I find that there’s a lot of confusion and unintentional obfuscation about how we should talk to God.
But what is the issue with how we talk to the Lord anyway? Why should this topic bother you, and why is it important? My personal experience is that many times, Christians don’t pray because they feel hamstrung about how they should pray.
Sometimes the concern is external. Christians worry about the form of the prayer: The words, the place, the physical posture – whether their prayer is tonally appropriate or reverential. And sometimes it’s internal: Whether they have their heart right, whether they have enough faith, whether they are still enough before the Lord.
Prayer becomes such a complicated affair that Christians end up not praying. Yet the way God operates in this world is through the prayer of His people. James 5:16 states clearly that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
And 1 Corinthians 2:15-16 (TLB) also tells us this:
But the spiritual man has insight into everything, and that bothers and baffles the man of the world, who can’t understand him at all. How could he? For certainly he has never been one to know the Lord’s thoughts, or to discuss them with him, or to move the hands of God by prayer. But, strange as it seems, we Christians actually do have within us a portion of the very thoughts and mind of Christ.
Christians can move the hands of God by prayer! So when Christians stop praying – things stop happening. We need to lay down the wrong notions of how we should pray so we do pray.
Let’s take a step back and go to the story of Abraham. Abraham is the father of the Jewish nation, and he also represents the relationship we as believers have with God today (Romans 4). So this sharing isn’t just something applicable for a time long past, but represents how we should walk and commune with our Lord today.
Abraham is introduced to us in Genesis 12, but the first time we have a recorded dialogue between him and God is in Genesis 15. Up to this point, we only see the Lord speaking to Abraham. These are words of goodness and grace, as the Lord promises Abraham greatness, land, posterity and blessing (Genesis 12:1-3; 12:7, 13:14-17; 14:18-20).
For many of us, this is how we start our Christian walk. As we get familiar with the Lord, we are often the ones being spoken to. We are told of God’s promises, and God blesses us as we become familiar and intimate with him.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s like the beginning of a relationship where the couple begins to know each other better – what they stand for and what they see in their future. A Christian should not feel obliged to be the “mature partner” in the relationship, but instead be comfortable with being wooed over and over again by God.
So let’s see what Abraham told God, right after God promised to be a “shield” and “great reward” (Genesis 15:1) for him.
“Abram said, “God, Master, what use are your gifts as long as I’m childless and Eliezer of Damascus is going to inherit everything?” Abram continued, “See, you’ve given me no children, and now a mere house servant is going to get it all.”” (Genesis 15:2-3, MSG)
God doesn’t want us to come to Him with false reverence and complex prayers. He wants the honesty of our hearts and the candour of how we really feel – even about Him.
The first thing that comes out of Abraham’s mouth was abject disappointment. It’s not a response full of faith and thanksgiving – it didn’t sound like a “Christian” response at all.
It’s a man baring his brokenness – his heart’s desire. His brutal honesty might shock some religious types. On a human level, we might be offended by Abraham’s response. But look how God responded:
“Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”” (Genesis 15:4-5)
God didn’t chastise Abraham or call him ungrateful. Instead He reminded Abraham of His promise for him, and to take things one step further, He gave Abraham a visual reminder of the promise which was to come. Based on this, Abraham believed the Lord.
The Lord didn’t penalise Abraham for having a crisis of faith, but credited righteousness (Genesis 15:6) to him when Abraham believed again.
This wasn’t a one-off. Later on, Abraham wavered again in trusting God’s promises, and took things into his own hands by having a son Ishmael with Hagar – even though God made clear that Isaac would be born to him in a year.
Abraham even mocked God’s promises to him (Genesis 17:17-18). In spite of that, the Lord reminded Abraham of the promise and that He would bring it to pass (Genesis 17:19)
Now let’s take a look at Genesis 18 – one of the first times someone intercedes for another party in the Bible.
“Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:23-25, NKJV)
See how bold Abraham is with the Lord? He doesn’t disguise his speech, he doesn’t restrain his passion. In essence, he’s simply telling God: “Hey, this can’t be right! That’s not fair! You’re not like that!”
And this is how God responds: The Lord lets Abraham entreat him – even though His holiness demands that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah must be dealt with. He lets Abraham negotiate, right down to finding 10 righteous people in the city, and promises that “for the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” (Genesis 18:32)
It’s important to understand that Abraham didn’t restrain himself before the Lord, but said what was in his heart. God doesn’t want us to come to Him with false reverence and complex prayers.
He wants the honesty of our hearts and the candour of how we really feel – even about Him.
To close, let’s look at two verses. The first comes from James (Jesus’ brother) in his letter to the Jews living outside of Israel. James’ letter is primarily concerned with what a Christian life looks like. And as he closes the letter, he writes this to the believers:
“Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth for three years and six months.” (James 5:17, King James 2000)
What I want to focus on is the fact that Elijah was a man “subject to like passions.” There was nothing unique or special about Elijah that made him super holy or special before God. He was a man like you and me. And when he spoke the Word, it was considered a prayer good enough for the Lord to act on his behalf.
If this was true for a man under the Old Covenant – how much more you and I? Having been cleansed by Jesus’ blood, we have direct access to Father God in the New Covenant!
We need to lay down the wrong notions of how we should pray so we do pray.
The second verse comes from the Old Testament, where the Lord is giving instructions on the priestly garments. I’ve heard a pastor speak before about how each element of the garments reflect an aspect of our High Priest Jesus today – visual representations of what Jesus is doing for us right now in heaven.
But I want to zoom in on one element in particular: The plate of gold on the front of the priest’s turban – on the forehead of the priest. Let’s see what the Bible tells us:
“You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.” (Exodus 28:36-38)
The engraved declaration of “Holy to the Lord” is on Aaron’s head as he faces God. So though our thoughts may not be pure and holy, they are “cleaned up” when represented through the High Priest.
Now because Jesus is our High Priest and we are in Him, despite the selfishness and inherent flaws of our prayers and thoughts, Jesus “cleans” our prayers up and they are submitted as holy unto the Lord.
So pray as you are. Jesus our High Priest has made our thoughts perfect and clean before the Father today. Pray as you feel: Pray when the words don’t flow and the tears won’t stop.
God wants you to talk to Him as a friend. He wants you to come to Him just as you are. He loves you perfectly and has provided the way through Christ for you to do just that.
Keep on praying on. Miracles are waiting to happen in your life.
This article was first published on Tris’ blog, and is republished with permission.