Sitting in my room one evening, enjoying some quiet, one of my children burst in through the door and said, “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” I asked.
“That sound. It was a boom or something,” he said. He stared at me with eyes wide while one hand clung to the door handle.
“I didn’t hear anything. Maybe it was distant thunder,” I responded.
He ran over to me, climbed into my bed and pulled the covers over his head. From underneath the quilt came his muffled voice, “Mom, can you pray for me? Please?”
My son’s response to his fear of thunder is convicting. That’s because prayer isn’t the first thing I do when I am feeling anxious or afraid. When I face a challenge in my day, I usually try to work it out on my own. Then I might worry about it for a while. Or I might text a friend for some advice.
When I do seek God in prayer, I often think I need to do some work on my life first. Rather than coming before him as I am, I try to clean myself up a bit and tidy up around my heart. I might even try to get a head start on finding a good solution to my problem before I share it with him (you know, to help him along in the process — as if I could!).
And then when I do finally pray, I’m not always honest. My prayers aren’t real or authentic. I pretend to be someone I’m not. I don’t dig deep and voice what’s really going on in my mind and heart. I don’t admit to the depths of my sin; my confessions only graze the surface. And rather than fully engage in prayer, I hit the highlights as though I am reading my weekly shopping list. In truth, my prayers end up sounding more like a Twitter update than a conversation with my Father in Heaven.
Jesus once told the disciples that they needed to become like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:2). I think that prayer is one of those ways where we reflect that child-like heart.
From their earliest moments in life, children know that they are dependent on us for everything. They know that we provide them food, comfort, and help. They call out to us right away when they are hungry or hurt. When they have a bad dream, they run right into our bedroom and tell us all about it. In the same way, God wants us to be dependent on him. He wants us cry out to him, to seek him for help, to rely on him alone. The reality is, we are completely dependent upon him. It is God who gives us life, breath, and everything else (Acts 17:25). We are nothing and can do nothing apart from his grace (John 15:5).
Children are also free of pretense. They come as they are. Sticky hands, grimy faces, and dirty clothes — young children don’t try to hide the messy reality of their lives. I can’t count the number of times I have had to point out to one of my boys the food remains stuck on his face and then help him wipe it off. Being messy and disheveled is a constant condition of childhood and children don’t try to pretend otherwise. We ought to come to God in prayer the same way, exactly as we are, sin-stained, broken, wounded, and in need of the help only he can give. It’s reality of who we are. God already knows everything that is on our hearts (Psalm 139), why pretend otherwise?
Why We Can Pray Like a Child
It’s only because of Jesus that we can come to God like a child. The gospel tells us that Jesus came to break down the barrier of sin that has stood between us and God since the Fall by taking the punishment we deserved. The curtain in the temple ripped in two when he cried out and breathed his last. This act demonstrated that things were forever changed between mankind and his Maker. Sin no longer blocked our way into God’s presence. By faith in the finished work of Christ, we can boldly enter into the Holy of Holies.
Like a little child who sticks their grimy hands in our face so we can help lift them up to the sink and wash the dirt away, we can come to the throne of grace exactly as we are. We can come into the very presence of God, cry out to him, bring all our sin, shame, and sorrow before him, and receive the cleansing he offers through the gospel of Christ. Hebrews sums it up like this: “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” (Hebrews 4:16).
There are many things about childhood we ought to leave behind. But when it comes to dependence and complete reliance upon our Abba, our Father, we need to be just like little children. This is never more true than in our prayer life. We need to come to him just as we are, empty handed, sin-stained, and in great need of his grace.
Just like a child.