As I was putting two of our sons to sleep, I was praying with our three-year-old on his little toddler bed. He hasn’t yet learned to close his eyes while we pray, and I can feel his intense gaze looking up at me when I pray over him each night.
As I bowed my head, a hollering little voice came from the crib on the other side of the room: “PRAY! PRAY! PRAY!” My other son was so impatient and worried that I would forget him. I could hardly stumble through my prayer with his older brother.
As I heard those earnest cries, tears welled up. That night I realized at new depth that this is the job of every Christian parent. We are to be priests to our children. The priesthood of all believers is not just for theological arguments or proper ecclesiology. It has very practical application for every parent.
Kneel Between God and Your Children
The writer of Hebrews encourages us, “Brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus . . . , let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19, 22). Believers are granted confident, faith-assured access to the throne of God through Jesus — which means we are able to come to God on behalf of others. In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes about this joyful responsibility:
Intercession is also a daily service we owe to God and our brother. He who denies his neighbor the service of praying for him denies him the service of a Christian.
God has placed us in the lives of our children so that we will intercede for them. God placed Moses over the children of Israel for the specific purpose of crying out for God’s mercy upon them (Exodus 32:11–14). In the same way, we ought to plead with God to relent of his wrath against our sinful children. Moreover, just as God foreordained to save Israel through the desperate prayer of Moses, we must trust that God plans to save our children in part through our desperate intercessory prayers.
In those moments when we are pushed to the brink of exhaustion by the obstinate disobedience of our little ones, we cannot become hardhearted and harsh.
Moses himself dealt with ornery, complaining, and disobedient children for forty years. The golden calf incident was perhaps their most poignant act of direct disobedience. In that moment, Moses could have allowed his anger to get the best of him. Instead, he was broken by Israel’s rebellion, and he pleaded for God’s mercy. Parents should be driven to the same merciful intercession.
Teach Your Children to Observe
One of the primary functions of the priests in the Old Testament was to help the people to understand how to obey God’s word. And Moses placed this responsibility upon parents as well:
These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children. (Deuteronomy 6:6–7)
Later in the same chapter, he gives parents the responsibility to pass their faith down to the next generation.
The constant cycles of sin throughout the Old Testament demonstrate Israel’s failure to do this very thing. Fathers failed to teach their sons God’s word. They failed to have sufficient conversations with their children about God’s mighty act of salvation in bringing them out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 6:20–25). Just read 2 Kings. It’s no accident that the kingdom went from the heights of obedience to the depths of depravity in just one generation. Fathers were not passing down the instruction of God, and the results were not surprising.
This fact doesn’t mean we pretend our children are born again if they are not. It does mean that we teach them God’s word consistently and constantly. It is through this word that they will hear the voice of the Holy Spirit summoning them back to God. It is through this word that they will hear the good news of a mighty Savior. It is in this word that they will learn how to obey and glorify God.
Give Your Children Grace
Last and certainly not least, priests mediated the grace of God to the people. They declared the forgiveness of sins. They comforted the people with the grace that God extended to them through sacrifice.
In the New Testament, the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus has made all other sacrifices obsolete. However, that does not mean we, as priests, are not God’s instruments in extending his grace to one another. Believers have the responsibility to “confess [our] sins to one another and pray for one another, that [we] may be healed” (James 5:16).
With our children, we have the blessed opportunity to show them true grace — not cheap grace, but costly grace. Sometimes we parents fall prey to believing that obedience is our only objective. The Bible makes it clear that true grace comes before true obedience (Romans 1:5). Make it your primary goal to demonstrate to your children the costly grace and forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ.
If our heavenly Father is rich in mercy, grace, and love, then our children should see that in us as their parents. Inasmuch we seek to reflect the Father to our children, we become more like our Savior Jesus Christ who came to show us the Father (John 14:8–9).