Growing Young in Prayer

“Dad, can we go to the water slides this summer?”
“We can think about it.”
“Dad, are we going to the water slides?”
“That sounds like a fun idea. We’ll look into it.”
“Dad, when are we going to the water slides?”
“We haven’t decided yet.”
“Dad, we’re going to the water slides this summer, right?”

If there’s one thing that my kids are good at, it’s persistence. Before ever knowing the principles of politics, advocacy, or fundraising, they seem to know by instinct that a persistent petition is far more likely to get the response they want than a one-time request. They know that sometimes their parents need to be worn down until something, or somebody gives. As a parent, I grow tired of this persistence, especially if it involves candy, screen time, or a playdate that requires a lot of driving. But there are times when that persistence is exactly what I want to see in my kids.

Two years ago, our teenage son learned about an exchange between his school here in Langley and its sister school in South Africa. Soon we heard a request from him. “Mom and Dad, do you think I could go?” This seemed like a fantastic idea, but as parents we wanted to see how serious he actually was about taking part in this trip. We helped him think through some things he should do in preparation, and waited to see what would happen. Sure enough, the requests to go on this exchange kept coming. With some help from us, over the next two years, he hosted a South African student in our home, wrote and submitted his exchange application, and worked hard to raise the funds for his trip. In March his dream came true; he travelled with a small team to South Africa to visit his sister school, live with a local family, and see many incredible sights which included encounters with lions, elephants, jaguars, and giraffes in the amazing Kruger National Park. All that persistence paid off!
I’ve been thinking lately about my son’s persistence in light of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:7, where he says, “Keep on asking, and you will receive. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you” (ASV). There are so many times when I have thrown a request up to God in prayer, and then left it there like an application at the passport office, assuming that if I’ve filed it right, it will eventually be processed and returned to me. But Jesus says that many truly worthwhile requests require the persistence of a child.

God doesn’t require persistence because He enjoys making His children wait, nor is He unable to answer. Rather, I’m learning from my own experience as a father, that not every request is best answered immediately. Sometimes I know more information than my children, and granting a request they have made on their terms doesn’t make sense within the wider plans of our family. And sometimes I ask my children to persist in their asking because I want to see how much ownership they really have in the answer. Will my saying ‘yes’ simply enable a fleeting idea, or will I be a partner with them in something they understand as worthwhile?

I think these dynamics are often at work between me and my heavenly Father. My Father wants to share with me the work of caring for and restoring His world. Somehow, He allows my persistence in prayer to have an influence on the timing and expanse of how He accomplishes His will on earth as in heaven. In so many cases He refrains from running ahead of my desire for His kingdom because he wants to share the joy of its coming with me. He’s waiting for a persistent pattern of request and follow-through from me.

Like my son’s desire to visit South Africa, the more I learn from Scripture about God’s kingdom, the more I want to visit it, discover it, and become comfortable in it. I want that kingdom’s way of life to be reflected in how my life, my family, my church, and my community operates. I want to know Christ more deeply, and imitate Him more closely. I want my family and my neighbours to experience the joys of knowing Christ. I want to see God moving powerfully through the church in my community. But He won’t simply deliver His kingdom to us, like a free, unsolicited album in our online music store, or even as a product we pay for once. He wants to give His kingdom to us because we’ve asked persistently for it, sought continually for it, knocked on the door of heaven for it. He wants to know that when He arrives with it, we’ll be eager to open the door and welcome Him in.

In 1 Corinthians 2:9, Paul says, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor mind conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” Perhaps I haven’t yet seen or conceived the extent of what God has for me, my family, and my community because I have not really asked with the persistence of a child who is serious about participating with his Father in the outcome, whatever that outcome may be. So I find myself praying, persistently, for God to help me grow up like that.

Tim McCarthy (’97 TWU and ’06 ACTS) is a pastor at North Langley Community Church. He is married to Cynthia (Vanderveen, ’97), who is a teacher, and they have 5 amazing kids: Liam, Carissa, Kiara, Aidan and Ashlyn. Photo by Damara Moe Photography (