What is new for me about praying to God as Abba, our loving Father, is that as God’s adopted children we are free, even able to be frisky, in our thanksgiving, petitions, confession, vow, disappointments and praise, because the Holy Spirit as our defense lawyer and counselor will tie up the loose, unsanctified ends of our prayers (Rom. 8:26-27). Yes, childlike prayer is as serious as exorcism, but we children are not responsible for saving the world.
What is new for me about praying to God as Abba, our loving Father, is that as God’s adopted children we are free, even able to be frisky, in our thanksgiving, petitions, confession, vow, disappointments and praise, because the Holy Spirit as our defense lawyer and counselor will tie up the loose, unsanctified ends of our prayers (Rom. 8:26-27). Yes, childlike prayer is as serious as exorcism, but we children are not responsible for saving the world. Jesus Christ is doing that. And our defensive armour is not cumbersome as King Saul’s metal plates were for slingshot David: true speech, reliable deeds, a peace-making disposition, faithfulness, quiet self-assurance of one’s salvation, and genial Holy Spirited thrusts of God’s wise Word (Eph. 6:10-20) – such children may be humbly bold in approaching God in prayer. Resolute but light-hearted.
This is true even in confessing one’s sin, which happens best in private only with God and the one sinned-against, where the emphasis is to be not on guilt but on restoring wholeness. The scream of Psalm 51 – “Don’t take your Holy Spirit away from me as you did from Saul!” (v. 11, I Sam.16:14), and the utter lamenting dejection of Psalm 130 upon suffering at the pain or destruction of one’s loved one, can slowly mutate for God’s children into the consoled sob, “You are a hiding place for me” (Ps. 32:7), my Lord, and I know you keep all my tears in your wineskin bottle (Ps. 56:8).
In fact, the biblical psalms are the richest resource for formulated childlike prayers, where you can let all your sorrows hang out for God’s ear (Ps. 6, 13, 86, 88, 142) or your bursts of cheerful happiness (Ps. 8, 65, 93, 100, 117, 150). The Older Testament psalms also provide a child’s angry voice for when we who follow Jesus have been brutally bullied by lesser Screwtape devils and their human accomplices (Ps. 7, 35, 52, 58, 59, 69, 94, 102, 129, 137). The roughness of such God-inspired psalms should rightly shake up prima donna Christians too safe in their middle-class wealth or gated communities. And the “I” in the Psalms is really a “We,” because the Covenantal God revealed in Jesus Christ is particularly the God of all God’s adopted children together, as well as God of the nations and the universe (Isa. 60).
Morning, evening and mealtime prayers are good habitual opportunities to exercise children in childlike prayer, where you can notice and thank God for the extraordinary, fantastic nature of ordinary life, like spring and winter, darkness and light, vegetables, rain, sleep, salt and fresh water; it’s also okay to cry with God in prayer, to imagine strange adventures, and to learn that to be forgiven for wrong-doing, you need to forgive those who have harmed you (Matt. 6:12, Mark 11:25-26).
Public congregational prayer is what I still feel inadequate for, because when we sinful saints gather in festive array on a Resurrection Day morning to celebrate what the Lord has done for us in Jesus Christ and the Pentecostal sending of the Holy Spirit, prayers should rise like waves of incense all the way up to heaven until, as is reported in Revelation 8:1, the jubilant multiple choir noise with trumpets and timpani there stop! for about a half hour, so the angels, white-robed saints, and guardian animals around God’s throne can listen to our prayers!
The local congregational worship service of the ecclesia is a testing ground where the elders and pastor, like the angel of the churches mentioned in the book of Revelation (chapters 2-3), are the antennae to receive and proclaim God’s message for the day, and then are responsible to lead the faithful in eucharistic prayer prayed in Jesus’ Name. That means, you pray publicly as a leading spokesperson for God’s people as if Jesus is praying, in continuity with earlier saints like Moses, who interceded and saved the Israelite people before an angry God (Ex. 32), like David, who bowed to God’s refusal to let him build God a temple with his bloodied hands and accepted the embrace of the Lord’s covenantal oath to generate the Messiah from David’s loins (II Sam. 7), and like young Solomon, whose dedicatory prayer at God’s earthly habitation included an invitation to even unbelieving foreign strangers to pray to God for a blessing (I Kings 8, vv. 41-43)!
Pastoral prayer in the public worship service of God’s people needs the street smarts of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, and the apostle Paul’s seasoned, life-stressed rhetoric of II Corinthians 11-12 and Romans 8, cradled withal in a naiveté that trusts God will indeed effect the cultural changes “the flock” needs and yearns for.
Such ordained, guardian prayer leadership is not my gift, but I treasure the blessing that our current pastor can so pray, “in the Name of Jesus” (John 14:12-14), which liturgical act “availeth much” (KJV, James 5:16).
Prayer for others
As a result of these reflections on childlike prayer I intend to focus on intercessory prayer, especially for those who do not or cannot pray. Prayer for oneself can be good, like Jacob’s desperate “I’ll not let you go unless you bless me!” (Gen. 32:26), and like Hezekiah’s plea, “In death I cannot praise you, Lord. Let me live!” (Isa. 38:16-19), and even Jesus in Gethsemane, “Abba, if it be possible, don’t make me swallow this deadly drink” (Mark 14:36, Matt. 26:39; cf. Heb. 5:7-10). But it’s time I no longer focussed on me.
People who do not pray sooner or later find out “You cannot always take care of yourself.” Shakespeare’s plucky Jaques said it too – Some day you will be “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything” (As you like it, II,7). But it’s not good for a person to be totally bereft and alone in the universe.
When I pray for those who do not pray, I take their place, and my voice can substitute for their awful silence before Abba. “Be merciful to us, O Lord, your ungrateful creatures.” And then those who do not pray will not be alone, because God is hearing their voice through me.
My Dutch philosophy professor Sytse Zuidema went blind at age 66, because of having been imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp in Indonesia where he had been a missionary during the war. My older colleague Henk Van Riessen wrote at that time, “Sytse is now entering the most productive time of his life. He has time to pray.”
Maybe there are other aged people like me, who read this piece, and even if you are not blind, you can take time to pray now, by name, for those whose voice God is aching to hear.