Dear radio friends,
Today we conclude our series on love for strangers, love for the brethren, and love for children by considering the subject of prayer. So much more could be said, of course, on this entire series, but today, as we conclude this series, especially on godly Christian parenting with regard to love for our children, I can find no better way than to call our attention to prayer.
I do so by asking you to consider a passage of Scripture out of the Old Testament, in II Samuel 12, a rather touching narrative, a record of history that even our children are familiar with. David, you remember, had fallen into the double sin of adultery with Bathsheba and then of the murder of her husband Uriah. God then sent Nathan the prophet, who complained of a rich man who cruelly treated his poor neighbor — even killed his pet ewe lamb. When David the king heard that, he responded in anger, swearing that that rich man must die. Then he hears those words: “Thou art the man!”
David was brought to repentance by those words. And he prays, then, for this child, and he hears the pronouncement of God’s judgment that the sword will never depart from his house because he had murdered Uriah. You read of that history in II Samuel 12:10ff. David is told that God would take his wives before his eyes and give them unto his neighbor, there will be such havoc and embarrassment in his home, and even the taking of his own son. David cried out (v. 13): “I have sinned.” And Nathan said, “The LORDalso hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” There was first that warning that he must come under the judgment of God. But, in his repentance, he is assured that God has forgiven him and that he will not come under God’s wrath. But still, that child who was born out of adultery and murder must die.
Why? Does not God forgive? Why should there be then this consequence? David is told in verse 14, “Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme.” Though he repented, he had to face the consequences of his sin.
What does David do? What do you and I do when we face consequences on account of our sins, consequences also of our weaknesses in child-rearing? Perhaps we have not loved the stranger. Perhaps we have not loved the brethren. Perhaps we have not loved our children the way we ought. We are sinners. But what do we do now? You know what David did? He turned to prayer. I call your attention now to praying for our children.
Why did David pray? Verse 15 tells us why. “And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.” Did you notice that? The Lord Himself, as He had said through Nathan, struck the child. This one verse summarizes it all. The child was David’s all right. But the wife was Uriah’s. And the Word of God warns us everywhere: Marriage is honorable, the bed undefiled; but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge (Heb. 13:4). David had taken another man’s wife. And in an attempt to conceal that adultery, he had even ordered the death of Uriah her husband in battle. Though he had found repentance, and though he now had married Bathsheba, the child is very sick.
Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Gal. 6:7). Do not those words ring in our ears every time we hear God’s law in Exodus 20:5 that God visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him? This was very painful for David. He must have asked (as I am sure we ask), “If God forgives me, then why, why, why all these troubles in my home and why all these afflictions even from my own children?” We recall the sins of our youth, and we see the sins of our children. Perhaps we ourselves have committed fornication, and we cry out and groan within when we see our children sin the same sin. Perhaps we have a terrible temper, and that temper gets out of control in our home, and we see the violence in our own sons and daughters and we cry out, “What can we do?” So we go to counselors and to pastors. I submit to you, on the basis of God’s Word today, there is ultimately only one thing we can do: Cry to God; pray! Oh, yes, we may need counseling. Perhaps we need to go to the preacher, perhaps we need some help. But let us never, never forget to pray! And then to pray for these children!
Therefore, we read in verse 16: “David … besought God for the child.” This action of David shows clearly that when he said “I have sinned,” he was truly repentant. In fact, here is the true test of repentance. Not, “OK, I am sorry, but only if things turn out good for me. OK, I’m going to say ‘sorry’ so I can avoid all the consequences.” Look at David. He could have said, “No way, O God. If Thou art merciful, and if Thou forgivest me as the prophet said, then why must Thou take this child?” Instead, when Nathan returned to his house, David went to his own chamber to pray.
Had not God said clearly through Nathan that the child shall surely die? Then the question is: Why then pray? Some say that David did wrong in praying for the child. They are mistaken! Of course David prayed for the child, even though he was warned that this child would be taken away in death. For let us remember the purpose of prayer. The purpose of prayer is not to change the mind of God. The purpose of prayer is not to impose our will upon God. If that is the case, then why pray “Hallowed be Thy name”? Is not God always holy? Why pray “Give us this day our daily bread”? Does not God faithfully give to us our daily bread? Why did the Lord Jesus Christ pray, before He went to the cross: “If it be Thy will, remove this cup from Me”? Why did godly Hezekiah pray when he was told to set his house in order because he was going to die? He wept. In II Kings 20 we read that his life was extended, in fact, for fifteen years. For it was in that way of prayer that God revealed His will to Hezekiah. God would have us pray. For in the way of prayer He will teach us to submit to His will. David prayed because he will now beseech God for the child. To whom else could he go? This grief-stricken, repentant man-after-God’s-own-heart, who wrote Psalm 51, must have cried out, “O God, I realize this child was shapen in iniquity, and in sin was he conceived. But let not my sin be on this child.” I am sure he prayed that! “If I must lose this child by the hand of Thy chastisement, then so be it. But let God, in His mercy, deliver this child in grace unto glory.” Oh, maybe he even prayed, “Lord, extend the life of this child that we may enjoy him for yet a few days.” We do not know exactly his prayer. But we know that he besought God. He cried to God.
And so must we pray for our children.
How exactly did David pray? And how must we pray for our children? In the rest of this passage of II Samuel 12, you will notice what David did.
We read in verses 16ff. that David fasted and went into his own house and lay upon the earth seven days. He did not go into the temple. We read in verse 20 that he did later wash and go into the temple. But now he went to his own house and he lay upon the earth. Picture that in your mind. We are talking here about a king. I know he had sinned. No matter, he is a king of Israel, and he is lying on the earth. Why? Because he realized there is a King to whom he is accountable — the King of kings, the King of heaven and earth, the Judge.
And he prays for the child. Whatever that prayer was we are not told. But he besought God, that is, he begged God. He searched his soul before God.
I ask you, fellow parents, today: Have you ever had reason to pray for your child that way? Have you ever had reason, because of some terrible sin or chastisement, to cry to God seven days, lying upon the earth, crying to God? Why not? We fill the ears of our fellow man, do we not, with sorrows and difficulties and complaints about the difficulties we have with our children. Perhaps even we fill the ears of our elders in the church, asking them for help. I ask you today, Have you prayed the way David prayed: crying to God, lying upon the earth as if in mourning, and with fasting?
And the elders arose, we read in verse 17, and went to him to try to raise him up from the earth. These servants were concerned that he would not eat, he would not drink. This was not just for an hour or two. Seven days it went on. I ask again, Have you ever cried to Jehovah that way for the children whom God has given to you, especially for erring children or children who are diseased or who have some difficulty and you do not know where to go to turn for help? You go to Jehovah, seeking His mercies.
We should always pray for our children, always as we raise them in the fear of God. But in light of this passage of Scripture, the way we should pray is the way of humility, recognizing before God that very often their sins and their weaknesses are the very ones that we have. Instead of regretting the past or being hard on ourselves (and on them), we must spend time praying. I acknowledge to you that my wife and I (with eight children) have had occasion to cry out to God. This is not the place to go into any details. But our children, too, are not perfect. And our parenting also has not been perfect. There have been times that we have had just to set aside time, go to a quiet place, and spend twenty-four hours doing nothing but just crying to God, talking about our children, opening the Scriptures, meditating, and just praying for those children.
Verse 18 of this passage tells us that the child died. The death sentence came. It was cold, it was sharp, it was real. The servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead, for they said among themselves, “While the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken.” Now they did not know what to do because they thought, “What will happen to our king if we tell him this? He will be so distraught.” But you see, the reason they did not know what to do was because they did not really understand David. In their mind, all David wanted was that this child should live, no matter what. They were wrong.
When David saw his servants whispering, he perceived that the child was dead (vv. 19ff.) So he approached them and asked if the child was dead. They said, Yes. As soon as he heard that the child was dead (v. 20), he “arose from the earth.” And what did he do — go see if his child was really dead? Cry to God day and night because the child was now dead? Become angry? Become bitter? No, we read instead that he immediately “washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshiped.” That was the first thing he did — even before eating and drinking. He had not eaten, you know, for seven days. The first thing he did was to go into the house of God and worship.
It reminds me of Job. He lost so much! He lost all his children. When his wife said, “Curse God and die,” he rebuked her and said, “Nay, the Lord giveth, the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
We read in verse 21, “Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done?” While the child was yet alive, you were mourning and sorrowful. Now that the child is dead, you carry on with life — you go on as if everything is OK.
David responded (vv. 22ff.): “While the child was yet alive, I besought God, for who could tell whether God would be gracious unto me. But now that he is dead, wherefore shall I fast? Can I bring him back again? No.” He would submit to the will of God. He knew that all the prayer and all the fasting will not bring back this child. So he submitted to the hand of God, as also we must, and he worshiped God.
David said, “I shall go to him but he shall not return to me.” What did he mean by that? Having prayed, he had this confidence, that though the child will not return to him, yet he will go to the child. David did not merely mean that he would someday die and join his son in the grave. He meant, rather, that he was sure that when he would go to heaven, he would find his son there. The child shall not return to David on this earth; David would not have the privilege and blessing to bring up this child here on earth. But he was confident of God’s forgiveness and God’s promise to save him and his seed. “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). That confidence in God, that He is a calling God, that He is the covenant-keeping God, that He is the sovereign God who will save whomsoever He will — David knew that already in the Old Testament. Though he had sinned, he had reason to believe that, in the way of repentance, God will establish His covenant.
Oh, if God had not sent the prophet, and if David had not repented, then David would have no reason to have this confidence. Parents who continue in sin impenitently, who do not raise their children in the fear of God, or people in the church who do not faithfully do the work of missions — they must not have confidence that God will bless them, and they must not have confidence that God will establish His covenant with them and with their children and children’s children.
But, beloved, if we faithfully carry out covenant instruction and faithfully carry out the work of missions, then we may trust God that He will call whomsoever He will, that He is the covenant-keeping God, and He is faithful. In regard to believing parents, repentant of their sins, I say to you, however imperfect we may have been, we have no reason to doubt that God will save His own elect in the line of generations. Even our own sins cannot stop Him. He may chastise us, sometimes very severely. But His covenant He will keep. His seed He will save. And, ultimately, of course, our confidence and hope is in Him, that He will keep His elect, even His own whom He has chosen from before the foundation of the world.
The question for us is: Do we exercise ourselves in the godly calling of missions and in the godly calling of covenant instruction? And do we exercise ourselves in the holy and blessed gift of prayer? We might rise up early and sit up late eating the bread of sorrows, but we know that except the Lord build the house, we labor in vain that build it (Ps. 127:4). We know that that psalm speaks of children as the heritage of the Lord. And in the work of missions we must not be so foolish as to think, as some do, that God does not continue His covenant with believers and their children. These children are a precious heritage of the Lord. I often say in my preaching and teaching that if we become so busy in the work of missions and forget to raise up our own children in the fear of God, then we are like a castaway and we are foolish, because how can a man do missions when he cannot even perform the mission of raising his children in the fear of God?
We must pray for missions. But we must pray also for our children. We must pray daily, fervently, frequently, humbly, seeking day and night for God’s promises to be established with us and with our children. For God promises to thousands of them who love Him and keep His commandments that He will show His mercy (Ex. 20:6). We do not deserve it, but God in His mercy will save us and our children.
Let us raise our children then in the fear of God, committing them to God and to His care. Let us bring our children for baptism. Let us urge our older children to make confession of faith. Let us lead them in the way of godliness. And all of that with a constant dose of prayer. Pray for our children. Pray with our children. Pray in such a way that we bring our children to the house of prayer constantly and faithfully so that they will with us learn to know and have that awesome place of prayer.
Why pray for them? Because, like David, we too have sinned with serious consequences in our lives. Because they, too, like us, are sinners. How shall we pray? We shall humble ourselves, with fasting if necessary, acknowledging before God and beseeching Him for His mercies. With what confidence shall we pray? With this confidence, that our covenant God will keep His own elect and will save His children in the line of generations, also of those who are afar off.
Scripture teaches us (Heb. 13) that we must let brotherly love continue. And it tells us to entertain strangers, for some have entertained strangers unawares. It goes on to tell us to pray even for those who are in bonds. It tells us that the marriage bed is undefiled. You see, the Scriptures are one unity. They point to a balance, that we must love the brethren, we must love the stranger, we must honor marriage, and we must raise covenant seed in the fear of God. Let us not be unbalanced. Let us remember that we must love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and then love our neighbor as ourselves. We are not able of ourselves, so we should be abiding in Christ and crying to God in prayer that God be merciful unto us.
We conclude our series with this reminder: We were strangers ourselves; God delivered us; let us love the stranger, even our enemies. But then, let us not forget to exercise that love one with another. Let us show hospitality one to another, walking in love for one another, that the world will know we are His disciples. Then let us also begin right in our own homes by loving our children, rearing them in the fear of God, showing them pity, giving them the discipline that they need — and all of that, whether it is for the stranger or the brethren or the children, with prayer to God.
God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us, that His saving help might be made known to the nations. That was the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 67:1, 2. Let us reach the nations with that same prayer. May God hear our prayers and may God teach us to love the stranger, to love the brother, and to love our children.
Let us pray.
We thank Thee, Father, for the privilege that has been given to us that we might bring the Word of God regarding love. Father, Thou art love, the fount of love. Work in our hearts that, through Jesus Christ, we might be found abounding in that love. Hear our prayers, for Thy glory, for our blessing, and for the love of Thy children everywhere. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.