The God we pray to
The subject of prayer is something which is often spoken of in church. We offer many different kinds of prayer in our worship together. We have prayers of approach, of adoration, of confession, of thanksgiving and of intercession. We have prayers before the reading of Scripture and prayers after we receive our offering. We offer prayers of blessing for meals and we have personal times of devotional prayer – perhaps in the morning and/or the evening.
Now I am sure that all of us pray – some more, some less. I am also sure that most of us have struggled with prayer. We know that it is necessary and normal for us to pray but we have no doubt discovered that in practice praying is not always plain or smooth sailing. We read the commands and encouragements to pray in the Bible; Jesus taught the disciples to pray and Paul calls prayer part of the armour of God that every Christian must put on; in fact, he goes so far as to say that all believers are to be praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18). He goes on to say that: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6).
Yet we end up struggling, and not just over making time for prayer or finding a place for it. Thoughts wander, hearts that long to be praying freeze once we start, and we dry up. Whether we are using our own words, trying to be silent or reciting a set prayer we can find ourselves questioning whether or not we are really engaged in our prayer.
J.I. Packer, the author of the book Praying, whose words will guide us for the next number of weeks knows that good praying is at once both a duty for us as Christians but that it should also be a delight. His objective in writing this book is to help us move from seeing prayer as simply a duty and come to find true delight in our prayer. So we will explore prayer and the practice of praying that we might grow in our knowledge of prayer and come to a place where we find prayer a delightful and refreshing part of our life with God.
Sometimes we think that we are in a generation that has more difficulty with prayer because our lives often do not leave space or time for prayer but the reality is that every generation has struggled to find the time and space to pray. Even Jesus had to remove himself from the everyday movement of life to gain space and time for prayer.
Packer believes that in spite of the struggles we find we have with prayer; it is possible to have heartfelt, meaningful, enriching realism in our prayers. He sees three things as key to this: 1) a clear realization of the reality of God; 2) a continual practice of the presence of God; and 3) a constant endeavour to please God every day of our lives.
A clear realization of the reality of God comes from knowing those facts about God that he himself has told us in the Bible. A continual practice of the presence of God comes from an awareness that one is always under God’s eye and in God’s hands; and, as a Christian, is in the intimate company of God. Our lives are like the lives of anyone else who is on this earth. We have our ups and downs but unlike others who share this life with only their earthly companions, we have the companionship of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A constant endeavour to please God comes from love to God, called forth by our wonder at the creation that surrounds us and by our wonder at the work of God in Christ to redeem us and save us.
But to begin, let us look at some truths about God that we might better understand the God we pray to. The first truth is that God is personal. God presents himself to us in personal terms; he is the God who is here and who meets us, has his eye on us and takes an interest in us as persons, just as we take a personal interest in each other. And so God’s relationship to humans involves two-way speech. God speaks and we listen for God’s words; we speak and God listens to our words.
The second truth is that God is multi-dimensional. We know that God is one but we also have come to know God as a Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We know that each is part of God is a revelation of who he is and gives us a fuller understanding of how we can relate to God and God to us.
The third truth is that God is unique. We can have a relationship with this God because we know his name. When asked who he was, God answered the people. He said I am who I am; or I will be who I will be” or “I am what I am.” And of all the names that people used, the one most common was the term we hear so much of the Old Testament – Yahweh. This is the covenant name God gave to express his commitment to the people.
The fourth truth is that God is powerful. God is able to be present to us even in the most trying and difficult moments of our lives. We think of God as being present with us in our innermost being and able to guide and help us.
The fifth truth is that God is purposeful. From the beginning of time through the fall of Adam and Eve, through all the events in the history of the people of Israel, to the coming of God in the person of Jesus, to the granting of the Holy Spirit and to the promise that Christ will return, God reveals his purposes. And his ultimate purpose is to bring us into a close and lasting relationship with him. Packer states that “the Christian life is a matter of developing friendship with God, friendship that flows from the Father’s gift to us of our Lord Jesus Christ, who…now makes friends with us…” (Praying, p. 29) God seeks for our lives to be transformed that we might feel that intimate connection and so live out the reality of this friendship through prayer.
The sixth truth is that God is a promise-keeper. God has ever kept his word. The greatest promise of all is that through Jesus our sins are forgiven and we can have hope and peace in believing in the word of God.
The seventh truth is that God is paternal but also maternal. While revealed to us as the Father, God has also shown us his maternal side when the Scriptures speak about the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Bible there are many places where we are told that God is like a Father to us and we have many examples of how this Father thinks and acts.
The eighth truth is that God is praiseworthy. Packer has given us seven truths about God which are keys to God’s character, his way of being and his way of acting. When we praise God, we are realizing that for all the focus God puts on us and our relationship to him, we need to put a focus on God and be thankful for the opportunity to know him and we offer our praise.
One last thing for today: Packer wants us to be aware that his approach is less a “how to” than a “who to” approach to praying. Coming to a knowledge of who and what God is, we have to be clear who we are when we come to God in our prayers. When we ask God for an interview, requesting his attention – which is what we do when we pray – we need to be very clear in our own minds not only about who he is but also about who we are and what constitutes a humble, honest, realistic, reverent attitude toward him. We remember that we come to God as redeemed people, saved by grace to not just be servants but adopted sons and daughters of God; not just followers but friends. So may we appreciate the love of our God as Father, as Christ and as Spirit and let our praying become ever more real.