Next to a chainsaw, the most dangerous tool you could find in my hand is a rhyming dictionary. The good news is I have not touched a chainsaw for months. The bad news is I recently dusted off New Rhyming Dictionary and Poetry Handbook. My subject is prayer so maybe, with much prayer, I can do more good than harm.
A Child’s Prayer
Writing Back To God made me reflect on the people and events God used in preserving my life and leading me to faith in Christ. Though I did not have a clear understanding of the gospel as a child, my parents laid a good foundation with biblical truths about God and myself. One of my earliest memories is of my Mom stooping beside my bed and having me repeat this prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
That nightly routine and the words of that little prayer helped establish a Godward orientation to my life. Not every child receives that. I learned some vital truths at a very young age:
- I learned I could pray to God. What a concept! Many PhDs have not figured that out.
- I learned I was not ready to go to sleep until I had said my prayers. I don’t speak of praying in that way now; it sounds more ritualistic than personal. Yet, it conveyed the priority of praying to God.
- I learned that God could protect me, but I should not presume upon that protection. I should ask for it.
- The third line presents the possibility of death. It would have been bizarre and borderline cruel if, night after night, my mother had said, “Now remember Timmy, you might die in your sleep. Good night!” However, prayer is serious business, and I can talk to God about the scariest stuff.
- Additionally, I learned my eternal destiny was not to be taken for granted; it was to be a matter of prayer. Ultimately, God would decide where I ended up.
As one would expect, my prayers became more varied and improvised as I matured. For most of my adolescence, I continued a somewhat sporadic pattern of prayer at night.
However, the time came while in the Army when I ceased to pray. I recount some of this in Back to God. My life was a sinful mess. The last thing I wanted to think about was what happens “if I should die before I wake.” For prayer to be possible, one has to have hope, but I was hopeless. Prayer would only be reawakened in me when another soldier brought me God’s message of hope.
Interestingly, my evangelist started the conversation by asking, “Tim, do you know where you would go if you died tonight?” From there, he proceeded to share the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That prompted me to read the Bible, and particularly the book of Romans. I was overwhelmed by the astonishing message of God’s grace. Then the flame of prayer was reignited when I read, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'” (Rom. 10:13). God heard my cry that day, and now I have the Holy Spirit dwelling in me and teaching me to cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15).
So recited prayers can be powerful tools for instructing small children about themselves and God. Such prayers may help them form a daily habit of praying. However, only the gospel has power to kindle the eternal flame of prayer in our hearts.
A Responsive Prayer
You may want to take cover now as I am about to wax poetic. Understanding the role that prayers can have in teaching important theological truths and the necessity of the gospel to ignite prayer in the heart, I recently composed a responsive bedtime prayer for my daughter and son-in-law to use with their young sons. I patterned it after the prayer my mother taught me, but I filled it with gospel hope.
As I lay me down, I pray,
Thank you Jesus for this day.
By your grace forgive my sin,
Make me true and clean within.
Holy Jesus guard your sheep,
For you died our souls to keep.
Keep us trusting in your grace,
Till we see you face to face.
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