Praying Boldly (As Taught by a Child)
I have always chuckled a bit when listening to my daughter pray. We have done our best to make prayer a regular & central part of our daily lives together, putting special emphasis on our drives to school each morning and before going to sleep at night.
When my daughter entered my life, she had never prayed before. And I remember her look of confusion as I knelt next to her bedside, with a bowed head and eyes closed. She adjusted her line of sight to try to figure out if there was something on her bedspread I was inspecting, or why my hands were folded in front of me.
For those of us who have grown up surrounded in prayer, we likely have never questioned the traditions, postures and even bad habits that are perpetuated in the evangelical Christian act of prayer. It was an enlightening process for me have to articulate and introduce the concept of prayer to my daughter's fresh, and inquisitive, three and a half year old self.
Prayer in our home is treated as a conversation with someone is to be perceived as both a father, and someone who is to be reverently feared. It is an opportunity to pour out thanksgiving and praise, and to reveal the desires of our hearts. And it is always a place where we can be completely honest and vulnerable.
As my daughter's prayer life has developed over the past two years, I have noticed a few quirks that make her conversations with the Lord unique and awesome. My favorite element in her prayers is that she begins each request by saying "Thank you." Yes, this is not normal to the rest of us. And no, she likely is not doing this on purpose, but it has become one of my favorite things about her sweet prayers, and has sparked some soul searching within me.
For example, the other day we were driving down the road when an ambulance drove by. I asked my daughter if she would like to pray for the person who was hurt or sick. She agreed, and proceeded to pray, "Jesus, thank you for helping the person who is sick or hurt..."
Similarly, the other day as our special friend Mr. Jared was returning to North Carolina, she prayed, unprovoked, "Jesus, thank you that Mr. Jared will drive home safely tonight..."
Likely she intends her prayers to come across in the same way that I would when rattling off a request to the Lord, such as, "Father, please help me...." or "Lord, if it is your will, please do this..." Yet I can't help but love the fact that her requests to the Lord come across as if she is jumping ahead and thanking the Lord in that moment for answering the very thing she is requesting of Him.
And as I have let my mind wander on this topic, Scripture after Scripture has risen in my thoughts and left me thinking that she may not be mistaken after all.
We are told in Scripture to come before the Lord boldly and with expectation. After all, isn't that how we approach our parents here on earth when we are asking for something?
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matt. 7:7-11 ESV)
Perhaps we are afraid to approach the Lord with expectation because we feel our prayers have gone unanswered in the past. Perhaps we are afraid of the possibility that we may be disappointed if we put our wellbeing fully in Christ's hands. Perhaps we are afraid of truly being vulnerable.
But perhaps the problem is that all too often we expect to see the answers to our prayers in our human terms and in our human timing. God's ways are above our ways, and if I have learned anything in my journey so far, it is that the longer I am alive, the more of Christ's work behind the scenes in my life is revealed. Things I thought I could take credit for are exposed as a small and insignificant part of his grand master plan. And things that I thought were the main point are merely a prelude for the things He is working together for His good.
Trusting the Lord with our requests requires us to also trust Him with what the answers will look like.
And I can guarantee those answers are often not what we would expect, but always more perfect than we could have planned.
Does this mean we are better off praying vague prayers? Leaving room for God to do His thing and taking a passive role in the meantime? Quite the opposite!
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." (James 1:5-8)
It is made clear in Scripture that we are not only supposed to pray, but we are supposed to pray boldly. The examples we are given show confident, specific and expectant prayers.
Richard Foster states that "To pray is to change," in his Christian classic "The Celebration of Discipline." But he also states that prayer not only has a role in affecting the world around us, but is also one of the central avenues God uses to transform us, the pray-er.
James 4:2b-3 states,
"You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."
Though earlier I wrote of my admiration for my daughter's unrestrained confidence when talking with the Lord, the Bible also reveals that there is definitely a wrong and right way to intercede.
"To ask 'rightly' involves transformed passions. In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God's thoughts after him: to desire the things he desires, to love the things he loves, to will the things he wills."
And as we see throughout Scripture, the most powerful pray-ers prayed as if their intercessions could and would make a real and tangible difference in the world.
In perhaps one of the most challenging paragraphs in "The Celebration of Discipline," Foster describes his interpretation of Jesus' prayer life.
"Perhaps the most astonishing characteristic of Jesus' praying is that when he prayed for others he never concluded by saying 'If it be thy will.' Nor did the apostles or prophets when they were praying for others. They obviously believed that they knew what the will of God was before they prayed the prayer of faith. They were so immersed in the milieu of the Holy spirit that when they encountered a specific situation, they knew what should be done."
I know that my prayers rarely carry this kind of confidence and authority. And though it seems silly to compare myself to my 5-year old's prayer life, I have begun to wonder if what I have labeled in her as a naivety resulting from lack of life experience may more accurately be described as a simplicity in her view of who is in control. Her requests flow from a place of peace and are presented before the One who she is taught holds the whole world in His hands.
Whether you find yourself talking incessantly in an effort to get God to answer your plea, or whether you won't speak up at all in fear that His answer will disappoint you, perhaps we all need to flip our approach.
Soren Kierkegaard writes,
"A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer is listening."
Listening. Sitting still. Tuning into God's presence. Basking in His peace. Exploring what breaks His heart. Seeking His will. Silence. Waiting. Praying expectantly.
It all revolves around trust. Trust that God hears you. Trust that God will answer you. And trust that God’s answer is better than what you want in a situation.
May we attempt to become a little more like my daughter as we approach the throne of God, clothed in the confidence that He hears and responds. And may our hearts and desires continue to be transformed more and more so that the words and intercessions that flow from our lips may in reality be flowing from the heart of God.