Developing skill in prayer
I find that it helps me to think of prayer (and many areas of spiritual growth) in terms of human development. I see three divisions: Baby, Child, and Adult. The apostle John used the same three, but he called them: children, young men, and fathers. The growth and maturity levels are distinctive and helpful as we examine ourselves to see where we fit in all this.
Baby children are a joy
When a baby starts learning to talk, it first doesn’t know the words. When the baby learns words, they are entirely self-centered. It is a joy to watch and start to see the unique person hidden in that undeveloped boy or girl. Our pleasure comes as the baby shows us his or her personality, gifts, and talents.
Much of early childhood training centers around teaching a child to talk with you about anything other than its own needs and wants. Original sin shows up in children before they can walk or talk in their selfish, self-centered life. They want what they want when they want it—or else.
In very young Christians the same thing happens—at least for a time until the Holy Spirit can get the newly reborn believer’s attention. Even rare thoughts of ministry are usually more about building themselves up. This is normal behavior—but certainly not acceptable in a young adult.
There is a lot of “I love you, Mommy. I love you, Daddy.” This is very nice and it accurately describes most of our early attempts at worship. It does us good to remember that this is the essence of worship. However, the baby child rarely gets beyond selfish requests and childish worship. The moments in which this transcendence occurs are pearls of joy.
The childish young adult realizes his or her potential
Though it can get quite irritating, it’s a real breakthrough when our son or daughter starts asking why. Why? Why? Why? Thankfully, we serve a God with infinite patience who is willing to answer and train us—if we begin to listen. The why questions are the first focus outside ourselves. We need to pray that the young believer finds a true mentor just like we pray to be a good parent.
The next major step is seen when the why questions convert to hows. Then growth begins to happen much more quickly. The parallel progression of behavior during this questioning phase normally runs through sharing your toys to, treating others the way you want to be treated, and finally graduating into how can I help? That helpfulness hopefully coalesces into the more mature “what do you want me to do?”
But even at this point, it is likely that there has been little or no sharing about likes, dislikes, gifts, talents, calling, purpose, or anything real that is necessary for adult growth. In modern America, children commonly never think about these things until they go to college.
Our Olympic athletes are a wonderful, but very rare example of the pinnacle of young adulthood. This level of self-development is exceptional and hardly ever realized in our American culture. For most people, this level of growth is as far as people grow.
Here prayer is about others and efforts become directed at helping society, “giving back”, and finding one’s place in the world. You can see this clearly again in the athletes. How sad it is to watch a young adult, who has focused his life on a basically self-centered goal (like being the best in the world), when they are asked, “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” For many of them, we quickly see how young they really are.
In prayer, the young adult learns to overcome the enemy and develops skill in identifying and thwarting his attacks. The requests become very goal-oriented. This is where megachurches are birthed, world-wide ministries are developed, and the person learns to follow the Lord with purpose. Our worship develops into thanksgiving for help and guidance, amazement at God’s provision, and wonder at His knowledge and wisdom.
We need to understand, however, that this is not the end. A human will have a horrific “mid-life crisis” if his or her development is arrested at this level. We must grow beyond this—and very few do. What do you do when your goals have been reached? You discover their limited nature. People become unglued at this point unless they continue to focus on growth, straining ahead for the prize of the upward calling.
The adult patriarch or matriarch has found his or her purpose
As young adult prayers and development reach their conclusion, the adult “finds themself”. Prayer becomes “What did you design me to be?” What do you want me to do?” Where do you want me to go?”. You have the maturity and skill to be of real service by this point in your life. You can relax in the sure knowledge that the Lord has all the basic provisions covered. You’re not even concerned about that anymore. You realize that prayers for our daily bread are covered by a Lord who knows what we need before we ask Him.
Our worship becomes grateful thanksgiving for the wonders of a relationship with God Almighty and the joy of intimacy with Jesus through His Holy Spirit. As John puts it, we relax into genuine knowledge of the Lord. We can truthfully say, “I know Him, love Him, and trust Him.”
We find true satisfaction
What is this true satisfaction? It’s being able to relax into the knowledge that Jesus has it covered—as we produce what we were designed to do and become what we were created to be. It’s doing what you were meant to do at a level where you can truly help and mentor young adults following the same general path. Above all it is producing fully developed and highly skilled projects, events, organizations, and ministries which truly make a difference in the Kingdom of God. How rare people of this level of growth have become in our world today!
Above all we come to realize that we have a unique point of view and a unique set of skills that has developed into a special person. We have become a loving person capable of friendship we can share with our heavenly father that He rejoices in. What a joy that is!