Sentence Prayers

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Psalm 145:18 NIV)

Years ago I was at my hometown church one Sunday morning waiting for Sunday School to begin when one of the lay leaders came into the sanctuary and searched the crowd until his glance settled on me. It seemed he needed a substitute teacher for the four-year-olds. Now I was an unlikely candidate, but he was one of those people you didn’t like to say no to.

I rummaged through my mind for something from my own past to say to the amazingly quiet group that gathered in a basement room and what I came up with was sentence prayers. So I went around the room to each child, with some success until I came to one little girl who sat stone-faced, the only child who had a parent present to back her up. I tried to encourage her to ask God to bless her mommy and daddy or thank him for something special to her. Still, she sat speechless, without so much as a glance backward at her mother for direction or support. Finally, I was forced to move on.

In retrospect, the lesson I learned is that the stubborn little girl was right to stand her ground and not participate. True, heartfelt prayer cannot be prompted. Reducing the sentiment to a single sentence may be a good way to introduce the novice to a prayer life, but even then it must sprout from a kernel of conviction. Try as we might to draw confession or praise from someone we are trying to help, the words fall flat if not offered up in sincerity. 

There is no need to fret over what to say in prayer or how to say it. Prayers need not be overly long or eloquent to reach the heart of God. In fact, He prefers for them not to be. We shouldn’t be praying for the sake of impressing a human audience or God, for that matter. If we are willing to let down our guard for a moment and express our feelings to Him in earnest, He is always receptive to them.

Maybe starting with a sentence prayer is the way to go. The important thing is to make a start.

Heavenly Father, Help us to learn how to state our petitions to you with simplicity and sincerity. Amen

Carol (NC)