We wrapped up our night in prayer, my 2 year old son on my left and my 5 year old daughter to my right. She finished, said "amen," and turned her head toward me: "That was a good prayer, wasn't it daddy?"
It really was. She had prayed for relatives, thanked God for his sustaining power, and even thanked God for Christ and his sacrifice. But what her words really asked was, "I did good, didn't I?"
In Matthew 6, Jesus had challenged his followers:
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
- Matthew 6:6-8
The point here isn't that we don't pray in public or out loud. It's not that we only hide in closets or hide that we believe prayer is truly world-defining. Instead, Jesus is pushing us toward genuine and sincere prayer, especially in our words and language.
These days, Jesus might not say, "Babbling like pagans, who think they'll be heard because of their many words." He might instead say, "And when you pray, resist feigned eloquence or flourishes - don't add tonal inflections and punctuated silence. That's not how you talk - so don't pray like it!"
In short, resist using your prayers to impress others.
To hear my 5 year old acknowledge that after only a few years in the church, she had already begun picking up on the subtle differences between a "good pray-er" and an "awkward pray-er;" between the implied power of eloquence vs. stuttering or simplicity was, honestly, a little scary.
What are we teaching our youngest about prayer? Not just explicitly, but implicitly, as well? What do we teach them through our prayers - our models - and of course, our words?
I'm challenged to move more and more toward genuine, simple prayer.