Lesson 4: Conversing With God
Note: This is a Sunday School lesson by Scott Carr Jr. based on ch. 4 in Tim Keller's "Prayer".
* prayer-“a personal, communicative response to the knowledge of God”.
* What then makes Christian prayer?
“The continuation of a conversation God has started.” At its best, it is meeting with God.
How We Meet God:
* God is personal. The deities of Eastern religion are impersonal, making love between God and anything else in the universe an illusion. If He were unipersonal (one person), then love between Him and other beings would have been impossible until He created other beings. These two views of God would make His power more important than His love. How does the Christian understanding of God allow us to see His love?
* The Doctrine of the Trinity:
* There is one God, existing in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “These three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (WSC A6). “The Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord” (The Athanasian Creed). Within the Godhead, there has been eternal community and love. Between the persons in the Godhead, there has been verbal communication (John 16:13-15; 17:4-8) from all eternity. We know this must be the case as words are actions and God does act. Also, the persons have existed in relationship and communication is essential for relationship. As a result, when Christians pray to God, we commune with the eternal conversation and loving relationship that exists within the Godhead.
* The Word of God:
* The creation account of Genesis 1 portrays God’s words as identical with His action. The text does not tell us God said what He would do and then He did it. His Word caused things to happen. God’s renaming of Abraham in Genesis 17 “father of a multitude”, he and his wife are then able to have children. Psalm 29 praises the power of God’s voice. Psalm 29 “Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!”” Isaiah 55:10-11 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” We as humans have to back up our words with deeds and they can still fail, but God’s words and actions are the same and they cannot fail. od’s Word, then is “God’s active presence in the world.” To say God’s Word does something is to say God does it. To break God’s commands is to break our relationship with him. “God’s verbal actions are a kind of extension of Himself” (quoted from Timothy Ward, p. 53).
* What are the implications of this understanding? To put trust in God’s Word is to put trust in God. Words are not a hindrance to prayer, but the deepest form of communication with God. The Scriptures are the written record of God’s Word for all time. God’s words are active. For God to be active in our lives, it must happen through the reading of Scripture. We only know who it is we are praying to through the Bible. We only know how to pray through the vocabulary given to us in the Bible. We first learned to speak by being immersed in language. All of our speech is answering the speech we were first immersed in by those around us. This extends to prayer. When we pray, it is important to understand that God’s speech was previous to our speech. That means our prayers should come from immersion in Scripture. This does not mean we cannot pray unless we have first read the Bible, but that the regularity of our prayers needs to follow the pattern of our regularity in Scripture. Prayer is then rational. Mysticism sees rationality as getting in the way of prayer, but that is not Paul’s understanding. 1 Corinthians 14:15-“What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” To know who we are praying to, we can never get past God’s Words in Scripture. Incidentally, the focus then, of Christian prayer, is to go outwards and upwards to God, rather than inward to the self. We are then aligning ourselves to who God has revealed Himself to be. Colossians 3:1-2 “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” All of this does not mean there is no place for silence in the presence of God, but such moments are not the pinnacle of prayer. They are periodic punctuations to verbal prayer. The Psalms reveal that there are a great variety of words we can use in prayer because of the greatness of God.
* The Danger of Prayer Apart from a True View of God:
* Unless we know who God is, we cannot grow in our relationship with Him. It can also lead to us omitting a great aspect of prayer. If we pray without the character of God as the primary focus, our own needs become the focus and thus, the content of our prayers is much narrower. We may also find we are not praying to God at all, but who we want Him to be. Our hearts do not naturally seek God, as Paul tells us in Romans 3. We naturally make up the God we want, who, in fact, does not exist. Our society wants a loving God who is not holy. We want a false god. Without conforming our prayers to Scripture, we have no idea whether or not we are self-deceived. We only know God is speaking to us when we read Scripture. True prayer: “God speaks to us in His Word, and we respond in prayer, entering into the divine conversation, into communion with God” (p. 64). As Christians, we have a deep relationship with God. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, has come and will come again to set up His rule over all His creation. Those of us who have faith in Him are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, making us, the people of God, His Temple. With God dwelling in us, we have a fuller experience of God’s power to pray than the Old Testament saints. Understanding we are God’s house should give us a desire to pray. Assignments: 1) When you read Scripture, follow it by praying in light of what you read.
2) Read Prayer ch. 5 to help deepen our understanding of prayer.
3) Continue summarizing the Psalter.