Last week Ron offered a helpful post on prayer. I appreciated this as I was preaching on prayer this weekend. I thought I’d follow up with a provocative little title and post on the same issue. Here’s the synopsis of my message from Saturday:
Who you are talking to influences how you talk to them. So which God you are praying to is massively important. I offered two versions of God. The first is the God Glen described recently as the OmniBeing. This is the God defined by beginning with “In the beginning God created,” the God who is primarily power, the God Mike described at the recent conference as God defined without the Son. This is the God described in many systematic theologies via a list of attributes that can go on for tens of chapters before the Son or the Spirit are brought into the discussion, sort of a God in essence that is agreed upon by philosophers and Christians alike.
The second is the God defined by beginning with “In the beginning God.” The God we glimpse in John 17:24 offering glory to the other, motivated by love, before the foundation of the world. This is the God who is eternally Father, and eternally Son, and eternally Spirit. This is the God is who is not defined primarily by power, but primarily by love (not denying that He is powerful, nor denying most of the standard list of attributes, but recognizing that those attribute lists tend to skirt around or overlook His love, which surely should be first on the list).
I noted the text in 1st Peter 5 that Mike pointed us to at the recent conference as a contrast between the two images of God. We cast our cares on God our Father because He cares for us. However, the image of the monadic power-hungry “god” in the Bible is the devil himself who prowls like a lion seeking someone to devour. Strong stuff. Then I went on to show that every New Testament writer speaks of God as a loving Father, as approachable, as loving, as tender, etc.
So, what about the three indicators that we may be praying to the wrong version of God? Here are my suggestions, you may have more:
1. When we start thinking we have to “get it right” in order to twist His arm. You know what I mean? Beginning and ending the prayer the right way, praying in the right position, trying to find the way to wrest God’s power into action. Of course we want to pray in a way that pleases and honours Him, that is only natural for those that love Him. However, if this becomes arm twisting because He inherently doesn’t want to hear or answer us, then something has skewed in our hearts and minds. So we will pray persistently, but not so as to force Him to do what He essentially doesn’t want to do, but because we are absolutely leaning into and onto Him, a faith-fuelled reliance.
2. When we start praying to “be something” ourselves. After all, if we’re made in the image of a God defined by His own capacities and commodities, then we will naturally pray for our own capacities to increase. Make me better at this, make me richer, make me significant. If we view God as the top of a pyramid, then we will start to pray for our own ascent up the pyramid. This doesn’t reflect God’s heart for the other person, His spreading goodness, for that would surely be reflected in a different tone of prayer life.
3. When we barely pray because our “little stuff” can’t really matter to Him. A child with a loving Father doesn’t feel daunted by the size of their parent. But a little person around a primarily power-driven figure will. Does God care about the parking spaces and little details of our lives? Depends if we are talking about the God of the Bible or not.