Coming into the Presence of God, pt.1Monday, July 18, 2011
Of the qualities of God, none is as disarming as His love. It is so disarming, that Paul, who overnight had turned from persecutor to preacher, singled out “the love of Christ” (rather than His omnipresence, omniscience, or omnipresence) for its compelling motivation in the apostolic ministry.
In the beginning, God’s love was expressed in His creation, above all in special beings with whom he could share an everlasting relationship. And when those beings rebelled, He, not they, moved to set things aright.
God’s initiative toward mankind is unique among all other belief systems, which put the onus for reconciliation squarely on us. From the Garden to Gethsemane, from the Pascal lamb to the Lamb of God, God worked to restore what was lost from that perfect state.
Because of what He did, all who live in the shadow of the Cross can experience divine communion through the indwelling Spirit, the sacraments, and the spiritual disciplines of study, meditation, worship, fasting, and prayer.
Of these, prayer is particularly important, because it gives us immediate access to the throne of grace anytime, anywhere. Prayer connects our pressing needs to the inexhaustible resources that can meet them. It gives voice to longings, fears, and questions that no earthly listener can satisfy or answer. (That may explain why, according to a recent Pew survey, over 90 percent of Americans pray, including 9 percent of agnostics and 5 percent of atheists! To be sure, the “foxholes” of life are strong attractors to the transcendent.)
When prayer incorporates praise, thanksgiving, submission, confession and petition, it becomes pure worship.
Because we are made for fellowship with God, prayer should be as organic as breathing. Yet even seasoned Christians can find it difficult to pray, feeling unsure of what or how to pray.
A staff member of a large church once told me about a meeting among the pastors involving an important decision before the church. One pastor suggested that they spend an hour in prayer preparing for the decision. To which, another pastor replied that he “was good” for five, maybe ten minutes, but a whole hour? There was no way he could fill that much time with prayer!
I’ve seen this myself in various prayer groups. After a few minutes in intercession for the concerns and petitions on a prayer list, even mature Christians can be hard-pressed to go deeper with God. Contrast that with Jesus, who had a habit of spending whole nights in prayer. How could He do it? Most likely, by following the instruction He gave to His disciples:
This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
Notice that Jesus did not tell them what to pray, but how to pray. He gave them a model for prayer rather than a cookie-cutter invocation for all occasions.
A reverent recitation of the Lord’s Prayer takes only about 30 seconds. But economy is part of its brilliance. In a mere span of 52 words, Jesus condensed an array of theological truths that have been the subjects of volumes of religious writings for 2000 years.
Each verse, each phrase, each word is rich in theological content. What’s more, the worship elements of praise, petition, confession, submission, and, implicitly, thanksgiving are all there in five sparing verses.
When I go before the throne of grace, I often enter through the Lord’s Prayer. I do this by reciting each phrase, reflecting on the theological concepts, and responding in a posture of worship. The time spent varies depending on my needs and concerns, as well as my spiritual attunement at the time. Yet, few things focus my attention on the wondrous grandeur of God more.
The following suggests how this pithy, yet pregnant, invocation can bring us into the presence of the living God... Continue reading here.