Children’s prayers are wonderful. Some are a source of amusement, as I was reminded by an email received during the week in which humorous children’s prayers were recorded. I smiled when I read “Dear God, Is it true my father won't get in Heaven if he uses his golf words in the house?” and “Dear God, my Grandpa says you were around when he was a little boy. How far back do you go? Love, Dennis”. We are tickled by the naïve innocence of children as they express thoughts which we ourselves have often entertained.
The television show “Funniest Home Videos” invites us to laugh at the innocent and earnest efforts of children, making entertainment out of the real lessons of life through which we have all passed. There is no problem with laughing at the consequences of such uncoordinated enthusiasm – it reminds us of the simple joys of life, the challenges of learning, and the power of innocence.
As we mature, we leave behind childish things says Paul (1 Cor 13). We learn that prayer isn’t the magical formula we used to believe, and that the workings of God in the world are more complex than our simple understandings once lead us to believe. We learn the art of struggle and doubt, allowing them to strengthen and stretch our faith, living with irreconcilable tensions, unresolved contradictions. And yet... there is something within each of us that yearns for the wonder and awe which flows from childlike trust. Can we truly leave it behind?
Jesus challenged his disciples, reminding them that if anyone wants to enter the kingdom of heaven they must receive it like a little child (Mark 10:15). How are we to understand and action this?
Sometimes we are wont to deny those whose faith is simple – decrying their simplistic calls to prayer and/or action. “We have tried that before,” we may think (or say)... “if only it were so simple!” For all the years that adults have lead the church, one might well consider that there is room for the childlike simplicity and trust to lead us once more. It has happened before in the work of God...
When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were threatened with the fiery furnace, they responded in simple faith, “Our God is able to deliver us...” and profound realism, “…but if not…” It makes interesting reading (Daniel 3) to listen to the curious mix of innocent trust in God and confronting realism. We need to hold both, allow room for both voices, and realise that God remains able to work out of our simple, child-like trust in his word and his work.
Long may the prayers of children be heard in the church, with the honour and respect which God Himself affords them. And may we too dare to pray and act in such innocence.
April 23, 2006