How to Pray Like a Child

Expertise is not required to pray effectively. Instead, focus on humility, honesty and simplicity.

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Posted in , Nov 6, 2017

Child praying

Feel like a failure at prayer? A novice, perhaps? Good.

Brother Lawrence, the 17-century author of The Practice of the Presence of God, wrote: 

For many years I was bothered by the thought that I was a failure at prayer. Then one day I realized I would always be a failure at prayer; and I’ve gotten along much better ever since.

I think that’s a great attitude for the praying soul. After all, Jesus Himself said that we should “receive the kingdom of God like a little child” (Luke 18:17, NIV), and since prayer is certainly an act by which we receive the kingdom of God, day by day and moment by moment, it makes sense to pray not as an expert nor even as an adult but as a little child.

But how do we do that?  

1.  Run to God when thunder rolls.
My five grandchildren have taught me at least something of what it means to pray like a child. For example, my five-year-old grandson Ryder hates thunder. When the sky begins to darken and storm and clouds gather, he becomes hyper-vigilant. He may be involved in playing a game or assembling Legos, but he will pause occasionally and cock his head and listen, and return to playing only when he is sure there is no lightning or thunder in the area. 

At the first rumble, however, no matter how far away it may be, he drops everything he is doing, runs to his mother or father, and buries his face in their embrace. Every time I see him do it, I identify with him—not in a fear of thunder, but in my desire to run quickly into my Father’s embrace whenever a storm assails.

To pray like a child is to run, not to the police or the bank or the newscast when life’s storms hit, but into the waiting embrace of your Heavenly Father. 

2.  Run to God when you wake.
Our daughter, son-in-law and their three children lived with us recently while preparing to move across the country. Nearly every morning, we heard the pitter-patter of little feet traipsing into Mom and Dad’s bedroom as soon as one of the children awoke. Even in the middle of the night—awakened, perhaps by a loud noise or a bad dream—children dash immediately and instinctively for their parents’ bed. 

To pray like a child is to run immediately and instinctively to God upon awaking. One family I know even trained their five children never to “get up” in the morning; once awake, they “got down” onto their knees at their bedside to begin the day in prayer—a practice they continued into adulthood and bequeathed to their own children and grandchildren.

3.  Run to God when you’re tired and crabby.
Avery is the youngest of our grandchildren and, to quote Shakespeare, “though she be but little, she is fierce.” From time to time, however, she runs out of gas and gets tired and crabby. When that happens, she finds consolation only in her mother’s arms. She doesn’t know, of course, that her dire mood has a physical explanation—she just knows that Mom’s embrace is what she needs. That’s another way to pray like a child: run to God when you’re tired and crabby.

You don’t have to clean yourself up, brush yourself off, dry your tears and re-apply your makeup before praying—far from it! His arms are open for you when you’re at your worst. And He can shush and shelter you and, like a mother hen, “cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:4, NIV).

These are not the only ways to pray like a child, of course. There are many more: whining, certainly. Throwing tantrums. Asking for treats. In the course of a week, I’m sure I cover them all. Maybe you do too. But these pictures of prayer help me to remember that I need not aspire to “expertise” in prayer but to childlike humility, honesty, and simplicity instead.

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