As a child, I loved “popcorn prayer.”
It’s what my church called it when many people in a group just popped out little prayers spontaneously. Some people prayed longer prayers–even as part of popcorn prayer–but the idea was to have them be brief. I loved it because I could join in with the grown ups. This way I felt less awkward about praying out loud with others.
The great thing about popcorn prayer is that no one has to perform a beautiful prayer. It’s sort of not allowed. People can pray as frequently as they want to, but they need to give everyone a chance to join in. My daughter does a kind of popcorn prayer with her toddler. While she prays out loud, he adds in people and activities he’s thankful for or people he wants to pray for. At first it surprised me to hear him talking during our prayers. But when I realized what was going on, I thought it was beautiful.
Popcorn prayer usually gets easier as kids get older. We used to do it as a family in the car before each trip. But unplanned occasions for popcorn prayer can be when someone is upset or scared about something coming up. Sometimes these occur with hurting friends after church as we gather, having heard the pain. At home before meals could even be considered popcorn prayer at our house, as each person adds a little bit to the opening prayer.
But much more common for us are arrow prayers: those little “Help me, Jesus” prayers.
Those are probably the prayers we pray most frequently. A child cuts herself badly, our car is sliding on the ice, or someone shares something beyond awful that we do not know how to respond to appropriately. We call out for Jesus’ help and continue to ask for it as the crisis continues. Our children may not think to pray to Jesus every time something scary or unexpected happens. But they can learn to. A close friend shared with me her joy in learning that her teenagers had cried out to Jesus as they saw a falling telephone pole start to crash onto their stranded car. Her joy came first at her gratefulness for Jesus’ saving her children from sudden death. But her spiritual joy came from seeing her children know where to turn in danger. My friend has prayed with her children faithfully and now rejoices to see them own their faith.
My mom too had taught me to pray whenever I was scared or uncertain what to do, like when trying to befriend an ostracized schoolmate. I don’t think I remembered her advice often as a young child, but eventually I learned. Praying with my parents was initially much more comfortable than praying on my own.
Vivid memory of arrow prayers.
My personal first searing memory of shooting lots of arrow prayers at God was during a stay at a friend’s cabin in the woods hours from our house. Spending the weekend with a new friend and her parents, I did not expect to get my period and horrid cramps. At thirteen, I was too awkward with the facts of life to explain the situation to my friend’s crusty old mom. So I visited the outhouse frequently, curling up and crying out to God in pain. I did NOT want to have to ask my friends to drive me back home because of my pain. I also knew nothing yet about pain relievers for this distress.
Oddly, I remember a clear sense of embarrassment that I was praying to God about such an intimate matter. It makes me laugh now to think about it, since God’s the one who created my body. But thirteen-year-olds are young. I also remember God’s answering those prayers–not immediately–but much more quickly than was natural. It’s now clear to me that God used my little crisis to teach me the reality of my dependence on him. My pain made me see that dependence and cry out.
Attempts to grow.
Decades later, I’m trying to increase my arrow prayers during my time with my grandson. For example, instead of just kissing it to make it all better when he hurts himself, I’m trying to pray for healing or thank Jesus for healing in that moment. I figure the more often he hears me pray with him, the more natural it will become for him. That certainly continues to be true for me.
My New Year’s resolution is to pray more with my kids.
My making a New Year’s resolution to pray more with my kids seems odd, since I’m an empty-nester mom. When they were little, I prayed with them at regular times. As they grew up, I prayed with them more frequently, as uncertain situations came up. Even when they were out of the house and still single, we usually ended our Skype times with prayer. So how did it happen that I started telling my kids frequently that I’ll pray for them about things, rather than just doing it with them right then?
I’m sure part of it is the lack of being physically in the same place.
Praying over the phone or by text just doesn’t occur to me sometimes. I remember the first time my sister suggested praying for me over the phone. I was shocked. And then ashamed at myself for being shocked. Of course, God hears us over the phone. I just wasn’t used to it. But my sister’s prayer for me that day blessed me inexpressibly. I have no memory of what she prayed for that day, but I’ve never forgotten that she did. Over the phone. After that, I determined to start praying with others over the phone. And I have.
But sometimes phone conversations end unexpectedly before a chance to pray.
Sometimes during a phone conversation a child needs my daughter’s attention, and she has to end the conversation. Why couldn’t I say, “Lord, please help ______ with this difficult situation right now” as I hang up? I could. I need to highlight our talking to God in all the little things.
And other times conversations go on for a while, with someone explaining a troublesome situation and my listening. When the conversation is over and I’ve promised to pray about it, I realize I should have done it with her on the phone. That would have blessed her. And God promises that he is with us in a special way when we are gathered together praying.
Other times my own tasks get in the way.
I may get a text about a need or suddenly remember someone’s situation. But I’m in the middle of something or feel the need to get quickly to the next thing I need to do. I tell myself I’ll pray silently while I do whatever is next. Then I sometimes forget.
I had an ironic reminder of this yesterday. I had just begun writing this blog and had written the sentence about telling my daughter I’m praying for her and then postponing it. Just then I received a text from a friend with a heavy heart. As I started to text back, “I’m praying for you,” I jolted myself. Oops. Remember my New Year’s resolution. I need to do it right now. So I called her and prayed with her right then. I need to do that more.
Here’s the thing: We all need others to pray for us.
Our kids need our prayers. Our friends need our prayers. And our relatives and the many, many other people in our lives need our prayers. And all of us thrive by knowing someone is praying for us. Vocal prayer for us in our presence is tangibly loving. It warms us with the feeling of God’s love expressed by one of our people.
But silent prayer is powerful too, especially if the person asks us about the prayed-for need later. That act of checking with us later makes it clear that someone has brought our needs directly to the throne of God for us. We feel God’s love in the action of our friend or relative. Or even in a stranger who prayers for us.
I am praying that God reminds me frequently of my New Year’s resolution to pray more with my kids–and more with other people too. And what better way to show our kids–whatever their ages–the love of God than a New Year’s resolution to pray with them more!
Are we broken reflections of God’s character?
When our children were little, my husband and I tried to teach them well. We tried to teach them to love Jesus, to behave well, to be nice to each other. Many times that worked well. But what we did not realize until years into this parenting gig is that children do not automatically accept our values. We know that’s true of teenagers. We brace ourselves for that during those years.
But I did not expect it so early. I did not think of the possibility that my five-year-old would not accept the values of honesty and respect of others’ property.
The fact that lying and stealing are wrong does not necessarily matter to a five-year-old. And every carefully thought-out punishment cannot change that. Believe me–we tried everything.
Then I read Josh McDowell’s Right From Wrong–a book based on extensive surveys of churched and unchurched teenagers. Wow! He was right. I too had been trying to teach my daughters right from wrong through turning biblical principles into behavior.
I had been missing the why. The perfectly righteous character of our God is the reason we need to act justly in love and truth. As his children we need to reflect his character to those around us.
But too often we are broken reflections of God’s character.
As are our children. But when we focus on their behavior, as McDowell’s book demonstrates, we reinforce for our children their desire not to get caught rather than their desire to be truly good.
I’m grateful my parents never worried to me about what others would think if my sisters or I misbehaved. But even so, I internalized too much of a focus on good behavior, rather than on the reason for the good behavior.
What I needed to realize is that my experience of living as God’s child should make me want to reflect his perfectly righteous and loving character. We seek to do good not to earn God’s love but to reflect the goodness of the God who loves us.
Reflecting God’s character also needed to be the motivation for my children.
I will never forget the night I sat down with a seemingly incorrigible young daughter–and talked about reflecting God’s character.
This evening after a series of misbehaviors, I asked her, among other things, if she was a child of God. “Yes,” she answered grudgingly. I asked her if God ever lied. “No,” with eye rolling. Did God ever steal? “No,” in an even more exasperated voice.
Then I asked her if children usually look like their parents. Then if she, as a child of God, wanted to look like God. All her answers were easy until the last one. The question that changed her was “What would it look like if you as a child of God were to look like God?”
She probably took two solid minutes to think that over before answering in a bewildered voice: “Not lie. Not steal.”
After she told me she wanted to look like God, we prayed together that God would give her his power to change. God answered that prayer powerfully. The family could hardly believe the change in her behavior. And that it lasted.
But God changed me through that exchange as well. I realized how important it is to strive to minimize broken reflections of God’s character by focusing on him more than on behavior.
What is the best thing you’ve done for your children so far? How about for their knowledge of Jesus?
Many people know that James Dobson famously told fathers the best thing they can do for their children is to love their children’s mothers well. I’ve often wondered why he didn’t give the matching advice to mothers.
But do you know that one simple, regular action is reportedly 99% effective in keeping that marriage love alive? That marriage love is just as important for our children as for ourselves. And their understanding of the love of God for them is greatly aided by seeing godly love in family members.
General estimates put chances of divorce in general as about 50%. Unfortunately, other studies show that married people in the church do only slightly better.
Various studies indicate the staying power of marriages where people pray together as between 95 and 99%. Staggering data.
Simply going to church together seems to have little impact on the duration of marriages—according to surveys. Though my own experience is that attending church together strengthens marriages.
But prayer together out loud makes a dramatic difference in protecting marriages against the enemy.
That may seem impossible.
But what happens when we pray together? If we are sincere as we turn to God, we find the Holy Spirit working in us as we pray. I’ve had many times when I was irritated with a friend, yet praying for her caused me to see life from her perspective in unexpected ways. Even when I was not praying about the conflict.
It is true with our spouses as well. Often it may be too awkward to express all that we are feeling in our prayer. That’s okay. Any effort to go to God together unites us. God draws us closer to himself and closer to the person we are praying with.
My husband and I started praying together before bed for an embarrassing reason. Someone my age had brought up casually something about their prayer time as a couple before bed. I immediately got defensive and thought, “She’s not closer to God than I am! We should do that too!”
Obviously, that was totally the wrong motivation. A sinful motivation. But because my husband and I did come to God sincerely, he blessed us and our marriage tremendously.
For most people praying out loud with children feels less intimidating than with other adults. So if praying as a couple scares you, start with your kids. But remember how our marriages are strengthened when we pray out loud together regularly.
Maybe the easiest way to start praying out loud together is by praying with your children together.
When we think about wanting our children to experience the power of prayer in their daily lives, isn’t the best thing seeing it modeled by parents who talk to God regularly together?
What are some of the things that motivate or stand in the way of prayer with our spouses?