I was reading an article recently that studied the impact of parents talking with young children who were just learning to talk. The researchers found that no matter what a family’s economic or social situation, the more that parents engaged in daily conversations with their children, the more rapidly the children’s vocabularies grew (Hart & Risley, 1999).
Nearly all families talk with their children to get things done. If you have kids, phrases such as “You need to finish your dinner,” or “It’s time to get dressed,” or “Stop cleaning the window with a hotdog bun,” (well, maybe that’s just my family) are probably very familiar to you. The point is, we all talk to our children in order to get things accomplished, but the real magic happens when we talk to them simply for the pleasure of talking to them. Not only does this strengthen our relationship with our kids, but also the research in the article stated that this type of conversation is highly related to children’s vocabulary growth.
I believe the same is true in our relationship with God. God has initiated a conversation with us by giving us the Bible. Through his Word, God reveals to us who He is and what He does and who He is calling us to be. And, the more I immerse myself in his Word, the more I am able to learn how to pray. In his book called Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Tim Keller wrote, “We speak only to the degree we are spoken to.” Eugene Peterson also wrote, “All speech is answering speech. We were all spoken to before we spoke.”
Just as studies have shown that a child’s vocabulary grows the more their parents speak to them, I believe our prayer lives can grow the more we allow God to speak to us through His word. As that happens, we’ll discover a few things:
- Our minds are being renewed and we can better know God’s will (Romans 12:2)
- We will know how to better pray according to God’s will (1 John 5:14)
- We will pray with greater faith (Romans 10:17)
- Our motives will become less self-centered and more God-centered (James 4:3)
- Our lips will overflow with praise (Psalm 119:171)
- We will know how to pray God’s great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:3–4)
This is a journey, for sure. An important thing to remember is that when we see others further along in some area than we are, we have to remember that they did not start out where they are now. They started out where we are now. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not quite where you’d like to be when in comes to spending time with God. Tim Keller went on to write, “If the goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God, then it is only by immersion in the language of the Bible that we will learn to pray, perhaps just as slowly as a child learns to speak.”
My children did not learn to speak overnight. It was a very long process. It started with one word. It moved to two, three, and four words. Those words slowly turned in to short phrases. Those phrases slowly turned in to sentences. Those sentences are now conversations and they continue to learn new words every day and we are able to have more in depth conversations every day.
Now, I didn’t love my children any less when they only spoke one word to me at a time. I was just as happy to hear their voice one word at a time, as I am now one conversation at a time. We’re invited to come to Jesus in the same way… as little children. The journey might be a slow one, but the more we come to Him and allow Him to come to us, our relationship with Him will deepen and our prayer lives will as well.