Prayer in the Home and the Family (message given at a prayer meeting,
by J. J. Dyck)
In Joshua 24:115b we read, „As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,“ and in Hebrews 4:16, „Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.“
When I was asked to speak on the theme of prayer in home and family, and started to think about it, one thing became very clear to me: that I could not lay down rules about the form of such prayer. I think there is no definite instruction from God how to handle this except this: „You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.“ If this commandment, which is central to the message of the Bible and to Christian discipleship, is obeyed in the family, then it is a foregone conclusion that there will be prayer in the family.
What form family prayer takes depends in part on the experience of the parents when they were children and young people, but even more on their faith pilgrimage and the spiritual development they themselves have had since then. This makes it obvious that we cannot mandate a certain kind of prayer for all families. What remains paramount is that, „You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.“ (Matt. 32:37). If this is the case, then each form of prayer is right, as long as it is done honestly and faithfully. And that God alone can judge, because he only can look into our hearts.
However, this must not keep us from setting definite goals for our prayer life; since his disciples also asked Jesus, „Lord, teach us to pray.“ The prayer that he taught them almost 2,000 years ago still includes everything that we need spiritually and physically.
Therefore, it seems to me that if we cannot find our own words in prayer, whatever the reason my be—fatigue, lack of concentration—and therefore pray the Lord’s prayer, if we do it honestly and sincerely, he will hear us and bless us.
Prayer at the table is generally practiced among us as a matter of course. Not long ago I read that someone had said that it was wrong to pray, „Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,“ inviting him for half an hour only, instead of for all time. That is a total misinterpretation of that particular prayer.
Morning and evening devotions can and are practiced in many different ways, too. Again the emphasis is not on the form but on the motive. It should be an honest confession: „As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.“ In doing this let us always remember the main factor is not only praying and attending church, but our daily walk with God. The way we live will be our loudest and clearest witness.
If this is true, then we can consider the Scripture passage of today’s theme: Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need“. This means that we are not to wait until we are in need, until we have come to the end of our own resources. If we do that it could easily happen that because we have neglected prayer for so long, in the hour of need we don’t have confidence to draw near to God.
It is true that Psalm 50:15 says: „Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you.“ But God does not want to be only a last resort, a rescuer in emergencies; we are to come to him in all situations and vicissitudes of life.
In my extensive travels during the years of my societal work in the Mennonite communities in Russia, I had occasion to stay over-night in many private homes. In some of them there were no morning or evening devotions, but that was rare; in most of the homes they had at least one, often both, and in very different ways. I remember particularly one family where a Scripture passage was read and the Lord’s prayer prayed. My bed was on the other side of a thin wall, and I heard the father say, after I had gone to my room: „Children, shall we have prayer now?“ And I heard them kneel and several of the older children prayed. It was obvious that they had a special problem, which they did not care to mention in prayer before a perfect stranger, which I was. And that was right so.
In another home the old grandfather read a prayer from a very old prayer book, which he had probably prayed for the last fifty years. Today some might smile at such a practice. But I felt distinctly that this prayer, too, was pleasing to the Lord. The family listened, standing with reverent expressions on their faces, and the whole atmosphere seemed to say: „God is present among us.“
And so I repeat, the form is not important, but what is important is that the prayer come from the heart, as children come to their father in all honesty and humility. The song says it well: „Jesus, Savior, teach us to pray; breathe your holy Spirit upon us, that we come to the Father as your Word tells us to.“
Let me say yet that family prayers are more intimate and confidential than public prayers in assemblies. But we should not only ask God to bless us at the table, or in the evening when the body is tired, the mind and soul long for rest, but also during the day when our energy level is high. We should continually be in quiet communion with him.
When we are alone and approach God in the solitude of our heart, whether with thanksgiving or bringing the weight of our problems, whether in urgent intercession or in great sadness, whatever the reason, when we come to him in prayer: „Search me, O God, and know my heart,“ then he hears us. At times like these, more than at any other time, we receive the assurance that we are his children. His blessings fill our whole being. Such moments are sacred. Then we pray: „I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and it told Thy love to me.“
The great concern for us parents should be that our children learn to have personal contact with God early in their life. I don’t claim that we can accomplish this; only the Holy Spirit can do that. But it is our duty to be his helpers by word and through example. However weak or incompetent we may feel, we dare not give up; God will always give us strength and wisdom for the task.
dation for family prayer. But personal prayer, too, can take many forms. I read of a man who worked in a coal mine with unbelievers, course men who swore and used foul language. Through his daily contact with them he was tempted to also use language like that. But whenever he was tempted he prayed the song of Martin Luther: „A mighty fortress is our God…“ That gave him strength to stand firm, like a „mighty fortress.“ It was only a song, but it was also a very effective prayer.
And here is another example. A mother had lost her husband and small child in brief succession. She was poor and had to work hard to make ends meet. Sometimes the long ing for her loved ones and the hard struggle for daily necessities, brought her close to despair. Then she often quietly repeated within herself the verse: „Mourn not, when dear ones from us fly; Mourn not when loved ones fondly sigh; And leave us!“ Although these were merely lines from a folk song, they helped her become quiet before God, they gave her strength, and they enabled her to say: „Your way is holy!“
Prayer does not depend on the form, nor on the wording, because God looks into the heart. May he give us the grace that we too, can draw near to him in confidence, each one of us, without exception. The German poet Rueckert says about the need for a father’s prayer: „A father must pray to God daily; Teach me to do my duty as a father in my family.“.
And there is the prayer of the mother. This, too, is so beautifully expressed in the poem:
The purest tone that echoes through the world, the brightest ray that lights up life, the most beautiful flower that ever blooms, the most sacred flame that ever burned, these you will find only where a mother is confidently lifting up her child in prayer.
Through the ages there have been many fervent prayers uttered by martyrs, missionaries, ministers, fathers, and a host of believing people, but the greatest prayer-power has always been that of a mother. Praying mothers—blessed indeed is the home where a mother prays. It is well with that family. There the little ones learn early to put their trust and faith in Jesus. Listening to their simple prayers the angels in heaven must smile and rejoice. That is the beginning, the cornerstone on which, by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, the Christian life can be built, nurtured, and grow.
If there is an old grandfather in the home, or a grandmother, who cannot help much with the work anymore, she can still pray for her loved ones and thus become a blessing for her family. Therefore, let us not become weary in our prayers, whether in the family, in public, but especially in our private life where we meet very personally with our Lord. And here is another poem that expresses it well:
I have built for myself a little chapel at a secret quiet place, where no human ear can hear me.
There I can worship and pray. In times of joyful celebration, when storms rage through my soul, then I hear the clarion call: ‚go to your little chapel.‘ Oft its bell rings jubilantly, at times in sad and mournful tones, a true echo of my heart’s condition. The little chapel that I have built is deep within my heart. Only God in heaven can see it at the sacred hour of prayer. And when I go there for the last time, Then, Lord, please close the door.
Prayer in the Home and the Family (message given at a prayer meeting,