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The Power of Simple Prayer


Editor’s Note: Overseas Lay Missioner Joleen Johnson shares the story of her spring break babysitting turned God-moment. She expresses the power of a simple prayer through the eyes of her younger cousin.

When I was in college, I excitedly volunteered to babysit my twin cousins while their parents were gone for the weekend. It was my spring break and I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than hanging out with those two four-year-olds who bring abundant smiles to my life. 

I was sleeping very peacefully when the pitter-patter of two tiny little feet, closely followed by another set of pitter-patters, disrupted my slumber. The two youngsters crawled up into the bed I was sleeping in, demanding that it was time to start the day. I rolled over to look at the time– not even 6am yet. Of course, little kids wake up before the crack of dawn, which was something I was not used to at all. 

It was day three of babysitting and I was already exhausted. I told these twin four-year-olds that we should say our prayers before we start the day. They complied, and after I said some prayers I asked the little girl what she would like to pray about. I believe she named just about every person she had ever met in her short four years. Then chattered on about many other things, and ended with praying for the “animals that got smooshed”. I have no idea what animals she was talking about, but prayed along with her for the “smooshed animals” anyway. I thought to myself, “what a compassionate kid to pray for animals.”

Then I asked her twin brother what he would like to pray about. Not to my surprise, his prayer was of significantly fewer words, yet, no less sincere. He mentioned a few things and people his sister had somehow missed, then concluded with innocently asking, “and can you bring me a football?”

Immediately, I was a little uneasy with this prayer. I had learned that we aren’t really supposed to pray for material possessions. I felt conflicted because I didn’t want to break a little four-year-old’s heart or criticize his prayer, but I also felt a responsibility to teach him about God and how to pray. I considered suggesting he pray for blessings or grace or something other than an object. It bothered me for a while, but as I learned that weekend, no thought lasts very long at age four, so we had already moved on to other things. I ended up not saying anything to him. 

We ate breakfast, and played (and played some more) and then they begged me to take them to the park. So to the park we went. The snow banks were melting on this Minnesota mid-March morning. As we walked along the path at the park, something caught the young man’s eye. He darted off and came back with nothing other than a football in his hand. The kid was overjoyed to say the least. His smile stretched as far as it could reach on his little face.

“Where did you get that?” I asked him. Wanting to verify that it wasn’t stolen. He pointed to a mostly melted snow bank. I looked around to find who the owner could be, but no one was in sight. Then as quickly as he had darted off to retrieve his prized possession, I remembered his words to his loving Father earlier that morning. He had prayed for a football, and God had brought him a football. My jaw dropped as a warmth swelled in my heart, so warm it could have melted the rest of the snow bank plus the ice on the lake adjacent to it. After a few moments of taking it in, I told him he could keep the football, that it was his – he prayed for a football and he was given a football. It was no coincidence that he found it that day. 

This football was not new. It had been frozen in snow for a long time. It was faded and waterlogged. Yet, the little one loved it. His four-year-old life had been lit up by the answer to his simple prayer. As we walked back home later, I reflected on how God knew the desires of my cousin’s little heart, and moved in his life, even communicating His love for His little one in a way that such a young mind could understand. Six years later, the kid still has the football and remembers the day he got it. What a witness. 

Just as God knew the desire of a four-year-old’s heart and heard his prayer, how much, then, does God know the desires of our hearts too, even the little desires, and the desires we don’t say out loud? How different are we really, than our four-year-old brothers and sisters? 

Perhaps in the eyes of God there is no desire too small or too insignificant that the Father won’t hear, and no child too young that He won’t listen to intently. Perhaps even it’s not about what we pray for, but that we pray. Perhaps on that day God delighted in hearing His four-year-old’s voice, and the desire of God’s heart was to make His love known by fulfilling the desire of His little boy’s heart. Perhaps God’s desire is the same with each and every one of us, each and every day. Perhaps we’ll never know until we ask.

Joleen discovered her passion for overseas service during her first mission trip in 2012 to Guatemala. Since then she has served in Haiti and studied abroad in India, teaching English in an elementary school, after which she began to feel the call to longer term overseas service. Joleen is excited to see what God will teach her through FMS, and looks forward to living out His call for her. She is inspired by FMS’s humble and relational approach to ministry.