This is an article I wrote for another publication but thought I would post it here as well....
The average Christian’s prayer list most likely contains prayers for a son or daughter, nieces or nephews, grandchildren, or perhaps the children of a close friend. But how many of us consider praying for people yet to be born in 100, 200 or 500 years? Our lives seems so far removed from those future dates and our energies are consumed with the here and now. Is it possible that we content ourselves with too small a kingdom vision and too narrow a time frame for prayer? Let’s consider what the Bible says about praying for the future.
The Old Testament is filled with descriptions of God’s desire for future generations to come to know him. Psalm 78 exhorts us to pass on the faith we have learned from our fathers to our children and grandchildren that they too may be counted among those who set their hope in God. Psalms 22 and 102 speak of a people yet to be created coming to praise the Lord. And then we have the promise repeated over and over again that God is faithful, keeping covenant and steadfast love to a thousand generations of those who fear him. Clearly in Scripture we see there is a promise of God for us to claim for many future generations.
Perhaps the idea of praying for someone you will never meet, in a time so far removed from the present seems too abstract for the practical Christian’s prayer list with all the pressing needs of this week and the overwhelming burdens of those around us. Does it really make a difference, all this praying? The more we grow as believers the more we begin to grasp the importance and eternal significance of prayer. Too often we fail to understand how intricately prayer is tied to the workings of God in this world and to his saving work in the hearts of people. It is the Holy Spirit who moves his children to pray and through these prayers brings about the advance of Christ’s Kingdom.
I was born to parents who had only recently been converted and I grew up knowing no other Christian relatives. For so long I figured Christ had just “saved us out of nowhere” (which He is often pleased to do). I looked with a form of envy at families who had been believers for generation after generation and began to pray that the generations after me would put their faith in Christ and God would seek out those who might stray from Him to bring them back.
Many years later, while working on genealogy with my son, it emerged that almost 400 years ago my direct ancestors had set foot upon this land (America) with a great desire to worship God freely and to raise their children in a place suitable for that worship. Knowing something of the faith the motivated these pilgrims my thoughts began to turn. Was it not likely that these ancestors had offered prayers for future generations to inhabit these lands and to worship God? Could it be that Christ’s saving work in my family, and eventually my aunt and uncle and their children, was in part an answer to prayers prayed hundreds of years ago? It seemed very likely this was the case.
Family stories and anecdotes are all well and nice, and especially meaningful for the families they belong to. However, we cannot base our beliefs and practices on such anecdotes. If we are going to invest time in prayer for future generations we must be fully assured in our hearts of the steadfast love of our God. The Hebrew term in the Old Testament used to depict this kind of love is “hesed.” Hesed describes love that is based on a covenantal relationship. It is used over and over again in the Old Testament to describe the unchanging love of God for his people. Exodus 34:6-7 states: “…The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love (hesed) for thousands [of generations], forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” It is impossible for God to go against his word and break covenant. Here God promises to show covenantal love to generations of people thousands of years hence. In Christ’s death we see the lengths God went to keep his covenant faithfulness and provide an atonement for his people. It is this promise of hesed, covenant love, which must be deeply rooted in our hearts as the foundation of our prayers for God to show his faithfulness to generations yet to be born.
Tim Keller describes prayer as “a verbal response of faith to a transcendent God’s word and his grace….[namely] audible faith.” God has chosen to accomplish his work through the means of prayer. He promises his “hesed” covenantal love to thousands of generations. Scripture commands us to pray, and we see the example of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane praying for “those who will believe in me through their [his disciples’] word.” It is clear that prayer must be our response.
Perhaps you think this idea of prayer for future generations is all well and good — for those who have children of their own to pray for. But what of those who have no children? Should they bother to worry about this idea? Our modern culture, with its focus on the nuclear family, has made it easy to forget that in Christ we are a spiritual family related by faith in Christ. This spiritual relationship is a priority. When a child is baptized the congregation commits itself to praying and supporting that new life. When we talk of praying for future generations we must realize this is a task given to the church as a whole, not just to biological or adoptive parents.
So how should we pray? Let us pray with faith in God’s “hesed” love for his people in every generation to come. Pray for God to call to himself the children in your church through the generations to the end of time. Pray for God to be at work in your family. Pray for God to work in your geographical area and raise up a godly witness in generations to come. Pray for your country for there to always be men, women, and children seeking God. Pray for ministers, elders, and missionaries to be raised up in each generation. As you pray, remember God’s abounding, steadfast love that cannot be broken and pray with a vision that looks forward in biblical proportion.