yet prayer usually does not happen naturally. We must make it happen. I had wanted to write “Take time to pray” here; instead, I am saying, “Make time to pray.” We must proactively pursue the priority of prayer in the home and somehow make the time for it.

The most basic type of prayer in a home is individual prayer in private. This is the context Jesus used when he wanted to teach about genuine prayer. He said, “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6). During this time, we pray for our family members, as I have mentioned above. The habit of individuals being alone and praying to God is a signature of a Christian home.

The habit of individuals being alone and praying to God is a signature of a Christian home.

When I was a child attending a Bible camp with my family, I heard Herbert Epp speaking about his father, Theodore Epp, the founder of the Back to the Bible broadcast. He said that there were times when his father would be in his room with the door closed. The children knew that he should not be disturbed during these times because he was praying. I have a similar memory of my mother and grandmother. When I went to stay at the home of my grandparents, sometimes I would need to use the restroom early in the morning before dawn. I had to go through my grandparents’ room, and I would see my grandmother kneeling in prayer beside her bed with her head covered. It was the same with my mother, whom I would see on her knees every morning.

I believe praying is the most important thing we do on earth. Our children recognize this when they observe the seriousness with which we approach the task of praying. This encourages them to respect and honor God.

Mothers with little children often struggle to make time for concentrated periods of prayer. They need to use their creativity to find suitable times. I once asked a young friend who had two little children how his wife was finding time to pray. He told me that when the children fell asleep in the afternoon, she would immediately pounce on the opportunity to have her time alone with God.

Children must know that their parents devote time to prayer because God is important to them. Unconsciously, they imbibe the idea that personal prayer is an important aspect of life. This becomes an incentive for them also to become people of prayer. Once “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1). That question prompted Jesus to give them the Lord’s Prayer (vv. 2–4). Seeing Jesus pray gave the disciples a desire to become people of prayer.

Praying Privately, Praying Together

The first fourteen chapters of Acts give us a glimpse of the life of the early church. There are twenty-two references to prayer in this section, and most of those are instances of corporate prayer. If corporate prayer is so important to church life, it must surely be important in the most basic unit of the church—the family.

The habit of couples praying together regularly and parents praying with their children is an important aspect of the identity and stability of the family. We should also pray together at important family events and when the family faces challenges. The family should recognize that prayer is not just a ritual that is performed at birthdays; rather, it is an important aspect of the celebration. Praying before the start of a long journey or before a family member leaves for an important event helps mediate God’s blessings for the journey or the event. It also establishes that God is the One from whom we get our help at important times.

When children grow up, they will not forget that their identity and security as children were wrapped up in praying to God. Sometimes, when they go through a rebellious stage and are tempted to give up the faith, the pleasant memories of these moments with God as a family may make it difficult for them to abandon the faith of their childhood. Even if they do abandon it for a time, these memories could trigger a return to God. I am sure you know of children who have turned their backs on God but who nevertheless ask their parents to pray when they have a special need.

The Family Life of a Christian Leader

Ajith Fernando

This book speaks to a common struggle Christian leaders face—balancing ministry and family priorities. Ajith Fernando equips leaders to cultivate a God-centered home, covering topics such as disciplining children, dealing with disappointment, and more.

It goes without saying that family prayer should not be legalistic, burdensome, or boring. Parents must do all they can to use their creativity to make it interesting and pleasant: one of those happy things parents and children do as a family. We should try to develop ways for the children to be meaningfully involved during the prayer time.

When our children were young, we would first discuss things about which we should pray. Then I would ask, “Who’s praying for what?” That became a source of laughter in the home, but also a practice that helped involve the children in the prayer time. Of course, the children’s needs have an important place in this prayer time. The fact that they know they can bring those needs to the family and pray about them becomes a major source of security for them.

A Necessary Alteration

Again, let me say that, no matter how interesting we make the family prayer time, it is not natural for families to meet regularly for prayer. It is best that one person takes upon himself or herself the responsibility to ensure that the meeting takes place. When the children are young, the father or the mother could take on this role. As the children get older, one of them could be given this responsibility. This principle is also important for couples with no children or whose children have left home. It is sad that many Christian couples today do not have a regular time of prayer together. This must change!

This article is adapted from The Family Life of a Christian Leader by Ajith Fernando.

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