Prayer and Reverence

Q – At the beginning of the summer, I took a study course on the tabernacle by Beth Moore. When I was going through this study, I came to realize how completely irreverent I am in prayer to God. I mean, I know this is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords. I know He is the Most High, all sufficient, etc. But, she spoke about how God is not some chum or buddy. He’s not your pal. Well, when I speak to God, I almost always speak to Him as if He’s standing right next to me. It’s like an ongoing conversation throughout the day. But, this study made me think that I’m wrong. I felt like I needed to call him all the praiseworthy names I could think of before I said a word.

It got so bad that I couldn’t pray almost all summer because I thought I wasn’t being reverent enough – not just because of what she said, but because of what I saw in the study, how complicated the whole tabernacle system was, how detailed the priests had to be, all that stuff. Eventually, I kind of thought that maybe I misinterpreted or that maybe I was taking it to an extreme or something. So, I resumed prayer, but with limitations in case I was being irreverent.

Then recently, in a tape of yours, I heard you say almost the same thing – he not our pal, our buddy that we can hollar at whenever we want (or something along those lines). Then I found myself right back where I started.

Jim, it’s all I can do to talk to my Father now. I feel like if I don’t say how great and wonderful He is every time I say, “Lord?” then He’s going to hold me accountable for it or something. I mean, I can praise Him but when I do now, it’s almost like – no, it IS that I am doing it out of obligation, not desire. I even tell Him that I know He knows I’m doing it out of obligation, but at least I’m “covering my bases.”

Isn’t that pathetic?

I know there are no rules for prayer, aside from Matthew 6:9-10, but….

Help!!! Please!!!

Jim – Hello my friend,

I understand your prayer dilemma. Really, I do. I’ve struggled with it myself. But, I am a great fan of balance. The Bible is a very balanced book, designed to keep us from erring too far in either direction.

Here’s what I mean. Undoubtedly, humans can become so “familiar” with God that they forget who they’re dealing with. When that happens, they become presumptive. They think that they can barge into His presence and start making demands. Or, they use language that demonstrates their failure to comprehend His majesty and Lordship – like saying He’s “my co pilot” or “my homeboy,” etc. That’s what I was talking about a few weeks back. And, I do talk about it often because of the climate in so much of the modern church. Before people ever learn about His sovereignty, His rulership or His countenance, they are taught to ask for things, demand things and even judge Him on the basis of His response to their demands. I’m sure you see what I’m saying.

A proper, healthy, reverent fear of God is indeed the beginning of wisdom.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever.” (Ps. 111:10)

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7)

“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor 7:1)

“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” (Eph 5:20-21)

On the other hand, as you’ve pointed out, we can become so awestruck by the majesty of the God we serve that we are intimidated to even speak to Him.

Undoubtedly, God has revealed Himself to be holy and separate from mankind. Consequently, God insisted that the children of Israel understand the distance between Him and them. That’s why He worked through priests, tabernacles and prophets. He had no direct dealings with the individual folk.

But, this is where things get muddled. People who read their Bibles without discerning God’s covenants or the effects of Christ’s atonement read the many Old Testament passages that emphasize God’s righteous rule and try to force them on the redeemed Church of Jesus Christ as though they directly apply. But, they don’t. Certainly, those passages are instructive in helping us understand the character and nature of the God we deal with, but when Christ died and New Covenant of salvation by grace through faith went into effect, the relationship between God and His people changed dramatically.

For instance, Paul teaches:

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Rom 8:14-17)

This sort of language was completely unknown under the Covenant of Law. But, Paul was specifically declaring that the relationship had changed. “Abba” is a very familiar term. It essentially means “daddy,” or “papa.” Paul wanted his readers to understand that whereas God was virtually unapproachable by the Law or through works of the flesh, He was completely available to those who were indwelt by the Spirit. He is not to be held at a distance in slavish fear. But, we are invited to talk with Him as a Father who loves His children. That’s very tender and purposefully friendly.

On top of that, because we now have Christ as our elder brother, as our advocate with the Father, we have access to God’s ear that previous generations, under previous covenants, never had. So, the writer of Hebrews declared:

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:15-16)

So, here’s what I’m getting at. God is certainly far above us in His thoughts and His ways (Isa. 55:8-9). And, He deserves our awe, respect, and reverence. No doubt. But, even though He deserves such humble and trembling adoration, Christ has paved the way for us to approach the King of the Universe as though He were our loving daddy.

So, familiarity is good. After all, we’re family. And, we must be careful not to let people impose Old Covenant standards and principles onto the conscience of the redeemed New Covenant believer. We are under the covenant of grace, and therefore we can “boldly” approach that throne of grace. Christ supplied the sufficient propitiation for God’s wrath that had kept men separate from Him. God’s righteousness and judgment are satisfied in Christ, so there is no longer any enmity between us. We can come confidently before the throne, looking for the King of Grace and finding our daddy. That’s pretty darned cool.

It’s about balance. If we overemphasize the qualities of God that are expressed in the Old Covenant – such as His judgment, vengeance and distance – we are likely to drive people away from God in fear. On the other hand, if we overemphasize familiarity with God, He becomes a bellhop. But, proper balance recognizes both His majesty and His grace. Remember to whom you are talking and remember that He calls you to talk with Him. He is the Lord and He is your redeemer. He is just and He is the justifier. He is the almighty judge…

But when you pray, He is your papa.

Personally, I like your approach. I talk to Him all the time, too. Paul said we are to pray without ceasing. I talk to Him about all sorts of things. And, I understand that I am not talking Him into anything. I am expressing my utter dependence on Him when I pray and ask Him to provide the things I need – from daily bread to eternal salvation.

So, keep praying with confidence that He not only expects you, He invites you. Come boldly to the throne of grace.

Speaking of prayer, I had a friend once who was about to undergo a rather risky surgery. She asked me, “Do you believe in the power of prayer?”

I said, “No.” She was stunned for a moment. I went on, “But I do believe in the power of the God I pray to.”

Keep praying. He wants the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving from your lips. Recognize whom you’re talking with and remember the price that was paid to give you unfettered access.

Q – Wow…

Jim, thank you so much. Words can’t define how much I needed to hear that.

I have missed Him greatly. Thank you for relieving me!

Jim – It is both my pleasure and my honor. Thank you, my friend!

Yours for His sake,
Jim Mc.