One of my favorite movies is Miracle on 34th Street. I used to watch it with my grandmother when I was little. The little girl in the movie didn't believe in Santa Claus until she met the man playing the Macy's Santa Claus. She was so convinced that Santa was fake that she told him she didn't believe and if he was really Santa, he would bring her a house for her and her mother. Of course, the man really was Kris Kringle, and she did get the house.
Sometimes, adults and kids, alike, treat God like the little girl in the movie treated Santa. We ignore who God says He is and the evidence that He provides that He loves us, and we present Him with an ultimatum of "do this, and I'll believe in you." Prayer is not about what we want or need. God does want to hear about our deepest desires and despairs, but prayer is about us drawing closer to God, not about God meeting our every wish and want.
It's tough for adults to understand that sometimes God's plan isn't what we've asked Him for. God's concern is with bringing glory to Himself. To do that, He needs to mold our character to be more like His. Prayer is one of the keys to knowing God better. We pray because in a relationship, you talk. Can you imagine what a marriage would be like if you never talked to each other. You wouldn't know anything about each other. You'd just have to guess what the other person liked or disliked. It's the same way with our relationship with God. God hears us when we pray. We can get to know Him better through prayer. God often uses prayer to speak with us and to move us into alignment with His will.
One of the hardest things to explain to our kids is why we should could continue to pray when God chooses to answer our prayers differently than we'd like. Adults struggle with this, so it shouldn't be surprising that children struggle with it as well. God always answers our prayers. He doesn't just leave them hanging in the air like some unanswered e-mail. However, sometimes the answer is "no," and sometimes the answer is "wait." And sometimes we miss the answer because we're so busy doing other things that we forget to listen for God. Understanding that God's plan is greater than anything we could ever imagine can help us see that God may have different ideas about the direction our lives should take than the ones we have.
When we pray, we're not trying to change God's mind or persuade Him that what we want is best. We should be praying to draw closer to God. That should never stop us from pouring out our hearts and souls to God. Look at how Hannah prayed in 1 Samuel 1:10, "In bitterness of soul, Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord." She poured out her desire for a child to God with tears and bitterness. God knew Hannah's heart, but He can only offer us comfort when we come to Him with honest, broken hearts. It is that honesty of soul that draws us closer to God.
So, how do we share these big concepts about prayer with the little souls in our homes? Make the idea of having a relationship with God -- one where you talk to Him all the time -- a concrete proposition for your kids. Try some of these conversations and activities:
- Talk with your kids when it seems God isn't answering their prayers. Talk about how God can use circumstances that don't seem fair or good at the time to bring Him glory later on. Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." This guarantees that God's long-term plans for us are good, but they are all part of His bigger plan.
- Find a quilt with lots of small scraps of fabric in it. Show the quilt to your kids and tell them that God is like the quiltmaker. When the quiltmaker started, she only had scraps of fabric, but she could see the whole quilt in her mind. Anyone looking at just the scraps might not see something beautiful, but the quiltmaker could see the bigger picture. It's that way with God. He can see the whole quilt and knows the pieces of our lives. One individual thing in our life may seem ugly or insurmountable, but when you can see the picture of our whole life, like the quiltmaker can see the picture of the whole quilt, God can see that it all works to make something beautiful for Him.
- Emphasize the importance of conversation in a relationship by playing this game at dinner. Make something disgusting for dinner. Tell everyone that they aren't allowed to talk or gesture during dinner. After dinner, ask your family if they liked the meal (they still aren't allowed to talk, gesture, make faces). Tell them that since they are all unanimous in their silence, you'll be making that meal at least once a week. After you inform them that you'll all be going out to pizza, ask them how it felt to not be able to tell you what they thought. Talk about how you just had to assume that they liked the meal because they didn't give you a response. Ask them how they think they can know God's plan for their lives if they don't talk to Him. Remind them that we can't really know God or hear his voice if we're not regularly conversing with Him.
Tomorrow we'll look at the How of prayer. How did Jesus tell us to pray?