Interesting question, I think. One posed by the seminary professor who preached at my church Sunday (I can’t give you his name, unfortunately because apparently my church likes to keep these things secret. We don’t hand out bulletins any more, or even “weeklies.” And the web site still has the sermon from a week ago as the one that is “most recent.” But truly, we did have a service this last week). His answer was that we experience God’s presence.
OK, that makes sense. How do I get to know my neighbors? Not by remaining aloof. I need to experience their presence.
But God is not the same as my neighbor, Dr. Anonymous reminded us. True, He is immanent—near, involved in what He has made. But He is also transcendent—beyond and above and outside of creation. He is our Father, but He is also God who told Moses to take off his sandals because he was on holy ground.
So how does a Christian “draw near to God,” as James says? How do we approach Unapproachable Light?
Dr. Anonymous said first on his list of top five ways to know God better, to experience His presence more, would be prayer.
Odd, I thought—prayer largely being us talking to God. I’d think the best way to get to know someone would not be to talk to them but to listen to them. But maybe that’s me.
In prayer, then, Dr. Anonymous suggested several ways we can approach prayer to make it more interesting, to keep us from falling asleep or giving in to distractions.
I’m thinking, RED FLAG, RED FLAG, RED FLAG.
One way is to stop engaging in casual prayer. You know, the kind of prayer when you read something on the Internet and you’re moved to pray about it, or you’re taking a walk or driving to work and you want to use the time to pray. Better, said Dr. Anonymous, to save our requests for a Real Prayer Time.
I’m not sure why he thinks this will liven prayer. He had several other ideas, but I kept thinking, these are just one man’s opinion. I personally think having a prayer time that is like an appointment with God is a great idea, and it only makes me more mindful of praying during the day as needs surface. Why would I ever limit my time with God, especially if the point is to get to know Him more?
Sure, the spontaneous, offhanded prayers we sometime engage in should not be the sum of our prayer life, but I don’t think over-correcting to Only Official Prayer Times is a way to make prayer come alive. Granted, this was to be a one-week exercise, but I’m not convinced it’s even possible. When I draw near to God, He draws near to me. Am I then to ignore Him, to be close-mouthed for the rest of the day?
More concerning to me was the lack of mention of the things that Jesus placed first in the prayer He used to teach His disciples how to pray. His model contained some important things that I think make a difference in prayer. One is how we address God and another is praising Him.
Jesus called God Father, which was one of the jumping off points of Dr. Anonymous’s sermon. Our understanding of Father, Abba, as meaning Daddy, is misguided, he suggested. Yes, it contains intimacy, but it also contains authority—something the term “daddy” is lacking.
Good. I like that. I think identifying God as both the one who carries us in His bosom and the one who is our Sovereign should be part of how we relate to God. When you read the Bible you discover a rich reservoir of names used to identify God: Lord of Hosts, Almighty God, The One Who Sees Me, Creator, Shepherd, and so on.
Each of these names has something it reveals about God—either about His nature or His work, His character or His care for His own. Seems identifying God by the names He has revealed in Scripture might be a great way to get to know Him better.
Then there’s the matter of praising Him and His name. The word hallowed appears in the translation from which I learned Jesus’s model prayer. Synonyms include holy, sacred, consecrated, sanctified, blessed, revered, venerated, honored. In other words, Jesus was reflecting back to God His character, the greatness of His name.
He also prayed that God’s will would be done on earth. Later He would pray about His desire to avoid going to the cross, but in this model prayer, He’s attaching all the requests that would come next under this heading—God’s will first and foremost, before all else.
I do think praying, not a memorized version of the prayer Jesus used as a model for His disciples, but with the principles that are clearly present in that prayer in mind, Christians can get to know God in a deeper way.
Still, I wouldn’t put prayer first on my list. Most important, I think, is to listen to God first. Without knowing His word, how could we follow the principles Jesus set down for us?
Without His word, we’re left to our own devices, trying to figure out what makes prayer “work.” It doesn’t work—not in the sense that prayer obligates God to do what I ask Him to, provided I supply enough faith. God is not a vending machine.
But God tells us in Scripture about the people who prayed for Peter’s release from prison, and Daniel praying even when he was told not to, of Jesus going off by Himself to pray, and Moses praying to God to spare His rebellious people. We have instruction and examples and stories about people God listened to and answered.
Prayer does bring us into God’s presence, but it has little to do, from what I can discern in Scripture, with external things. It’s a matter of the heart. And God shapes a person’s heart by His word and the working of the Holy Spirit.
So how does a Christian get to know God better? By listening to what He’s said, then doing it. And the doing includes prayer.