“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.” Acts 10:1 & 2
The apostle Luke here describes for us the devout man and the devout family. Notice that it is his house, Cornelius included, that feared God, gave alms, and prayed to God always. There is a close connection between fear of the Lord and prayer. “Fear of the Lord” is an Old Testament expression of reverential trust – the very attitude that we must have in our hearts as we pray. In Psalm 34 David prays, “O fear the Lord, ye His saints: for there is no want to them that fear Him.”
I would like to briefly discuss two aspects of family prayer: preparation and contents.
First, PREPARATION: In I Thess. 5:17 Paul adjures us to pray without ceasing. A very simple command, and one that I am afraid we don’t take seriously enough. Anna, who so rejoiced to have lived long enough to see her Savior, had lived in the temple for eighty-four years, never leaving, but worshiping night and day with fasting and prayer. Of course, that lifestyle is not practical anymore. So, did Paul mean that we should just pray as often as we can? Absolutely not! Prayer should become an inward constant. I’ll never forget the first time I was introduced to that concept. I was riding to school with my teacher, chattering as most first graders do. After a while, my teacher asked me to please quiet down as she was trying to pray. We were driving through Grand Rapids on our way to Adams Street in busy traffic, so I had to wonder aloud how she could be praying if she was watching the road with her eyes open! Mrs. Hoeksema answered with the same admonition as Christ, ‘men ought always to pray.
G. Campbell Morgan in his book The Practice of Prayer teaches: “Preparation for prayer is secured by response in the life to the great facts which make prayer possible.” In other words, he is saying that preparation for prayer is living your life in a way that is harmonious with the truths that you and your church profess. If you read Romans 8:22-28, you can see the truth of this and the great benefits that come from such a life.
So how must a family prepare for prayer? They must live their life in a way pleasing to God. Thus they will be presented with infinite opportunities for prayer.
Which brings me to CONTENT: I would like to borrow from Dr. Howard Lindsell’s book When You Pray as I discuss what the contents of a family’s prayer should be. He lists five main components of prayer. I like this simplicity in connection with such a vast subject. The first is adoration. My parents taught me that I should reserve the word ‘adore’ for when I was talking about God. You don’t adore puppies, you don’t adore ice cream. There should only be one object of adoration: God. That is the purpose for which we were created. Even the heavens declare the glory of God, and as families we should remember to do this in good times and in bad. Practicing this together will be a wonderful blessing.
The second component is thanksgiving. Jesus always thanked God for hearing His prayers, and His is always the perfect example. What must families give thanksgiving for? That is something that each of you should enjoy answering. A good idea would be for each member of the family to make a list. No one is too young or too old to thank their Creator for His many good gifts.
The third component is confession. Confession of sin. The model of true confession is the publican who “standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ Luke promises that if we pray like that we ‘shall be exalted.’ Although we confess to God, not to man, to quote a less exalted source, ‘confession is good for the soul,’ and doing some of our confession with the family – especially of sins that affect the whole family – can be rewarding. It is never too late to confess: look at the thief on the cross next to Jesus. He exhibited the contrite, humble spirit which pleases God when he cried, “Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.” He confessed, asked God to hear him, and heard the only words that he could wish to hear: “today thou shalt be with Me in paradise.”
The fourth component is intercession. Intercessory prayer is expression of one’s love for family members. For example there is the passage in Numbers where Moses prays for God to heal his sister Miriam of leprosy. Or the touching passage in Genesis 17, where Abraham pleads to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before thee!”, and is answered, “I have heard thee.” This is the responsibility of the entire family, but especially of parents, and it is their reward to hear the words, “I have heard thee.” The Syro-phoenician woman who pleaded for her demon-possessed daughter was commended by Jesus Himself for her great faith.
The fifth and final component is petition. I deliberately put it last to make a point. I am afraid that all too often our prayers are 99% petition and 1% adoration, thankfulness, confession, and intercession. But I want to be careful not to take away from the beauty that we have the right to ask God to help in our daily lives. Try to make your prayers 20% petition, 20% adoration, etc. What a privilege petition is! Listen to the prayer of Manoah, Samson’s father, “O my Lord, let the man of God which thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born.” In other words, “teach us how to bring up this boy which is to be born.” Hannah begged in anguish for a son, and was given Samuel; Abraham begged for an heir and was given the covenant promise in return. We too can petition for the smallest need and the Father who knows how many hairs are on our heads will answer fittingly.
“He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And He said unto him, thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.” Acts 10:3 & 4