Last night I got some terrible news about a close friend. After the phone call, there was nothing to do but pray. We gathered our kids downstairs, told them what had happened, and did what Christians do when death, sorrow, and pain lacerate the soul: we spoke to God.
Three of the kids wanted to pray after me. They love my friend just like I love my friend. But our prayers were very different, in all the ways you might expect. Listening to my children pray reminded me that God cares more about our sincerity than our skill.
It’s not that God doesn’t care how we pray. He does. When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he didn’t say, “Say whatever you want, as long as you really mean it.” No, he taught them, and the church has been learning to pray from the Lord’s Prayer for twenty centuries and counting.
The Scriptures are filled with examples, instructions, and warnings about prayer. We have numerous Old Testament models, 150 psalmic prayers for every season, and rich apostolic prayers inspired by the Spirit of Christ himself. Our Father does care about how we approach him and speak with him in prayer.
But still, God cares more about our sincerity than our skill. He wants our hearts and our humility more than he wants a precise methodology.
There is no false dichotomy here. We should never drive a sharp wedge between message and method, content and medium, sincerity and skill. Over time, maturity should blend them together. But it will always be true, and it should always be remembered: Those who pray with skill do not always pray with sincerity, while those who pray with sincerity will usually develop the skill.
Every parent knows that we learn as much from our kids as our kids learn from us. So often, young as they are, they become our teachers. They call us back from our overcomplexities and our skill-addiction, back to the childlike sincerity where the kingdom loves to be born. Their prayers may be broken and stumbling, just like the broken world over which they pray, but their little hearts — well, the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.