Prayer - Relating to God
Prayer is friendship with God, "keeping company with God, as Clement of Alexandria put it. Friendship - with any other person - involves giving oneself to the other, perhaps the most risky of all human endeavors.
Friendship with someone unseen has its very special risks. Perhaps we've sometimes echoed Job's complaint, "What is the good of praying to him?" (Job 21:15). Or we project into our relationship with God the hassles we experience in human relationships. (For example, it is not uncommon for people who've had bad experiences with their fathers to find difficulty in relating to God as Father).
But the real 'crunch' is in another direction. "God is not taken in by our polite little speeches".(1) While some people are genuinely afraid of the dark, all of us are rather afraid of the light. As the archbishop says in T. S. Eliot's play Murder in the Cathedral, "Human kind cannot bear very much reality". (2)
So the first thing to bear in mind is that God relates to us as we are, not as we'd like to imagine we are. He is not fooled by our pretences.
However, we hasten to add that this quality is precisely what makes prayer so enriching. Not only can we enjoy an amazing communion between earth and heaven; not only is prayer listening or speaking or perhaps crying or pleading or laughing with Another; that Other knows us, loves us (in spite of our pretences), and desires the best for us - only, always, the best.
So, in our wiser moments, we know that the highest goal in our lives ought to be to "know him" (Phil. 3:10). The purpose of prayer is, as John Donne put it, "to get as near God as you can". (3)
But how we pray depends on who we think God is. Why not spend a few moments - right now - writing down the kind of God you generally pray to? What is he like? What do you expect to happen when you pray? How did you come to get this/these ideas about God? Is your God, to whom you pray, the same God Jesus told us about?
Again: how we view him will determine how we pray. What have the great pray-ers believed about the God they pray to? If you'll pardon the alliteration, they have majored on three attributes.
GOD IS GOOD
He is "for us". When we call on him in the day of trouble, he will care for us (Ps. 50:15). As we read the biblical drama we find that he either delivers us from trouble, or in trouble. He is always there for us. He will never leave us or forsake us.
However, we do not treat God as a lawyer or doctor, only going to him when we've got a problem. He is our father, and like little children we ought to learn to enjoy our father's company in all the events of our lives.
He should become everything to us, and everything we do should be done for his glory. We should want him to accomplish in our lives "all things according to the counsel of his will" (Eph. 1:11). When we really believe God is good it is easier to pray "not my will but yours...."
You are in a boat, approaching the shore, and you throw the anchor-rope onto the shore. It grips the sand and you pull in the boat until it touches the shore. What have you done? Not moved the shore to the boat, but you have moved the boat to the shore. It is like that with prayer, and our moving into God's will for us.
GOD IS THE SUPREME GIFT-GIVER
There are thirty texts in the New Testament describing prayer as asking. Our Father delights to give gifts to us.
Prayer itself is a gift. True prayer is motivated by God, not by us. Our attitude is to be receptive, submissive, a channel through whom God can answer. True worshippers, Jesus said, relate to the Father "in spirit and in truth", "for the Father seeks such to worship him" (John 4:23-24). Christian thought calls it "prevenient grace" (Grace - God's giving freely out of his love for us; prevenient - from the Latin "to go before").
There's the same idea in Paul: we "work out your salvation ... for God is at work in us" (Phil. 2:13-14).
So prayer is our endeavor to be more responsive to God's reaching out to us. His gift of prayer enables us to surrender to his Holy Spirit, centering down and becoming calm, so that we are at peace as he prays in us (Romans 8:26). We "let go and let God". So when we pray we give God an opportunity to guide us, to use us as his instruments to pray through us.
GOD IS GREAT
All of the Christian saints affirm, with so many of the Psalmists, "Great is the Lord". He is the sovereign ruler of the universe. All power and authority belong to him. He is not a passive spectator.
He is great in his "being", beyond our comprehension or definition (any definition claiming to be adequate would be an idol of the mind).
He is great in wisdom. He is the one unto whom "all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden".
So our prayer always begins with worship. Some of the great hymns can help us: "Great God of wonders..."; "Jesus thou joy of loving hearts...".
"Our most fundamental need, duty, honor and happiness", says Frederick von Huegel, "is not petition, nor even contrition, nor even again thanksgiving... but adoration". (4) As one person lay dying of cancer he wrote: "All too often our faith is earth-bound and we find it hard to believe that God can do anything that our minds cannot explain. It is only as we spend time worshipping God, concentrating on the nature of his person, especially his greatness and his love, that our faith begins to rise". (5)
So adoration and worship are therapeutic!
Finally, some gems from the best book I've read on relating to God in prayer -Simon Tugwell's PRAYER: Living with God:
* "What could be greedier", remarks St. Augustine, "than a person for whom God is not enough?"
* "Many people want to be good, but not many people want God."
* "We are meant to become part of God's schemes, not to make him part of ours."
* "In a very real sense, God has nothing to give at all except himself."
* "We must accept that
God is the kind of God who, if he wants to show himself in our world, must do
so in weakness and poverty." (6)
1. Simon Tugwell, PRAYER: Living with God, Veritas, 1984, 11.
2. Ibid., vii.
3. Sermon 80 in LXXX Sermons. Quoted in Umbach, Herbert H., The Prayers of John Donne, Bookman, 1951, 26.
4. Huegel, Frederick von, Essays and Addresses, J M Dent & Sons, 1939, II, 224.
5. Watson, David, Fear No Evil, H & S , 1984, 59.
6. Tugwell, ibid., 119ff.
The foregoing is from a
chapter in my book "Recent Trends Among Evangelicals". The other chapters are
"Recent Trends Among Evangelicals", "Towards an Evangelical Theology of Social
Justice"' and "Evangelicalism Towards the 21st Century". Available for $5 plus
a few dollars for postage from John Mark Ministries, 7 Bangor Court, Heathmont,
Vic Australia 3135.
Shalom! Rowland Croucher
Director, John Mark Ministries - resources for pastors/leaders. (Bookroom, library, and worldwide F.W.Boreham Trading Post) Home Page: http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm
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