Several years ago, when our firstborn was still a toddler, my wife and I were discussing our son's faith development. Looking back, that particular conversation was a turning point in our parenting journey.
Our son, Nicholas, was very young (around 2 years of age) at the time, and Karen and I had differing perspectives on how to approach the topic. But the more we talked, we found common ground. That's because we both wanted our son to have a strong and vibrant faith.
A strong and vibrant faith. Arriving at this common goal was the easy part, but how to get there? My wife and I were raised in Christian homes, and for that we are very grateful. But we also knew that our heritage was far from perfect. Because my wife and I both worked with at-risk kids, we saw how good intentions are not enough if you don't act on them.
Where we landed that day as a couple became a foundational principle for our family. That principle: Pursue Christ. Pursue Him openly and transparently. Live in such a way that throughout the highs and lows of life, others – most importantly our children – would know what it means to serve a God who loves and cares for them and has a plan for their lives.
One of the most important ways our family pursues Christ is through prayer. Prayer is not only a stabilizing factor, but also a catalyst for positive change in our home.
I can't stress enough how important bedtime prayer is for us as a family. It allows us to reflect upon our day. It is also an opportunity to confess our shortcomings before the Lord and a time to acknowledge our need for Him.
Not long ago, our youngest daughter (we have three kids now) experienced a pretty rough day, one filled with not listening to her parents and making really poor choices. That night, as she prepared for bed, she prayed: "Lord, help me to obey better tomorrow. This is what You want and what they want." Her words demonstrated to us how prayer has drawn us closer as a family and closer to our heavenly Father.
Prayer is an area where I feel a particular need to demonstrate leadership as a dad. I find that prayer allows our family to stay humble and contrite before the Lord as we seek him together. Fathers in particular are warned not to exasperate our children (Ephesians 6:4) or disrespect our wife (1 Peter 3:7). (Failing in this area/Ignoring this advice/Ignoring this instruction, we are told, could hinder our prayers.)
A few years ago, our family went through a very difficult time. I was without a job, we'd lost our housing and we had a newborn to boot. Our church offered some assistance, but not being able to provide for my family was very difficult for me.
I felt like God had stripped me of everything, to the point where I was utterly dependent on Him. What did I do? I prayed. We prayed.
Philippians 4:6 tells us, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." I know that a good leader leads by modeling the very behaviors he wants to see in others, and this verse wasn't something to just keep to myself. I wanted my children to know that we serve a God who is more than able to provide for our needs.
So we prayed, and God answered in very tangible ways. Every day we prayed together as a family, and we saw God provide food, shelter and ultimately a job.
Today, whenever we face crises and challenges, we reflect on that difficult time in our lives and we trust God anew to meet our needs and direct our steps.
Renowned Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote, "I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God – it changes me."
This sentiment is at the essence of who we are as a family. I want God to change me. I want God to change my family. We came to a turning point early on as parents, and we decided to purse Christ together.
And that is why we pray.