Continuing In Prayer (part 2)

But who will pray? Does it matter who prays? Yes, it matters. The head of the household should pray. Usually, this is one of the parents. Ordinarily, fathers should lead in prayer at home. In general, this is good. But it is not an iron rule. Here’s why. The scriptures speak of the husband as the head of the wife and the head of a family. This is the spiritual calling of all husbands, but we don’t see the calling fulfilled in all men. In some families, the husband and father simply does not respond to God’s call, but the wife and mother does respond to the call. In this case, she should exercise spiritual leadership. If her husband does not object, she should lead the family in prayer. When a father is absent, whether at work or on a trip or in families where the parents have separated or divorced, the mother of the children becomes the spiritual head of a household. She should lead the prayers.

It is important that the head of the household lead in prayer, because the other members of the household must know that the head of the household acknowledges God’s lordship over everyone.

It has become a practice in some families to ask children to pray before meals. Yes, it’s good for

children to learn to pray in families and sometimes to say the prayer before the meal. In a previous post I wrote about the responsibility of parents to teach children to pray. But here I would like to add a warning to parents. Teaching children to pray should not become an excuse for parents to become lazy or negligent in leading their families in prayer. Parents, it is not simply your responsibility to teach children to pray but in fact for you to pray with your children, to give your children an example of how a father or a mother speaks to God. Children should not be asked to bear responsibility for spiritual leadership in a family. This is the responsibility of the head of the household.

It is a pleasant thing to sit at a table to hear a child thanking God in prayer. We enjoy knowing that children from a young age are learning the truth about God. But we need to be mindful that children often perform such acts because they have learned that parents and other adults are pleased by them. To a child, praying before a meal may seem like coming home from school with a good report card. It is a matter of a good performance. Prayer is not a performance to impress God. Prayer is a conversation for cultivating our relationship with God. Children need to regularly witness the fact that their parents are seeking to listen to God and speak to God in the words of their prayers and the example of their lives.

You might ask, “Why would a parent become lazy about leading the family in prayer?” Here’s why. As parents we grow tired and discouraged. Parents shoulder heavy responsibilities at work and at home. They often become exhausted. If I did not have a good day at work, if I am out of work, or if I feel my means of employment is threatened, if my wife has not spoken to me or acted toward me the way I wish she would, if my children have been squabbling with each other, it can be hard for me to find the words to thank God. At the end of the day, when I am hungry and tired, I might not be feeling grateful for all my blessings. If I have spoken any unkind words to anybody in my family, I may feel I am a hypocrite when I try to pray with my family, and I want to avoid feeling the shame of thinking and feeling that I am a hypocrite. That is when I can be tempted to start the meal without saying thanks to God or to ask a child to say a prayer instead of praying myself. And it can easily become a habit to ask children to prayer because parents may be chronically stressed.

Nobody sees our shortcomings of husbands and wives better than we ourselves. Seeing our shortcomings discourages us from accepting the responsibility of spiritual leadership in our families. When we see our shortcomings, we can easily back out of our responsibility to pray with our families, or we can fake it, by mouthing prayers that sound good but don’t come from our hearts. When we do this, we are treating prayer as a performance, not as a conversation with God. It would be as if a child said a beautiful prayer, and after saying “Amen,” turned and whacked his little sister on the head with a stick.

Instead of backtracking on prayer because of our shame about our hypocrisy, let’s be encouraged to continue by remembering that praying before a meal can be a time not only of thanking God for blessings, but also of confessing our sins to God, expressing the fact that he loves us, even when we speak unkind words to one another, even when we squabble, even when we appear to be hypocrites. Praying can begin to set right the wrongs we do to one another in families. So there are good reasons for parents to lead their families in prayer even when conflicting thoughts discourage us.

In the next posting we will continue our discussion about praying in families.

Donald Marsden

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1 reply
  1. JoAnn Armistead
    JoAnn Armistead says:

    Donald, the point you make about parents being imperfect in prayer is huge! I think God uses this in a very strategic way though. We will always be better at praying when we are more humble! How can we pray if we think we’ve got it all together? It is so valuable for our children to see us confess sin and admit struggle. Prayer is a great way for this to be seen. When I look back to when I had young children, I know it would have been better if I had prayed with them more and talked to (lectured?) them less.

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