Christianity 201

December 7, 2017

Praying for God to Come Down. Or Not.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence. Isaiah 64:1

This may not be everyone’s favourite prayer. Some would find the presence of God to be a frightening experience and some would prefer God not exist at all so they need not worry about it. Some have deeply thought through positions of agnosticism or atheism. Many, however, land there having heard or seen slogans like “God probably does not exist, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”, and are quite happy to not give it much further thought. So please don’t talk religion, thank you. Why? Because people assume that if God exists, then they should worry. If God is alive and well, then while we are alive and well for now, all will not be well when we are no longer alive. There is a feeling that we would never be good enough, or could never be good enough to meet our Maker. So please don’t tear open the heavens and come down Lord!

However, there is a tone of confidence in Isaiah’s prayer which runs from Isaiah 63:15-64:12. Isaiah is confident that if God were more fully present, it would go well for His people. Is this confidence based on the goodness or righteousness of the people, or even his own? Far from it, in fact the prayer is full of honest confession:

6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you; Isaiah 64:6-7

Given the fact that God’s people have strayed far, praying for God to “tear open the heavens and come down” is sounding like a risky prayer to make indeed. Isaiah alludes to times in the past when God had “come down”:

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. Isaiah 64:3

The prayer for God to come down could be answered like the time God “came down” at the Exodus. While that went well for God’s people, it did not go well for the Egyptians with plagues and a sea that closed in on the Pharaoh’s army. Given the sinfulness of God’s people as confessed by Isaiah, perhaps this time the plagues will land on them?

So where does Isaiah’s confidence in God come from if not in the righteousness of the people? Why does he pray with anticipation of good things, and not plagues? This prayer for help is not made with an appeal to the justice of God, to rescue the righteous. That option is not open for God knows too much! Rather it is made with an appeal to the character of God and the relationship God chose to have with His people. Consider the following references in this prayer:

For you are our father,
though Abraham does not know us
and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our father;
our Redeemer from of old is your name. Isaiah 63:16

Turn back for the sake of your servants,
for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage. Isaiah 63:17b

8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people. Isaiah 64:8-9 (emphases mine)

Isaiah prays with confidence because he knows the relationship God has with His people is like that of a father to a child. While God as a perfectly just judge can expect, in fact must expect, perfection, a father can have compassion and mercy toward an imperfect child. So how can God be both perfectly just and yet act “fatherly”? How can God be both judge and “Dad”? The answer is given in God’s response to Isaiah’s prayer.

There is an answer to this prayer, but instead of the prayer being answered with plagues and punishment, it is answered with the arrival of a baby and the beginning of a new kind of Exodus. While the plagues on Egypt resulted in the firstborn of the Egyptians experiencing death, in this Exodus it is God himself that goes through it, both as the grieving Father, and as the dying son. Only a holy and perfect offering could stand in the place of sinful person, taking the consequence of sin. Only God Himself could do that, and in Jesus He has done that. In Jesus God is the perfect judge, taking care of sin at the cross, while also being the good father, being compassionate and merciful toward His children.

For those who feel that they have wandered so far from God that they could never turn or return to Him, it has nothing to do with how far we have travelled away, and everything to do with how far God has travelled toward us. He answered Isaiah’s prayer and has come all the way from heaven to a cross on earth in Jesus, so that we could be reconciled to Him. Turning to God has nothing to do with impressing the judge with our own efforts, and everything to do with the love of a compassionate heavenly Father.

Maybe you don’t think of yourself as God’s child. An opportunity is before you:

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13

Our relationship with God does not begin with our goodness. It begins with His.

However, even if you recognize that you are a child of God, you may think of yourself as the wayward child, the messed-up child, the stressed-out child, the foolish child, the undeserving child, or even the stupid child. On the one hand these might be accurate descriptions and we have room to grow like everyone else. On the other hand, The Lord’s Table while being a reminder of many things, is also a reminder that there are other adjectives that can be used to describe you. You are the redeemed child, the reconciled child, the forgiven child, the embraced child, the loved child.

Although the presence of God can, and should, be scary to someone who has rejected the Lord’s invitation to a father/child relationship, a child of God can pray with confidence as Isaiah did: “tear open the heavens and come down”. Being in Christ we can pray with confidence the last recorded prayer of the Bible:

20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. Revelation 22:20-21 (emphasis mine)


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon’s writing appears here most Thursdays; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

November 13, 2014

Are Your Prayers Too Polite?

Today’s post is by Christel Humfrey and appeared at the blog True Woman a few days ago. To read this at source, click the title below and then take some time to look around the rest of the blog.

Is Politeness Killing Your Prayer Life?

Christians in North America are generally polite pray-ers. We tend to pray correct, respectful words that we think God wants to hear. But let’s be honest, many of our prayers are tentative, repetitive, and somewhat boring.

prayer requestsI’m all for politeness with acquaintances. But real relationships require more. If my husband only spoke distant and polite words to me, our relationship would wither and die. I want to hear his struggles, his fears, his anger, and his joys. I want to process with him, not just hear his conclusions. I want him to trust me.

Intimate relationships require authentic feelings. Our innermost thoughts—however wrong or immature—are shared in trust. So why do we keep God at arm’s length? Are we trying to be something we are not? Are we afraid to trouble Him? God is our Father, yet we often treat Him like a distant relative.

Be Authentic in Prayer

Recently, I was reading through Jeremiah, and I was struck by how real his prayers were. He didn’t pretty up his words. He prayed heartfelt words. He brought his complaints to God and pleaded with Him.

“Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jer. 12:1)

“Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” (Jer. 20:18)

“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved” (Jer. 17:4).

What if we prayed what we really felt? Our words would come as no surprise to God, but we may be humbled when our foolish thoughts become words. Sometimes we feel things but can’t really define or understand them until we speak them out loud. So we vent them to friends or shove them down deep not wanting to trouble God with our “little” cares. We make a critical mistake when we don’t bring our troubles immediately to God. Not only does He care, but He also has the power to change things.

Prayer brings us to a vulnerable place. We lay bare our hearts to God in prayer. Our carefully created persona is peeled back until we stand naked and exposed before a holy God. This is an uncomfortable—no, terrifying—thought without Christ’s blood shed on our behalf. There is no pretending with God. He knows our thoughts before we speak them (Ps. 139:4). Every hair on our head is numbered (Matt. 10:30). He knows us. The real us.

But the Christian can approach the Father with boldness (Heb. 4:16, Rom. 5:2). We are beloved children, not distant employees. We don’t need to fear Him because the cross happened. Christ paid the penalty for our sin and clothed us in His own righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). So we take an uncomfortable leap of faith, not because we have confidence in ourselves, but because Christ is trustworthy, and God has adopted us as His own.

Expect to Be Changed

When we bring our complaints and requests before our heavenly Father, something unexpected happens. We come to Him hoping for a change of circumstances and leave with a new perspective. We are changed by prayer. We see this pattern often in the Psalms. A complaint turns to praise through the course of prayer. If we apply this template to our own prayer lives, we may be surprised by the fruit it bears.

When it’s just you and God in private prayer, why not be brutally honest? You can trust Him with your heart because He cares for you. Authentic prayer deepens communion. It grows assurance and inflames love. Go ahead and jump in the deep end with God. Polite prayer may be more comfortable, but authentic prayer transforms hearts.

Do you feel free to be honest with God in prayer? If you stopped being polite, what would you say to God?

True Woman blog is a ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Written by Christel Humfrey. Used with permission. Copyright © 2008-2012. All Rights Reserved http://www.truewoman.com

April 27, 2012

Praying, ‘Lord, Teach Me to Pray’

It’s hard to imagine anyone cruising the Christian blogosphere and not discovering  Canada’s Tim Challies. While his blog is among the top five Christian destinations available, many people assume it to be mostly links to other writers and breaking news stories, when in fact, he includes a good number of original pieces each week.  We’ve linked to him once before here, back in August 2011, but I thought you might want to take some extra time to meditate on this piece, which he titled Seven Ways to Pray for Your Prayer Life.

Here are seven ways that you can pray about your prayer life. These are seven items you can add to your prayer list as you consider your own prayer life or another person’s.

1) Pray that your prayers would be the expressions of a humble heart.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6)

2) Pray that God would remind you that he doesn’t want or need your eloquent prayers.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)

3) Pray that you would remember what the really important requests are.

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day 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 evil.”
(Matthew 6:9-13)

4) Pray that you would remember biblical examples of answered prayer.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. … Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:13-14, 17-18)

5) Pray that God would give you confidence in his sovereign power.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

6) Pray that God would help you to persevere in your praying.

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” (Luke 18:1-8)

7) Pray that God would encourage you that he is your loving Father and will give you only what is good.

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

~Tim Challies