My husband and I were in San Antonio for a few days when I had the pleasure of meeting a young mother with four children, ages 3 to 12. We were exploring potential women’s programs for the churches we serve and had a conversation about prayer.
I asked her, “Why do you think God wants us to pray? After all, He knows our words before we say them and He meets our needs before we need them.”
She smiled and looked at her youngest, Cameron.
“God wants us to be in relationship with him. Look at my son. I know what he needs and make sure he is cared for. I tell him about God, but at the age of 3, I am God’s personal representative in his life.”
Just then, Cameron scooted around the table and interrupted us. She ignored him. He interrupted again, and again his mother ignored him. The third time he turned the volume up and she said, “Son, I didn’t answer because you were disrespectful. You didn’t say, ‘excuse me.’”
Cameron’s volume went way down. I could hardly hear his little voice. “Skuseme, momma, mam. Skuseme.”
In four (or six?) words, he had addressed their relationship, but also honored her with “mam” at the end of his sentence.
Isn’t that really what God wants from us? He wants our relationship with Him to be acknowledged and He wants us to honor Him with a reverence not unlike that of a southern gentleman in the making.
A. W. Tozer wrote, “When we become too glib in prayer we are most surely talking to ourselves.”
We’d been visiting after a leisurely lunch and the little guy was bored. I was sure his mother knew that before he interrupted. She handed over her cellphone with a kid’s game loaded on the screen and he happily settled back into his chair.
She continued, “I think if I teach my children to be respectful of others, they will learn to respect God also. Sometimes we go to Him and our petitions aren’t immediately answered. That’s when I hear Him say, ‘It’s in your best interest to come before my throne with respect.’
“I could have told Cameron to sit down and learn patience, but we had that lesson earlier today. This time I chose to remind him to respect the conversations of adults. As his mother, I want to teach him the way God teaches me — one lesson at a time. Each situation is an opportunity. Some day my children will need all these lessons as they navigate the tragedies of their own lives. I will not always be here. I want them to learn to go to God and pray from a place of relationship and complete trust.”
Charles H. Spurgeon preached, “A true prayer is an inventory of needs, a catalog of necessities, an exposure of secret wounds, a revelation of hidden poverty.”
Tozer and Spurgeon agreed on one basic tenet of prayer: it lives and breathes through our relationship with God. And like any meaningful friendship, we must be willing to communicate often and honestly from a place of respect and total trust. That only happens with experience.
We continued to talk, but Cameron and his siblings were never outside their mother’s attentive peripheral vision. When her older son was quiet for too long, she checked in with him. When her oldest daughter wanted the phone to check social media, she said no. “I cannot watch where you go right now.”
When the afternoon ended, I knew I’d had a very special look into the heart of God.
Sylvia Peterson is a former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and an author. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at email@example.com.