I have this prayer that I say over each of my kids every night before bed. I’m sure you have something similar. Here’s what I pray over Joshua:
“Lord, thank you for Joshua. I pray that he would sleep really good all night until it’s time to wake up in the morning. (Every parent of young kids holds out hope for this, despite experience!)
“Please protect him. Protect him physically—keep him from sickness and harm.
“Protect his destiny—keep them on track with what you want him to do.
“And protect his purity—keep him pure until the day he’s married and prepare a godly wife for him, even now.
“In Jesus name, Amen.”
I say it just like that every night.
Protect him. Protect him. Protect him.
I say the same exact prayer over my daughters, just switch out the pronouns. I constantly pray for their protection. And not just them. I pray for safety, protection, health, financial stability, comfort for people … all the time.
I pray for my ministry efforts to be successful, even smooth. No distractions or obstacles, Lord!
And if I face trouble? I naturally pray for it to stop! Please let this end, Lord. Please heal, God. Please keep us safe.
I think this makes sense. I think God wants us to ask for his protection and safety. I think he wants us to ask for him to make our ministry efforts successful, don’t you?
But then I read Philippians. In Chapter 1, Paul writes this:
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” —Philippians 1:12–14
If you skipped over it, let me summarize: Paul was shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned and more, and he just said that all of it served to advance the gospel in tangible ways. People received the gospel of Jesus Christ, were transformed and began making disciples.
And then in Chapter 3, he goes further:
“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him … that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” —Philippians 3:8–11
Everything I gain is loss. I just want to know Jesus. Suffering? It’s for his namesake. In fact, I want it, because I want to share in his sufferings so that I can share in his resurrection. In other words:
I have to die if I want to be resurrected.
And then you’ve got the brand-new baby church in Acts 4. Check it out. Peter and John are threatened by the Jewish Council. They’re going to be thrown in prison and beaten or worse. And what is the response of the believers? They pray! Which is what I would do.
Here’s what I would pray:
“Thank you Lord for Peter and John. I pray that you would protect them and us. Protect them physically from now on. Don’t let them get arrested again. Or beaten. Or killed. In Jesus name, Amen.”
That’s not what they prayed.
“Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” —Acts 4:29–30
“Lord, give us boldness to keep preaching no matter what happens.” That was their prayer. And then of course James 1 says that we should consider it joy when we face trials because it tests our faith and develops perseverance (which apparently we’re going to need).
I think praying for God’s protection makes sense, but I have to ask myself: Do I want God’s will more than his protection?
I think praying for success in ministry efforts makes sense, but I have to ask myself: Do I want God’s plan more than his blessing of my plan?
I think praying for safety and protection for my kids makes sense, but as I’m praying those nightly prayers, I have to ask myself: Do I trust God’s plan to develop perseverance in them, even when it includes suffering?
Am I willing to die so that I can be resurrected? Or am I trying to skip the dying part and jump right to the resurrection part?
God, above all else help me know you. No matter the cost. Help me share in your suffering and become like you in your death, so that I might be resurrected with you.