Coming into the Presence of God, Part 1

All Things Examined

Topics: Theology

Of the qualities of God, none is as disarming as His love. It is so disarming, that Paul, who overnight had turned from persecutor to preacher, singled out “the love of Christ” (rather than His omnipresence, omniscience, or omnipresence) for its compelling motivation in the apostolic ministry.

In the beginning, God’s love was expressed in His creation, above all in special beings with whom he could share an everlasting relationship. And when those beings rebelled, He, not they, moved to set things aright.

God’s initiative toward mankind is unique among all other belief systems, which put the onus for reconciliation squarely on us. From the Garden to Gethsemane, from the Pascal lamb to the Lamb of God, God worked to restore what was lost from that perfect state.

Because of what He did, all who live in the shadow of the Cross can experience divine communion through the indwelling Spirit, the sacraments, and the spiritual disciplines of study, meditation, worship, fasting, and prayer.

Of these, prayer is particularly important, because it gives us immediate access to the throne of grace anytime, anywhere. Prayer connects our pressing needs to the inexhaustible resources that can meet them. It gives voice to longings, fears, and questions that no earthly listener can satisfy or answer. (That may explain why, according to a recent Pew survey, over 90 percent of Americans pray, including 9 percent of agnostics and 5 percent of atheists! To be sure, the “foxholes” of life are strong attractors to the transcendent.)

When prayer incorporates praise, thanksgiving, submission, confession and petition, it becomes pure worship.

The model

Because we are made for fellowship with God, prayer should be as organic as breathing. Yet even seasoned Christians can find it difficult to pray, feeling unsure of what or how to pray.

A staff member of a large church once told me about a meeting among the pastors involving an important decision before the church. One pastor suggested that they spend an hour in prayer preparing for the decision. To which, another pastor replied that he “was good” for five, maybe ten minutes, but a whole hour? There was no way he could fill that much time with prayer!

I’ve seen this myself in various prayer groups. After a few minutes in intercession for the concerns and petitions on a prayer list, even mature Christians can be hard-pressed to go deeper with God. Contrast that with Jesus, who had a habit of spending whole nights in prayer. How could He do it? Most likely, by following the instruction He gave to His disciples:

This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”

Notice that Jesus did not tell them what to pray, but how to pray. He gave them a model for prayer rather than a cookie-cutter invocation for all occasions.

A reverent recitation of the Lord’s Prayer takes only about 30 seconds. But economy is part of its brilliance. In a mere span of 52 words, Jesus condensed an array of theological truths that have been the subjects of volumes of religious writings for 2000 years.

Each verse, each phrase, each word is rich in theological content. What’s more, the worship elements of praise, petition, confession, submission, and, implicitly, thanksgiving are all there in five sparing verses.

Worshipful prayer

When I go before the throne of grace, I often enter through the Lord’s Prayer. I do this by reciting each phrase, reflecting on the theological concepts, and responding in a posture of worship. The time spent varies depending on my needs and concerns, as well as my spiritual attunement at the time. Yet, few things focus my attention on the wondrous grandeur of God more.

The following suggests how this pithy, yet pregnant, invocation can bring us into the presence of the living God.

Our Father

Jesus begins by revealing the true nature of our relationship with God. The use of “Father” signifies that the Subject and supplicant are family members. The use of “Our,” rather than “My,” signifies that the family is not closed, but open to others. Indeed, “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

God could have chosen a contractual relationship for us, like “partner,” making our status conditional on acceptable performance. But He didn’t. He adopted us as children whose standing, like that of our elder Brother, is unconditional and secure: “If we are children, then we are heirs -- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”

As adopted children, we are liberated from restlessly laboring for a gift that has been bestowed and cannot be earned. What an extravagant blessing of God!

The apostle John expressed it well, writing, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

The privilege to call on God as “Father” is a gift deserving nothing less than unreserved thanksgiving.

In heaven

Jesus distinguishes the Father from all worldly fathers, be they natural fathers, stepfathers, godfathers, or the fatherly figures of the church or state. “Our Father” is not the “old man in the sky,” or the God who lives in our hearts (who, Dallas Willard rightly notes, is easily reduced to the God “in my imagination”). No, He is the Father who dwells in heaven.

Contrary to popular folklore, heaven is not some ethereal city in a galaxy far away or an Elysian paradise beyond the known universe. Rather, heaven is a spiritual, ultra-dimensional realm that interlocks with the familiar gridlines of space and time. In a hidden, interstitial dominion of the cosmos, God is ever-present everywhere, dynamically sustaining creation. He is not some indifferent Creator on leave of absence; He is an involved Parent who operates mysteriously behind the cosmic curtain for the accomplishment of His will.

Reflecting on the One in heaven who mystically fills “everything in every way” prompts a response of awe and praise.

Hallowed be your name

To “hallow” means to treat as sacred something that is rightfully distinguished from the common and ordinary. How strange that we should hallow a name, which in our day is little more than a label based on popular trends, pleasing sounds, or what a favorite aunt or uncle was called.

In biblical times, a name revealed something significant about a person -- his or her character and nature. A name was so fundamental to the essence of a person that a change in character or destiny often resulted in a change in name. Consider the change of Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, and Simon to Peter.

God is also revealed through His name. Realizing that no word or phrase could exhaust the description of God, the biblical writers used numerous divine appellations, each associated with a particular divine attribute.

For instance, when God is introduced in Genesis, He is referred to as Elohim, the plural form of the Hebrew, El. In ancient cultures, El denoted the supreme deity over all gods. Its plural form, Elohim, evokes the idea of a Godhead. El is often conjoined with qualifiers like shaddai and olam to convey God’s omnipotent and eternal nature.

The most common scriptural reference to God is Jehovah, derived from the enigmatic tetragrammaton YHWH, interpreted as “I AM.” It was by this name that God 1) covered Adam and Eve with animal skins, a shedding of blood that prefigured the Cross, 2) established the Abrahamic covenant, and 3) led His chosen people out of Egypt.

Jehovah relates to God’s redemptive role, which culminated with the capital sentence that Jesus suffered for his self-identification with YHWH: “Before Abraham was born, I am.” When combined with jireh, rapha, shalom, and tsidkenu, Jehovah communicates God’s provision, healing, peace, and righteousness.

Divine roles are also conveyed titularly in King, Lord, Master, Holy One, Counselor, Rock, Judge, and Most High, which, by their sheer variety, illustrate the poverty of human language in capturing the fullness of God.

It doesn’t take long at the portal of heaven to realize that the sum of God is beyond our comprehension and description. That is what makes Him God. And that is why His name is above all names, worthy of adoration and worship.

Next time: The conclusion of “Coming into the Presence of God.”

Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. His "All Things Examined" column appears on BreakPoint every other Friday. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at centurion51@aol.com.

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