Roots and wings are the gifts Christian parents pass on to our children. We establish rules, give them responsibilities that build confidence and skill, and water those deep roots with lots of love and prayer, knowing that strengthening wings will soon carry our children away from home, out of reach of our influence and our protection. In my family, there is now one more full-fledged adult as my third son has graduated from college.
In my prayers for the four young men who are so close to my heart, I’m taking my cues from the book of Philippians. Writing from a Roman prison, Paul the missionary church planter tips his hand and opens his heart to reveal Paul the spiritual father. His prayers for new believers and leaders in faraway fledgling churches have fueled my own prayer life as, one by one, my sons leave the nest to make independent lives and decisions in a world very different from the one I encountered at their age.
Prayers for strong marriages, safety on the job, or wisdom in college selection are all good requests from the heart of a Christian mum, but Paul’s three-verse, single-sentence outpouring to God challenges me to lift my sights to motivation and to pray about the drive behind my adult children’s following lives — and to take a careful look at my own.
1. God, please guide their loves.
It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment . . . (Philippians 1:9)
When Paul prayed for knowledge and discernment for the church in Philippi, he may have been concerned about false teachers (Philippians 3:2) or even about the pull of civic pride that could have influenced these Roman citizens to settle for the glory of Rome over the glory of God. He desired that their growing love would be anchored in truth and focused Godward.
While he was in their presence, Paul would have filled them up with knowledge about the nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ; he would have put on display Christ’s humble obedience (Philippians 2:8). Paul had been a model citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:17–21; 4:9), but now they were on their own. It was time to trust that the knowledge he had shared with them would be transformed into discernment in the hearts and minds of newly minted Christ-followers.
Likewise, twenty-first-century distractions from holy living abound, and our adult children need knowledge and discernment to guide their hearts. Agape, the unique love of God, is wild and deep, but it is not vague or sentimental. Discerning love submits to the mind’s critical faculties and the Spirit’s guidance, for, as Stuart Briscoe quipped, “Love may be blind, but agape has twenty-twenty vision.”
As we pray for our children’s love to grow, we must also pray that God would guide them toward worthy objects of love so they will, for example, persevere in loving their wives more than they love their hobbies, and value time with their children more than time with their colleagues. We trust God to give our adult children eyes to see the truth about their own hearts’ affections.
2. God, please guard their integrity.
. . . so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ . . . (Philippians 1:10)
Since the word approve in Greek culture was associated with the purification of precious metals or the verification of currency, Paul’s idea of approval would likely have been shaped by thoughts of authenticity. He yearned for believers who were pure, unmixed, and without alloy — whose lives were exactly as they appeared to be. This integrity of inward motive and outward manner echoes David’s ponderings about holiness in Psalm 24:3–4:
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
Lifting our souls in worship to what is false includes a pervasive idolatry of image that was not even possible in previous generations. In a culture shaped by social media, perhaps we should pray that our adult children will find grace to live in such a way that their real stories and their Instagram stories might be one and the same.
As a parent to adult children, my own integrity is also a concern — and therefore a matter of prayer. Sadly, I am a member of a parental generation that will change its politics, ethics, and even biblical worldview to “stay friends” with our children, demonstrating that we are more concerned about our relationship with our kids than our kids’ relationship with God. When our adult children make bad choices, it will be tempting to strike out onto “the gentle slope, soft underfoot” that C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape recommended as the “safest road to Hell” (The Screwtape Letters, 61). “Well, I think the Bible’s pretty harsh on that one,” we might think. “We really can’t be dogmatic.”
Instead, it is our job to hold fast to our own integrity of belief, no matter how much we long for family harmony. We must leave room for God to work, and pray he will awaken our son’s or daughter’s conscience, trusting that he has not suddenly taken a position on the sidelines of their lives. If we undercut his voice, we get in the Spirit’s way — and sabotage our own pure and blameless walk in the process.
3. God, please grant them fruitful lives for your glory.
. . . filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:11)
The fruit that righteousness produces may be quite visible. In Paul’s case, fruitfulness looked like a long list of new converts, churches sprouting all along his path throughout Europe and Asia Minor, and mentoring relationships that spawned leaders and teachers sufficient for the task of carrying the gospel forward for another generation.
While our own sons and daughters may not be called to lead churches or movements, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they are responsible and well able to produce the fruit of spiritual attitudes and righteous actions. Holding fast to what is good and refusing to sell themselves to what is false, our adult children will “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15), putting on display the humility and moral excellence Christ himself demonstrated. As parents, our rubric for measuring success in our children’s lives must also be subject to this same filter of Christlikeness, as we trust for grace to resist the temptation to adopt cultural definitions of success based on income or influence.
Paul prayed that the lives of his spiritual children would be characterized by right choices and pure motives fueled by an abounding love for God and steeped in sincerity that looks nothing like sentimentality. As my prayers are shaped by the apostle’s, I also want to be one with him in motivation, for while our adult children have great potential to bring joy to a parent’s heart and great fulfillment to our days, the ultimate goal of their lives, as with our own, is “the glory and praise of God.”
As parents who are continually being shaped and stretched by our prayer life, may we join with Paul, with our much-loved children, and with other believers throughout the ages in bringing glory to God through a fruitful life that flows from a heart of love.