One night at the supper table our kids were taking turns praying before we started the meal. Moments earlier our second youngest daughter had been kicking and screaming because she didn’t get to sit beside her sister. Consequently, she didn’t feel like praying so I attempted to convince her that God still wanted to hear from her even if she was angry. Through sniffles and snobs she prayed: “Father Heaven, I’m sad. Amen.”
The essence of prayer is communication with God and that was what my daughter was doing; telling God how she felt. A significant portion of the Psalms do the same thing – the author pours out his heart and bares his soul to a God who listens. Consider the following from the pen of king David:
I am weary from my groaning;Psalm 6:6
with my tears I dampen my bed
and drench my couch every night.
What is David doing in these lines? He’s letting God know how he feels. David is doing what we all do each and every day: communicating.
Prayer, when understood as communication with God, is a simple act, yet it becomes complicated by at least two factors. First, we cannot see the One to whom we are speaking. That’s why we fold our hands and close our eyes as we struggle to concentrate enough so that we don’t start thinking about how the Oilers blew a lead in the third period or how we need to drop by Save-on-Foods to pick up a jug of 2 percent milk. Prayer would be easier if we could walk and talk with God as Adam and Eve might have done.
The second complication in prayer is that our relationship with God our Creator has been damaged by sin. Our sin blinds us to the glory and holiness of the God to whom we are speaking. Sin puffs up our hearts so we see prayer as a monotonous activity for really devout people. Or sin gets tangled up with our good desire to pray and converts our prayers into opportunities to show off our piety.
Jesus understood well how sin disorders our prayer life. Hear again his words from the Sermon on the Mount:
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.Matthew 6:7
So easily we lose the childlike simplicity of prayer; a child speaking to his/her father. We start to think more about the people around us that we can see than the God above whom we cannot. We pile up stock phrases or mumble our way to an amen as we prematurely reach for our fork. Even when we are trying it can be hard.
Sometimes, we need the simple prayer of a child to remind us what we are doing when we pray. We need a child to remind us that when we pray we are a child speaking to our Father, pouring out our hearts, telling Him how we feel, and asking for help in a scary world. Sometimes the best prayer is simple and short and straight from the heart.