Wrestling for our Children’s Souls
By LESLIE LUDY
Hudson Taylor — one of the most world-changing missionaries in history — wasn’t always passionate about God. In fact, at one point in his life, he was a floundering, wayward teen with no real interest in spiritual things. His mother — a devoted Christian — was greatly burdened for the state of his soul. As the years went by and Hudson remained spiritually indifferent, she felt a strong desperation to cry out to God for her son’s salvation and see the power of the Gospel change his life. One day, when she was away from home staying with a friend, she felt especially pressed to wrestle in prayer for Hudson. She knelt by her bed and determined not to rise from the spot until she was confident that her son’s soul had been won for Christ. Hour after hour she pleaded for Hudson, until at last she could pray no longer, but knew in her heart that the victory had been gained. Christ’s Spirit made it clear to her that her son had come into the Kingdom of God that very day. Upon her arrival home several days later, Hudson met her at the door to tell her the joyful news that he had given his life to Christ the very same afternoon that she had wrestled for him in prayer. (See A Retrospect, by Hudson Taylor.)
It is amazing to realize how many countless lives were eternally impacted as a result of this faithful mother’s diligent prayers. This heroic woman vigilantly fought and won battles for souls — beginning with her own children.
In my book Set Apart Motherhood, I quoted these powerful and convicting words from R.A. Torrey:
Oh, mothers and fathers, it is your privilege to have every one of your children saved. But it costs something to have them saved. It costs your spending much time alone with God, to be much in prayer, and it costs also your making those sacrifices and straightening out those things in your life that are wrong; it costs fulfilling the conditions of prevailing prayer. And if any of you have unsaved children, when you go home today get alone with God and ask God to show you what it is in your own life that is responsible for the present condition.
Many readers were inspired, as I was, by this spiritual charge to fight for the souls of our children. But some balked at the challenge, arguing, “We as parents can’t choose for our children — God gave them their own free will! That’s too much responsibility to put on a parent’s shoulders!”
Yes, it’s certainly true that our children must choose the Gospel for themselves, and that we as parents cannot make that decision for them. However, that does not mean we should sit passively by and just hope that they end up choosing the right path. Rather, God calls us to fight diligently and passionately for the souls of our children. As R.A. Torrey said, we have the privilege and commission from God to see each one of our children give their lives to Jesus Christ. And though we cannot choose salvation for them, as mothers our decisions and actions will have a direct impact upon the direction of their spiritual life.
In recent decades, there have been multiple studies revealing that a startling number of Christian teens and college students are abandoning their faith. Most of these young people grew up in Christian homes. And yet, when they enter the “real world” of high school, college, or the secular work force, the powers of doubt and darkness often pull them away from Christ. The Bible says it doesn’t have to be this way (see Proverbs 22:6), but it requires vigilance and effort on our part. Instead of passively letting these years go by, we are to be like diligent soldiers, fighting on our knees for our children’s souls.
Proverbs 31:10 says “Who can find a virtuouswoman?” The word virtuous in this verse means “valiant, mighty, and strong”. It’s a warfare term — the same word used to describe the valiance of King David when he put alien armies to flight through the power of God. In other words, a godly mother is not passive or spiritually weak. Instead, she is armed and ready for spiritual battle. In Proverbs 31:27 it says that she “watches over the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” This means standing guard over our home and the souls of our children with the vigilance of a solider — never letting down our guard, never laying down our sword.
The only way to win this epic battle for our children’s souls is to fight it on our knees. One of the deadliest lies of the enemy today is to convince Christian parents that they do not have time for true, wrestling prayer. We sometimes look at motherhood — especially the early years of motherhood — as a time when it is perfectly acceptable to “coast” spiritually. It’s easy to let the constant demands of young children push our prayer and quiet times to the back burner and come to the conclusion, “I’ll get serious about spiritual things when my kids are older and I have more time.”
But if the enemy can lull Christian parents to sleep spiritually, it’s that much easier for him to do his dirty work in the lives of our children. Satan wants nothing more than to see us lay down our sword and stop fighting for our children’s souls. So he often convinces us that we “owe it to ourselves” to take it easy during these intense seasons of child-raising rather than rising up and exerting ourselves spiritually on behalf of our kids.
If we want to see our children made strong spiritually and choose light over darkness, we must embrace the same commitment that Hudson Taylor’s mother did — refusing to stop wrestling in prayer and faith to see God’s purposes accomplished in our children’s lives. As mothers (and fathers) we have been entrusted with the sacred privilege and opportunity of leading our little ones to Jesus Christ and preparing them as ambassadors of the Gospel. At the same time, the enemy of their soul is constantly at work, looking for ways to pull them away from the Truth and lead them down the path of destruction. The battle over their eternal future is intense, especially during the formative years of their lives.
Christian mothers, it is time to draw a line in the sand — to rise up and become armed and ready for the battle we are called to fight on behalf of our kids. Now is not the time to lay down our swords!
Let’s look at some of the most common lies the enemy uses to keep us spiritually apathetic instead of vigilant and watchful.
“I don’t have time for prayer now that I’m a mom of little kids”
There is no question that kids demand a huge amount of a mom’s time and energy. The more kids that God brings into our family, the less time I have. Yet I’ve discovered that the busier I become and the more responsibilities on my plate, the more important prayer is. As a mom of six once told me, “I’m too busy NOT to pray!”
As we’ve discussed in previous articles, the reality is that prayer and time with Christ is what gives us strength, perspective, and grace to victoriously face the daily battles we are called to fight. Jesus clearly said, “Without Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When we try to work hard at our tasks or serve our families without taking time to be with Christ, read His Word, and lay our cares at His feet, we will become “distracted with much serving” just as Martha was.
Whenever I catch myself saying, “I have too much to get done today to spend time in prayer,” I know that spiritual apathy has crept in, and that I’ve allowed the cares of this world to keep me from my God. Not only does this mindset weaken my own spiritual life, but it affects the spiritual lives and futures of my children.
A common mentality among moms today is “I can’t afford time in my schedule for prayer.” But the reality is this: As Christian mothers, we can’t afford NOT to make time in our schedule for prayer.
Prayer may not seem very practical when you have young children. But there is almost always a way to make time for prayer if we really want to. John “Praying” Hyde put it
“Early in the morning, at four or five o-clock, and late at night to twelve or one o’clock — in college or at parties at home, I used to keep such hours for myself or pleasure — can I not do as much for God and souls?”
And Corrie ten Boom offers the practical advice: “Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord, and keep it!”
When we live according to this principle, our families and our kids’ futures will be transformed for eternity.
“God doesn’t expect the same level of spiritual commitment now that I have kids”
As I said earlier, it’s easy to see the child-raising years as a time to “take it easy spiritually” rather than a season to pursue God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And yet, nowhere in Scripture does it say that we are excused from diligently seeking after our Lord just because we have young children. In fact, Romans 12:11 instructs us to “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (NIV).
Personally, it has not been the times when I’ve attempted to coast spiritually that I’ve excelled in my mothering, but the times when I pursued more of God with passion and true commitment. When I am on fire for Him, I have energy, strength, and wisdom to fully embrace my sacred motherhood calling. But when my spiritual life lags, I lose focus and purpose and end up just going through the motions of child raising.
Jesus told the story of a man who gave a great supper and invited many, saying, “Come for all things are now ready.” But one by one each person He invited gave an excuse: “The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground and I must go see it.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen and I am going to test them.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife and therefore I cannot come’” (Lk. 14:18-20).
Each of these men felt completely justified in their excuses not to come to the banquet. They felt sure that their host would understand their unique situation. Yet because they were preoccupied with temporal cares and distractions, they missed the opportunity of a lifetime. How often do we do the same? Our loving Redeemer waits at the banqueting table, eager and ready to fellowship with us and allow us to partake of all that He is. But how often do we make excuses and miss out on all that He has to offer us?
Remember, Jesus does not demand us to cultivate a relationship with Him — rather, He lovingly invites us into His presence on a daily basis. Once you make the choice to put aside all excuses and pursue Him with everything that you are, you’ll never want to go back to an apathetic spiritual life! When you are in a right relationship with Him, everything else in life just falls into place — including motherhood!
John Wesley said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer before I am able to do it.”
We don’t necessarily need to spend three hours of our day in prayer before we can be successful in our mothering. However, the underlying principle is this: we will have everything we need when we put Jesus first.
“Prayer is not a practical enough solution to my problems”
Often we think that we think of prayer as a spiritual exercise, but one that does not affect our lives in any practical way. Nothing could be further from the truth. Prayer is one of the most practical, real-word activities we could ever participate in. When the disciples were on a journey with Jesus and had forgotten to bring bread along, they worried that they would reap the consequences of their foolish mistake. But Jesus chided them, “Do you not remember? When I broke the loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets of leftovers did you collect?” In essence He was saying, “Why are you worried that you forgot bread, when you have the Bread of Life as your traveling companion?” In the same way, we must not overlook the endless resources we have available to us in Jesus for each practical need in our life.
Prayer is not supposed to produce mystical results in our lives, but real-life, practical ones. It is only when we are filled with doubt and impatience that prayer becomes ineffective. Real prayer always produces real results. I am not talking about a name-it, claim-it approach in which we get whatever we want simply by asking God. But I am talking about prayer producing tangible, practical solutions in our daily lives. When we come to God with childlike faith, He always answers our prayers. Whether He changes our circumstances supernaturally or simply gives us grace and wisdom to handle them, He is always ready and waiting to give us everything we need when we cast our cares at His feet.
I have seen the power of prayer effect countless areas of my motherhood. When our daughter Harper first came home from Korea, she didn’t know how to sleep in a crib, she’d never ridden in a car seat or stroller, and her sleep schedule was completely opposite of ours. Instead of frantically searching for practical answers to these challenges, we simply began to take each of them to God in importunate prayer. We watched Him supernaturally help her adjust to her new life, learn to love her crib, be happy in her car seat, and adjust her sleeping schedule to be perfectly in sync with Hudson’s. Harper had also struggled with stranger anxiety before coming home to be in our family. Her caseworker had been very concerned about her ability to bond with us and feel comfortable in her new family. But from the first moment that we held her, she completely relaxed and was happy and content — showing no difficult bonding and no anxiety whatsoever. It was a clear, practical, real-life answer to our many fervent prayers.
When our son Kipling was about three, we noticed that he always pretended to be a bad-guy when he was playing with his siblings. We began to pray that God would give him the vision and desire to be a hero and not a villain. A few days later, he ran into the house announcing, “Mommy, I’m a rescuer, not a bad guy!” Again, we saw the clear and tangible evidence of our prayers for our son being answered.
These are just two small examples of the many ways we’ve seen God work in the lives of our children as a response to our specific and importunate prayer. There are times when God directs us to take practical steps or use practical means in order to provide the solution we are seeking. Other times, He supernaturally changes our circumstances or works miraculously in our children’s hearts with us doing anything practical other than praying. The key is turning to Him as our first, foremost, ultimate source of strength, wisdom, and help.
Remember, prayer should not be an afterthought. It should be the foundation of our child-rearing. Real prayer always produces practical and tangible solutions to the problems we are facing with our children. We serve a God who is eager and ready to come to our aid if only we will give Him the opportunity to do so.