My morning run had been silent before I heard myself start praying with an intentionality and determination that matched my footsteps. I realized that lately I hadn’t come to God with expectation or intention of being heard, even though I’ve been told in Scripture to, “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, NIV).
“Do you believe God will meet you in prayer?” and “Do you believe God knows you?” were two questions that Riccardo was asked during his sermon, “Our Father,” last Sunday (10/2/16). We all have our own individual reasons for why we shrink back from our heavenly Father. There are a lot of painful experiences – or lacking of experience – that we carry with us. Maybe “father” tries to draw on memories that are just not there. Instead maybe “father” holds a meaning that brings fear or distance. Me? I’m just skeptical. I am a pessimist and will try to poke holes in most anything that seems to be sure. So when someone says that God is my heavenly Father and wants to meet me in prayer, I react with skepticism.
These feelings and reactions have been perfectly normal (unfortunately) in the history of praying to God. In prayer, we are called into a relationship that has been … well … broken is putting is nicely. Adam led us into rebellion against God, but Jesus has called us into family with God (Romans 5:12-17). So we feel the “already but not yet” tension of Scripture as we approach our heavenly Father. This tension, due to the fall through Adam, has been experienced by all who have sought out God. Consider these psalms:
When you feel the Spirit of God has left you in the dark.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death… (Psalm 13:1-3, NIV)
When you feel King Jesus must be sleeping.
How long, Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their ravages,
my precious life from these lions.
Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent.
Do not be far from me, Lord.
Awake, and rise to my defense!
Contend for me, my God and Lord. (Psalm 35:17, 22-23, NIV)
When the heavenly Father doesn’t feel like a “father.”
Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion? (Psalm 77:7-9, NIV)
Because God is God, I keep coming back to prayer in spite of my skepticism. The Spirit has done something in me that is as real as creation itself, and I believe that. God disappoints me when I expect him to be like the idol that I have made and put up in his place, but he shatters that. Our Father asks me to grind up that idol and desecrate it (Exodus 32:20). He asks that we depend on him alone, so we live that.
Prayer is that living conversation. God and we have a part to play. We must be believing and depending as a child is of their parents. We may have had fathers who disappointed or let us down, but we can’t let that jade our innocence. Innocence, and not skepticism, is what the Spirit breaths into us.
This innocence is dependence in God like a child in a parent. We must plead with our heavenly Father just the same. My kids ask me for things so incessantly that I sometimes lose my cool. They try repeating their request, rephrasing it, calling me by other names, tapping on my leg or side or shoulder, even clicking with their mouth. They are incessant. They are dependent. They are innocent.
But what are we asking for?
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:7-15, NIV)
Jesus surprises us here with his attempt to change our focus when praying. This prayer is suggested so we might change our focus to something and take our focus off something else.
To our heavenly Father’s earthly Kingdom.
(Not building a name for ourselves.)
To minimal needs.
(Not seeking a bigger house, a better paying job and a nicer car.)
(Not exacting repayment from others.)
To our Father’s deliverance.
(Not getting ourselves out of the mess.)
Starting today and through next week, I’m going to spend time each day praying with someone else to our Father in heaven. I’m going to focus on changing my behaviors and prayers to become more dependent like an innocent child.