The small girl’s eyes fixed in her lap, her fingers twisted and untwisted together in an uncertain dance. Some of the children murmured Amen as the leader closed the prayer. She cupped her hand to her friend’s ear and whispered, “I don’t know how to pray. Do you?”
Its a good thing that the kids get to learn about prayer today at VBS as we dive into a lesson about how God hears Jonah’s prayers from the belly of the whale. This sweet girl probably isn’t the only one who’s struggled with uncertainty when it comes to her own ability to pray. No matter where we are in our faith walk, sometimes it feels like it takes work to have a rich prayer life.
Sometimes prayer can feel like trying to walk with your shoes tied together. You know that you’re just suppose to put one word in front of another, joined together in a conversation thats “trumped up” with Christian buzz words like holy, sinner, and blessed. But, when you try, you feel self conscious and tongue tied- tripping and stumbling over an incoherent string of confused speech.
Maybe we can relate to Jonah more than we might think. Instead of taking his fear and uncertainty to God in prayer, he tries to escape Him by jumping on a ship going the opposite direction of where God commanded.
Too often I know the places God is calling me, to slow down, to quiet my anxious mind, to spend time with him instead of flipping through my phone, but I drown His voice out with a world that demands my attention with Facebook status updates, news streaming on my web browser, and endless onslaught of texts, emails, messages, phone calls…etc. etc.
Today I’ve gotten to hear teachers affirming to kids that when they pray, God is listening! Wow! I wish I had had those truths affirmed to me as a fearful and uncertain child. But another truth that resonates with me today, from the story of Jonah, is something I struggle with more as an adult than when I was a kid.
Jonah knew God was there, waiting, but he busied himself and avoided hearing God. He allowed fear, stubbornness, and anger to stand between his relationship with God. Finally, as he sat in a belly of a fish, Jonah took the time to stop, to pray, and to listen.
Its easy to build prayer into a holy experience that can seem untouchable. If we can’t find that perfect moment or the exact words, its easy to put off praying, or like the child in worship this morning, think we “don’t know how.” But we don’t need to be in the belly of a fish to be with God, or even in a quiet room. If you’re a parent of young children, quiet doesn’t mean peace, but that your kid is getting into trouble.
Take those imperfect moments, and your “unholy” words and talk to God. When your driving in the car, when your vacuuming, when you’re finding the self control not to scream at your three year old (umm…this girl). Cause God hears us, and He has a lot to say to us too- we just need to slow down, put our phones down, and have a conversation with Him.
And ask your kids how to pray, after today I have a feeling they might be able to teach you a thing or two.