D.A. Carson points out that if you really want to embarrass the average Christian, just ask them to tell you about their private prayer life. Many Christians can bluff it when it comes to Bible knowledge, church attendance, even sharing their faith. But ask about prayer, and you’re likely to get a shuffling of the feet and some awkward stares.
Most Christians struggle to make their prayer times meaningful. (I count myself among them.) We think it’s supposed to be a sweet, mystical communion with Jesus … but when we start to pray, we inevitably find ourselves working on grocery lists in our head or reliving last night’s episode of Blacklist. At other times, if we’re honest, we just aren’t sure how much good prayer actually accomplishes.
So what is prayer supposed to look like? Why is it so hard for us? And—most importantly—how can we move from having to pray to loving to pray? The answer lies in two phrases of Jesus’ model prayer in Matthew 6:5–10. In two short phrases, Jesus highlights two radical attributes of God’s character. If we were to grasp these two attributes, prayer would become as natural for us as breathing.
1. The Fatherhood of God
Jesus taught his disciples to begin their prayers, “Our Father.” We have a tendency to miss how revolutionary those two little words are. But the most astounding and unique of all Christian revelation is the revelation that God is our Father. Other religions presented God as the Creator, as the great ruler, as the all-powerful or as the spirit that animates all living beings. Only Christianity presents him—from the very beginning—as Father.
From all eternity God has been a Father, because from eternity he has existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is, and always has been, a Father. That’s why the Apostle John says, “God is love.” Not “God loves now that he has created,” but from the very beginning, he is love. Love only exists in relationship, so if God were to be in his very essence love, he must have eternally existed in relationship. This is why the doctrine of the Trinity is so important. God didn’t create humanity because he was looking for someone to love; he created us to share in the love that had existed between Father, Son and Spirit from eternity. He created us as his children so that we might know the Father’s love.
So when we come to God in prayer, we aren’t coming to a tyrant we need to appease. We aren’t coming to a divine policeman in order to negotiate for mercy. If we are in Christ, Jesus says, then when we pray we are coming into the presence of a Father who cherishes us and who feels our every pain—deeper than we even feel it ourselves.
If you truly saw God as the loving Father he is, wouldn’t that change how you pray? If for just a moment you could truly grasp the lengths he went to redeem you, the brutal torture he endured on your behalf, the depth of compassion he has in his heart for you … then you would cry out with the hymn writer, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear; what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!”
I stand in awe of God our Creator. I bow in reverence before our almighty, holy, glorious Ruler and Judge. But nothing thrills my heart more than the privilege of calling our God Father.