God. What does this word mean to you? When you think of God, what are the first images, thoughts, and feelings you experience? What stands out as His most important characteristic?
I’ll give you my answers – but no cheating! When I think of “God,” sometimes He is a concept I’ve been taught and believe. I may experience Him as an aloof power. I think of Him as the Almighty Creator who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. And yet often I don’t experience Him as any of these things, though I believe them with my whole heart and head.
But there’s one picture of God, one way of seeing Him today that I want to share with you, and that is that God is our loving heavenly Father.
I want, today, to think of God in one of Jesus’ favorite ways of portraying the Father – as our heavenly Father. An interesting thing happens when you look up the word “father” in an exhaustive concordance (I’m using Young’s): “Father” (used for the Father) is used 43 times in Matthew, 8 times in Mark, 19 times in Luke, and 114 times in John. “Father” is used 3 times in Acts (2 of which are by Jesus), 4 times in Romans, 8 times in the Corinthian letters, 12 times in Galatians and Ephesians, 8 times in Philippians and Colossians, 8 times in the letters to the Thessalonians, 4 times in the letters to Timothy, once in Titus, once in Philemon, twice in the letter to the Hebrews, 4 times by James, 4 times by Peter, once by Jude, 12 times in 1 John, 4 times in 2 John, and 5 times in the Revelation.
What’s the point of my little survey? It’s Jesus who invokes the name of “Father” more than anyone else. “Of course He did,” you might say. “He is the Son.” Well said, my little theological friend. But what’s really interesting is that Jesus turns “My Father” into “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer. The Father who is eternally the Father of the Son is now also our Father! This is, of course, because by the Son we have been made sons, and we are now heirs of the blessing of this same Father. When He speaks of the Father, it’s not just for His sake but also for ours.
The second point one could draw from my survey is that it is St. John who especially loves to use the name “Father.” Perhaps because better than anyone else he seems to have understood the love of the Father.
This is a gift from the Son, that we too may call His Father our Father and may cry out to Him and expect to receive His blessing. This is what the work of the Son most truly and wonderfully is: to make His Father our Father.
This truth has staggering implications for how we pray. It means, first of all, that we can come into the presence of the God who is a Living Fire not only with fear and trembling but also as beloved sons and daughters. When we come into the presence of this Holy Living Fire, the first thing we’ll probably notice is how sinful and unworthy we are. Good! I’m glad you noticed! But there’s an easy way to deal with this: confess your sins and seek His forgiveness. This is an integral part of prayer.
When we come into the presence of the Almighty Creator, we will probably also notice how glorious and powerful and majestic He is. Hopefully, we won’t be able to contain our impulse to worship and adore and praise such a God. And this is also a part of what our prayer should be.
How can we come into His Presence and not also immediately be flooded with memories of all of the good things He has given to us? Giving Him thanks is also an essential part of prayer, and I hope you practice it every day.
At some point it should dawn on you that it’s not right to always be the one talking when in the company of the Lord. For this reason, a silent listening is also a part of prayer, which is our conversation with God.
But the part of prayer that seems to be everyone’s favorite is the part that Jesus especially deals with today, and that’s asking God for things. The amazing truth is that when we come before the Holy Living Fire and Creator of Heaven and Earth, we are granted permission to ask for the things we need, as a child would ask his father!
We haven’t always been able to afford to give our kids much, and so when I took my kids to Six Flags one day, they were so appreciative. If even a stooge like me knows how to give good gifts to my kids, don’t you think our heavenly Father will give good things to those who ask Him?
Do we accept and believe the words of Jesus? He says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” The bottom line is that Jesus teaches us to turn to the Father in prayer, believing that we will receive what we ask for.
If you’re like me, you have a siren that’s going off – you know, the one that detects an offer that just doesn’t add up. Jesus couldn’t possibly really mean this. O.K. So here goes the obligatory disclaimer: No, God isn’t compelled to give you everything you ask for. You have to ask with faith, and you have to ask according to His will. But how do I know it’s His will? Aye, there’s the rub. Also, what if I ask for things that are selfish? Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends, So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV? Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me. I wait for delivery each day until three, So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV? And sometimes God is trying to give you even more valuable things by having to wait because the best prayer and best answer to prayer is to be brought closer to God so that what you desire and ask for is precisely what His desire is, which, by the way, is the answer to the dilemma above about having to ask according to God’s will.
With this disclaimer in mind, we’re back at the fundamental fact that God, your loving heavenly Father, desires for you to come to Him and ask Him for what you need. Just think of what you could ask for and might receive: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control, holiness, righteousness, closeness to God, forgiveness of your sins, health, good relationships with others, clarity, wisdom, confidence, spiritual gifts and blessings and fruits for those you love, your work situation, family stability, family finances, the big decision you are facing, reconciliation, healing for that long and deep wound, spiritual revival, peace and justice in the world, your church, your nation, etc., etc., etc.
Given the commandment of Jesus, the love of our Father, and our desperate need, why don’t we pray? Here are just a few of the many reasons why we are weak in prayer: we’re weak in faith, we’re far from God because we don’t pray or hear His Word, we’re weak because we don’t live in the Body of His Son which is His ordained means of helping us, laziness, false humility (pride), pride, thinking we’ve got it made on our own, distraction, thinking God is too remote, thinking God’s too busy, believing He doesn’t really care, believing that what we need isn’t important enough, and our refusal to schedule in time for God.
For each of these excuses there is an answer. But I’m not going to give it to you. Instead, I’m giving each of you a homework assignment: whatever reason you have for not coming to God to pray today (from the above list or some other reason), I want you to write down what the excuse is and then why that’s not a good excuse and what God would say to it. Seriously. I want you to write these things down.
And then, having no excuse, get on your knees and pray!
Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- Keep a prayer list.
- Keep a prayer journal of how God has answered your prayers and worked through prayer in your life.
Resolution: I resolve to examine why I don’t pray as I ought to and to write down my excuse(s) and reasons they aren’t valid. I further resolve to spend time in prayer today.
© 2016 Fr. Charles Erlandson