A life of conversing with God.
Sunday September 25, 2022
Picture: plant and paper
Made from the pith of the papyrus plant. The outer part of the stem is cut off and used for other things (baskets, shoes, and even boats) and the inside of the stem is hammered flat and then soaked in water for a week to lower the sugar content. The low sugar content and water formed a sticky substance (they didn’t have glue) and they layered the strips vertically and horizontally. They are pressed together under heavy weight for another week.
Picture: finished paper.
Once finished, it was a strong paper that, in the right climate, maintains itself for thousands of years (“lucky” for God and His word). The finished product bore the lines of the papyrus layers. So then, to write a lot of text upon it that could be read the easiest, it was best to stay in the lines, and in addition, the paper was rough and bumpy and not easy to write on. Some people would have trained as papyrus writers, and so then, we can see why Paul and others would have used secretaries, someone with training in penmanship and good eyes.
Paul closes his letter to the Galatians with his own hand. He apparently thought that the harshness of his letter would come across more effectively this way.
See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.
We might think of all our prayers as one conversation with God. This is helpful, as it enables us not to struggle with the questions of how often and long prayer should be. It is a lifelong conversation with God.
As your conversation with God proceeds and matures, heaven becomes your ordinary, and this world more alien.
Praying becomes meeting with God, and like all deep conversations, we discover deep things about ourselves and the other. We share our inner selves and grow closer and more comfortable with the other. Superficial conversations don’t do this. So then, our conversations with God should never be superficial.
We should not base prayer solely on how we feel, but on beholding who God is.
If we don’t have a basis in the word of God we will find ourselves praying for things that we would like to think God wants to hear and to a God that we like to think is like what we prefer.
Currently in Western culture, many want God as loving and forgiving but not holy, just, and transcendent. Studies of the spiritual lives of young adults in Western countries reveal that their prayers are generally devoid of repentance and the joy of being forgiven. Their prayers are more for personal therapy and fulfilling their emotional needs. There is nothing wrong with these prayers, but if they are the only kind, your relationship with God is decidedly one-sided. The same study found that confession, repentance, and adoration of God for who He is, was absent from their prayer lives.
Without prayer that answers the God of the Bible, we will only be talking to ourselves while we’re speaking to a god, some characteristics of which are made up in our own minds, who likes to hear what we’re saying.
“What is essential in prayer is not that we learn to express ourselves, but that we learn to answer God.” (Peterson).
We may get a strong impression that God is going to do a certain thing, if the thing is not in the word of God, we cannot be sure. For instance, we know that Christ is going to return and establish His kingdom on earth, but we don’t know when. Many people have gotten strong feelings about the coming Rapture, for instance, (some think it is going to happen today – Rosh Hashanah).
The lesson is that God will surely guide our thoughts and prompt our actions, but we cannot be sure of these things unless we read it in the Scripture.
So, our prayer life is a conversation with God.
Conversations can only be deep and meaningful when there is love.
We love, because He first loved us.
How does God first speak to us? If we can answer this, then we can learn how to answer Him. If God were impersonal, as the Eastern religions teach, then love - something that can only happen between persons - would be an illusion.
It’s easy to overlook, but God’s love and His contact with us, from the first time (gospel) and every time afterwards, would be impossible without language. We were made to think and relate in the form of language.
When we learn to love God our conversation with Him will go to a higher level.
Does God use language?
If God were not Trinity, then love would not have existed before creation, at least in the person to person sense. In the Trinity the Triune God speak to one another, serve one another, love one another. We see this mostly in the humanity of Christ, though we do have some instances of God speaking amongst Himself, “Let Us make man in Our image,’ but we don’t have back and forth conversations. Christ is God the Son and He communicates to God the Father in the way of personal conversation.
These things Jesus spoke; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee, 2 even as Thou gavest Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom Thou hast given Him, He may give eternal life. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”
The Lord’s prayer here is intelligent and right to the point. It lacks flowery language. We have been invited and initiated into this conversation.
Love and meaningful language make a prayer life that will continue to mature and bless.
Eternal life is one in which the possessor knows God. We couldn’t know Him if He didn’t speak to us in a way that we can understand.
Jesus therefore answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. 20 "For the Father loves the Son [He loves the believer in Him], and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing;
If we’ve got eyes to see and ears to hear, the Holy Spirit is proclaiming to us the Son and the Father. What we see them doing, we will do.
Prayer is communicative and intelligent. It has meaning and purpose that is expressed in language. On the contrary, the mystical prayers of Eastern religions begin with techniques of repetitive sounds, sights, actions, meditation that are designed to enter the person into a hyperconscious state where they lose their consciousness and their identity is suspended. People get relaxed by this and mistake it for a divine encounter. Rather, Christian prayer is fellowship with the personal God who befriends us through speech and language.
The Son and the Father communicated intelligently though words. It is divine discourse. Some philosophers say that God is pure spirit and so it is inappropriate to talk about God speaking. They, of course, have determined that much of the Bible is myth. God speaks and His words are the same as His omnipotence. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light (Gen 1:3). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Mat 24:35).
Our communication with God is therefore not in the form of some mystical, wordless, hyperconsciousness. The words themselves must find their source in the truths of Scripture.
There is no other place, besides the Word, to find truth that is worthy of communicating with God.
The biblical pattern entails meditating on the word of Scripture until we respond to God with our entire being, saying:
Teach me Thy way, O Lord;
I will walk in Thy truth;
Unite my heart to fear Thy name.
12 I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And will glorify Thy name forever.
13 For Thy lovingkindness toward me is great,
And Thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
God’s word is pure power to do. When God speaks an action, it happens.
We may say “Let there be light” but nothing happens until we hit the wall switch. When God says it, it happens. He didn’t say “Let there be light,” and then create it. The world is created by the word of God. God changes Abram’s name [exalted father] to Abraham [father of a multitude] and then he can make a lot of babies. In Psa 29, the voice of the Lord breaks cedars into splinters. In Isa 55 the word of God accomplishes all of God’s good pleasure. In Joh 5:28-29 “all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth.”
When we pray according to God’s word, we are conversing with God’s power of doing.
We only know who we are praying to if we learn it from the Bible. We only know what we should be praying from the Bible. God gives us the words, but we do not just repeat them back like a recording device. Think about how we all learn to speak. We learn so quickly and early in life that none of us remember learning it, but we see it in our own children.
Language is spoken to us; we learn language only as we are spoken to. We are plunged at birth into a sea of language. All speech is answering speech. Children’s ability to communicate is profoundly affected by the number of words and the breadth of vocabulary to which they are exposed as infants.
Therefore, the more exposure each of us has to the word of God, the more intelligently we will be able to speak with Him, and as a result, the closer we will be with Him. We have to want to know the true meaning behind the word.
The goal of prayer is a real connection with God, then only by immersion into the language of the Bible will we learn to pray, slowly at first, like a child, and more effectual as we grow.
When we look at the prayers of those in the Bible we do not find that they are trying to understand themselves, nor seeking the meaning of life, but seeking God at the center of all things. It wasn’t just a belief in God that motivated prayer but a desire to know and understand Him.
The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
2 For He has founded it upon the seas,
And established it upon the rivers.
3 Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood,
And has not sworn deceitfully.
5 He shall receive a blessing from the Lord
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6 This is the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Thy face — even Jacob.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to Him, sing praises to Him;
Speak of all His wonders.
3 Glory in His holy name;
Let the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad.
4 Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His face continually.
It is when we lose sight of God in our soul that we get ourselves in trouble and misery.
How long, O Lord? Wilt Thou forget me forever?
How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?
Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king's palace, and successfully completed all that he had planned on doing in the house of the Lord and in his palace. 12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, "I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, 14 and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 15 Now My eyes shall be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place. 16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that My name may be there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.
We must pray with understanding.
I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also.
Ideas of what to pray and to whom to pray must come from the Scripture and not the ideas or reasonings of people. It should be to the Father in the name of the Son. It should be intelligent and based on the truth of the Scripture. It should be in worshipful thanksgiving (Our Father in heaven, holy be Your name), prayer for self and others that is centered upon the spiritual life (kingdom come, will be done) and not the earthly life (keep seeking the things above where your life is hid with Christ, Col 3).
This does not mean that there isn’t quiet and wordless contemplative time in prayer with God that may at times feel quite mystical. There is a place for this, admiring and adoring God, but this is only one small part of prayer. If two people fell in love and then only stared at each other in loving adoration for years, we would like to lock them up. They would know nothing about one another. But, a couple married for twenty years may exchange many fine thoughts with a silent look of love and appreciation, but that only after years of clear communication and revelation.
There are many kinds of prayer: adoration, thanksgiving, petition for the needs and desires of others and self, seeking understanding, seeking power and wisdom, confession and self-judgment, and more. It would be difficult and limiting to try and make a comprehensive list. In the Psalms we even find reasoned arguments with God and virulent complaints.
We have already noted that by praying the Psalms we would enter into types of prayer that we naturally would never express.
Psalms contains outbursts of adoration and joy that the melancholic types would never express. Should they not do this because their natural personality doesn’t gravitate to it? How about depths of insight that the extroverts don’t usually do? Blunt questions of God that the shy would never do? The Psalms have it all, and when we pray them, we will find modes of prayer that our natural selves would never think of.
Can we therefore see how the Bible should guide our prayer lives and not our inner selves or inner feelings?
God is revealing Himself in the Scripture. He is not revealing our inner needs or psychology.
Our prayers therefore are not to always be of the same mode. God teaches to explore all means of conversing with Him, and indeed, in our life-long relationships, we find that we have to do just that if our inner selves are going to grow stronger and closer to God.
Some prayers in the Bible are like an intimate conversation with a friend, some like an appeal to a great monarch, others look something like a wrestling match or heated argument. Why? Our God is our Father, our King, our Lord, our Friend, our Savior, our Shepherd, our Lover. We are praying in response to God Himself, not only a few characteristics of God that we prefer.
Prayer is tethered to the Word.
Some think that our view of God, or rather, a correct view of God is not necessary, but only how we feel. They want us to close our eyes and focus on forms of Good and Joy and Energy. These fail to see God as the Person He is and ourselves as being in a relationship with that Person. You cannot grow in a relationship with someone unless you constantly learn who they are.
I think we do this in our most intimate, long relationships - we assume we know them and there is no more to know. True, your spouse of 10-20 years, say, is not an infinite mind like God that we are always learning about, but my point here is that we lose interest. We lose wonder.
Our own minds should be developing and growing until we die. If our intimate is more animalistic, then it will be harder to find out more about them, but that’s not the point. The point is that if we assume we know all of someone then they become more like furniture in the house then a dynamic and wonderful relationship.
None of us would be so proud as to say that we know all of God. But we can think we know all about a certain subject and when we do, we stop exploring in that area. I’m not saying that we’re wrong about a certain doctrine, though that may be true, but that we stop exploring the depths of it.
We have to always concern ourselves in prayer with who God is. Father in heaven, who is a king and conqueror and Savior, Holy be Your name.
Not that we should get bogged down in who God is, infinite essence, but simply in what He has revealed of Himself in His word.
God is always the starting point, and our sanctification unto Him, our ending point.
“The Bible does not present an art of prayer; it presents the God of prayer.” (Edmund Clowney).