It never fails. I’m hurrying through the store needing just two key ingredients for the evening’s dinner. I have a 4 year old and an 8 year old in tow. The soundtrack that accompanies this journey sounds like this: “Can I have? Can we get? Oh I love those! Can we buy them?” Over and over we make detours to examine the latest cereal boxes, fruit snacks and Kung Fu Panda Gogurt packages.
It’s natural for children to do this. There are so many things they want, yet they are powerless to obtain those things for themselves. Hope springs eternal. They know their dad, and he has money (sometimes). Money can buy the things they want. So let the pleading begin!
This is a picture of how most people pray. If we pray at all, chances are we’re asking God for stuff. Heal my friend. Land me this job. Give me peace. There is nothing wrong with asking God for stuff. Paul writes “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:2). James asks, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” (Jas. 5:13). Unlike me in the grocery, God does not tire of hearing the requests of his children.
The thing about children, though, is they’re supposed to grow up. If my kids are still following me around the grocery store in their 20s we’ve got a problem! Many Christians are unfortunately content to remain children when it comes to prayer. As God pushes us around the aisles of our world we sit in the cart blithely distracted by the displays, the lights, and the people. When we speak we do so in hopes that Daddy might put something yummy in the cart…or put something we don’t want back on the shelf. Onions? Yuck!
What does it mean to have a grown up prayer life? Tim Keller defines prayer as “A personal, communicative, response to the knowledge of God.” Asking for stuff certainly fits within this definition. God is omnipotent. In response to that truth I’m going to ask him to do stuff, absolutely! But is omnipotence the extent of our knowledge of God? Of course not! God is wise. God is patient. God is just. God is merciful. God is wrathful. God is trinity. God is eternal. God is omniscient. Just to name a few. All of this constitutes knowledge of God and, as such, demands a “personal communicative response” from us.
My contention is this: A grown-up Christian, and one day I hope to be one of those! – has learned to respond to who God is with thanksgiving, awe, worship, joy, contentment, quietness, and a resolve to change and be changed.
If you’re not sure where to start allow me to make two suggestions. First, ask yourself, “Do I want to know God?” A child in a cart knows all she needs to know about me in the moment. I can give her what she wants. But God doesn’t exist to give you the desires of your heart. He exists for his own glory and he made you to know him. Do you want to know him more intimately? If you do, choose a truth about God as revealed in scripture. I mentioned several above. Start just by thinking about it. When you think you’re at the end of your thoughts keep thinking, mindful that you’re doing so in prayer, before the throne of God. Can you do this for a minute? Celebrate that! Then do it again. They say it takes 66 days for something to become a habit. When you’re ready make that your goal and pray that God be glorified!