Is there a required formula for approaching God?
Our friend Terry raised a question about prayer and, separately, Peter Mead has been asked to speak on the same topic next weekend. So here is my own question: should I pray about writing a post on prayer, or should I just do it in response to Terry and as part of my ongoing conversation with Peter?
Let me come back to the question below and start here with some initial thoughts. Prayer, most simply put, is an act of speaking to God; so prayer fits into a bigger picture of how God exists and relates to us.
So, Is there a required formula for approaching God? If, for instance, I were to speak to the president of the United States I would be expected to address him as “Mr. President.” And in England the queen is to be addressed as “Your highness”. So does God have his own set of expectations here? Perhaps “Almighty God” or “Oh Lord”?
And what about the substance of a prayer?
Given God’s greatness there needs to be some level of humility, if not awe, in approaching him. And we can hardly expect a holy God to listen to us if we have any form of active rebellion or disaffection towards him—some sin in our hearts. So is confession a prerequisite? This line of thought reminds me of an old acronym ACTS as a guide to prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (the final term is archaic but still works). Daniel’s prayer for his people in Daniel 9 includes these features and I find it helpful.
There is also what we call “the Lord’s prayer” in the synoptic gospels that elevates God’s status and touches on our needs. It keeps our need for daily provisions in perspective by the reminder that God’s kingdom and his will need to be foremost in our thoughts. And it refers to our sins as a problem God alone can solve; and calls for us to follow his model of mercy with each other. All are profoundly important points.
Now let me add something else Terry included in his question: what difference, if any, he asked, does a Trinitarian and affective engagement with God bring to prayer? The short answer: it’s huge!
Any answer begins with God as he is eternally active in a conversation that still exists as the communion of God’s mutual triune love. The Father speaks to the Son and the Son responds as the Spirit’s searching and sharing activity discloses the depths of each to the other. And this is where we who love Jesus first came into focus as “in love” we were chosen “in [Christ] before that foundation of the world” [Ephesians 1:4&5]. So that we now have, in Christ, “every spiritual blessing”.
This, as my favorite Puritan preacher, Richard Sibbes, pointed out, is a product of our being part of “Christ mystical”—that is, in the mystery of God’s plan for marriage there is a biblical “mystery” (see Ephesians 5:32) unfolded: that the collective group of Christ’s people are his bride. If we take out the gender/sexual features of human marriage what remains of this divine and eternal marriage is that as much as the Father loves the Son, he also loves us as his Son’s bride [see Sibbes’ “Description of Christ” on this in vol. 1 of his Works].
This explains, in turn, why Paul in both Galatians 4:6 and Romans 8:15, tells us that our approach to the Father is now the familial “Abba”/Daddy rather than a formal title; shifting from being status-based to desire-driven. Does the President’s wife, for instance, call him “Mr. President” because of his office; or does the immediacy of shared love and life together still call for the language of “dear” and “darling”?
Do his children now approach him with distant formality or still with childlike delight?
That’s not to say our bond with Christ and the Father by the Spirit is now free to be sloppy and demanding. Just the opposite is true: a relationship in which we share in a growing love and proper intimacy is even more alert to the wishes and cares of the other. The more we come to know the Father through the Son who introduces us to him and vice-versa, the more we can respond with the love that comes from having the Creator himself care for us with a fully-informed love. He, the one, who knows all about us—even the hairs on our head!—is not forcing distance on us. Instead he draws us near, embracing us as we come to him with our cares, concerns, and questions. Now back to the original question: did I pray for permission to write this post?
The answer is “no”. Why not?
Because I know God well enough to know that this is the sort of thing he made me for, and he wants me to act like an adult in making basic decisions like this that fit within the context of his love for me. But I did ask him, “Abba, I’d like to write something useful. Can you have your Spirit coach me a bit, with a view to share how your Son is central to all this?” And I started writing with a sense of real companionship with the God who loves me like he loves his Son.
Anyone want to add something of your own enjoyment of this freedom to pray with full and free access to the throne of grace? If so, please respond below!
You are invited to comment on Ron’s article at Cor Deo
Dr. Ron Frost
Ron served on faculty for more than 20 years at Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was professor of historical theology and ethics. He earned his PhD at King’s College of the University of London. His research featured Richard Sibbes (1577-1635). He now teaches internationally while serving as a pastoral care consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International. Ron authored Discover the Power of the Bible and writes on spreadinggoodness.org [See “Resources”].