Becoming Like a Child--The Discipline of Prayer

Don't you love to hear children pray? There is nothing quite like it. There is no fear or worry that what they say to God is not "right." There is a confidence and trust that there really is Someone listening. There is boldness to ask for miracles. And they are not afraid to keep asking, over and over and over again. What happens? Somewhere along the way, we learn that there is a "right" way to pray, like some kind of "formula" that we need to chant, a precise wording of our prayers that no longer seems to have the same impact. Where do we learn this? Why do we trade in heartfelt prayer for something that becomes trite, mechanical and at times, so dull that it puts us to sleep?

Part of it, I suspect, is because we as parents don't really appreciate the purpose of prayer. Well, at least I speak for myself. I hope that you have a better picture. But I know that for myself, I really struggle with prayer, for several reasons.

First, I look at prayer as something I "have" to do. And when I look at it that way, who wants to pray? Whenever it becomes a duty that needs to be checked off, most of the joy is taken away. Second, I have bought into the belief that if I want something done, then it really is up to me to do it. If I want to see something come to pass, I better get myself in gear and start working. Praying is not going to make it happen (just being honest here...not that it's true).

And what about those things that I can't make happen, things beyond my control? This is where most people finally turn to prayer, usually as a resort because Plan A (or  B or C or D) didn't work out. But for me, I still don't pray. Why not? Because I have come to believe the lie that God doesn't care or that He isn't able to help me anyways. And even if I do pray for something, I do not pray regularly for it, thinking that I've already "bothered" Him about it, assuming that He doesn't want to hear from me again.

All this goes to show how little I know of prayer. First of all, prayer is not a duty, but it is a privilege. Hebrews 4:15-16 reminds me that I am approaching a God who is sympathetic, who fully understands what we're going through. Because this is true, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Prayer is one of the blessings God gives to His beloved children. It is a privilege, not a duty.

Second, while it is true that there are some things that God does ask us to do, we never do them alone. It is never all up to me. Rather than taking things into my own hands and asking God to bless them, I can learn to get my instructions from Him, as the great men and women of old modeled for us.   Just this last Sunday, I shared with my class lessons from Esther. (If you haven't read this amazing Old Testament book, do it!) When told of the impending doom of her people if she did not act, what was the first thing she did? She prayed and fasted...for three days! Me? I would have started moving into high gear, preparing and mobilizing and working to fight back. But that is not what Esther did. She went first to prayer.

The other extreme may be to look at this situation and throw our hands up in despair. From a human perspective, they were doomed! And yet, I have a feeling that Esther was not simply wallowing in self-pity when she was praying and fasting. In response to her faith, God showed her how to reach the heart of her husband, who had the power and ability to help. Esther had to partipate by taking risks, but God was with her every step of the way.

When I turn to God first, I save myself a lot of trouble. Instead of turning to Him as a last resort, He is then able to show me the way out. And if there is no answer the first time, we are to ask, again and again and again, without fear or without doubt (James 1:6) that one day, He will answer. Unlike the unrighteous judge in Luke 18, He will respond and not delay. It may not seem like it, but His answers always come at the right time.

At the core of a strong prayer life is childlike faith. Learning how to pray like a child will take some effort in unlearning some of those things that I have believed. I am still on that journey, but trust that as I take these small steps, He will open the door to the intimate relationship with Him I desire.

In today's journal (you'll need the password, which is given to newsletter subscribers...you can sign up in the box at the right to get it in your welcome email), we'll be reflecting on our prayer beliefs. Stay tuned for a part two of this topic in the next post!