Learning to pray like a little child

Little children are the most blessed beings on earth. They’re so uniquely blessed that Jesus often instructs us to imitate them. But have you asked yourself why?

We live in a messy world—messy politics, messy expectations, messy relationships—it’s as if everything roundabout us is messy. All of these, and the fact that we’re sinners surrounded by sinful people, often lead to us being messed up and broken in a messy world—and we often act like we’re tough and as if we’ve got everything covered. What a mess.

A few years ago I was on my way to school in the late afternoon, rushing as I was getting late for a test. All of a sudden two men who appeared to be in their late twenties approached me from nowhere. I didn’t see them until they were right in front of me. They flanked me and one of them pulled out a knife, seemingly ready to mark my flesh. They demanded I give them money and my watch, but after talking to them for a couple of minutes we said our goodbyes to each other. I had no scratch and they never even took anything from me. I went on to write my test. It was as if nothing had happened as if this was normal.

That’s just a small snippet of how life looks like in this world. We’re daily confronted with difficulties at work. Schools also seem to be losing a grip when it comes to issues of morality. Governments are increasingly abandoning their constitutional mandates of carrying for their people. Husbands, wives, and children daily struggle when it comes to doing life together. We often hear of terrorism and counter-wars. Our bodies become weak and we fall sick. Hunger and poverty seem to be a norm. The list goes on and on, revealing our state of messiness and desperation.

“Until we get to realise that we’re weak and broken, we’ll never realise our need for prayer.” tweet

Until we get to realise that we’re weak and broken, we’ll never realise our need for prayer. Let’s consider Jesus for a moment. This was God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14). He lived a perfect life without sin (Heb. 4:15). Everything was created by him and for himself (Col. 1:16-17). Really, if anyone didn’t need to pray, it was Jesus. Yet, the Gospels constantly give us glimpses of his prayer life.

Before choosing the twelve apostles, “all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). This is the same Jesus that later withdrew from them, “and knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41). He would also regularly withdrew from the crowds “to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16). There’s also a testimony that says, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7). Despite his unusual busyness, Jesus would rise up “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [and] he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Need I say more?

The truth is that Jesus, who is God the Son, understood that in his flesh he couldn’t do anything apart from God the Father (John 5:19). Jesus was like a little child, totally dependent on his heavenly Father. He set the standard of dependence and also calls us who follow him to be dependent. Jesus is calling us to be little children, totally dependent on our heavenly Father.

 

We are children

One thing that makes little children unique is their intentional dependence on their parents. They know that even when I mess up and sometimes get chastened I can always run to my parents. However messy and miserable, little children understand that they can do nothing apart from their parents. They may be afraid at times, due to their disobedience, but they’ve mastered the art of approaching their parents in their messy state—dirty hands and feet, torn clothes meshed in mud.

As Christians, we’re adopted to God’s family. Out of his love, God “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5). We’re not orphans. From the time we’re born again, God justifies us and adopts us into his family on the basis of Christ’s finished work. This justification and adoption is not based on how good we are—“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:26).

The doctrine of adoption is so important to the Christian life because it is through our understanding of it that we’d confidently “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Through Jesus Christ, we’re children of God, however messy we may feel or look.

 

We have a Father

Not only are we children, but we’ve got a Father. Unlike our earthly parents who are as messy as we are, God is infinitely perfect. In fact, it’s Jesus himself who said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11).

If you’re a Christian then you’re born again. If you’re born again then you’re justified. If you’re justified then you’re adopted into God’s family. If you’re adopted into God’s family then God is your Father. Here’s a bold statement worth memorising: “I’m not an orphan, God is my Father.”

God is our Father and wants to hear from us. Through adoption, we can run to him as messed up as we are and constantly cry “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15). Jesus often instructs us to imitate little children because they know they’re needy and dependent. They also know that they’ve parents who are always ready to listen.

As Christians, we may be messy and needy. But we’ve to realise that we’ve got a Father. We’ve to learn to depend on our Father. Our neediness and dependence on God should thrust us to have a faith built on God’s faithfulness, not our abilities. We’ve to learn to pray like a little child. Our prayers may be short and our words may not be well articulated, but we’ve to pray—that’s us realising that apart from God we can do nothing.

Lesetja Lekoloane

Lesetja Lekoloane is a BSc graduate from the University of Pretoria. He’s the founder and board chair of Eternal Passion, a Christ-centred Christian organisation which aims to spread a passion for Jesus Christ in Africa. He’s also the author of "Racism – A biblical viewpoint" (2016).