Earlier this week, I spoke about the importance of interceding (that is, praying for others), because Jesus does. I want to move in a more relational, emotional, and even spiritual direction regarding prayer.
My relationship with God has convinced me that He is moved by me like I am moved by Him. Aristotle called God the “unmoved mover,” it might be more apt to call him the “moved mover.” He moves in whichever direction He pleases, and we compel Him to and He does us. It’s personal and it’s with God. It’s not just based on my own thoughts and rationality—although that’s pretty good too, but actual experience.
I live in love with God and His love responds to the suffering of others. Obviously in Jesus, God suffers for me, responding to the cries and needs of humankind by taking on our form, identifying with our sin and death, and answering our deepest needs with his resurrection. Jesus suffers with us and for us and he cares about us. That’s the kind of relationship I have with God—a self-giving sufferer is the person I’m knowing.
Paul says it like this:
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2
It’s a relationship. It means something. It’s connected to us, person-to-person, spirit-to-spirit. It’s not just thought, it’s a relationship. That kind of love happens between us and God and each others.
When God came to us as a human he did not change in character, but he did change his ways with us. As I develop as a person, God’s responses develop with me. If we thought of God as a chemical reaction or a machine, this would be disturbing. But Paul says we are to follow God as children follow a parent. And I know he’ll be with me and journeying with me until the end.
If we just think of God has a transaction, a chemical reaction, or a machine—this would be a weird idea. But it’s more than that. We’re having a dialogue with God like a child has with a parent. And as Jesus said:
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13)
You should feel free to come to God, who will respond to you like a much-loved child. That’s what we need. Seek Him, knock on the door, and He’s there. You know that of course, if your parents, because you give your children the best of what you’ve got—and you’re not perfect—imagine what the Holy Spirit offers us then.
Of course some of us had difficult, limited, or even cruel parents and we do not have a lot of experience with parents who could be relied upon to give us good gifts. You all might have come from great, functional families—but might wasn’t always like that.
Sometimes, you did ask for fish, so to speak, and got snakes, wanted an egg and got a scorpion. I wanted some appreciation and got criticism. I wanted a little connection and got distance. I wanted some freedom, and I got oppression. It’s hard when we talk about God as a parent because we so often have difficulty with our parents. And sometimes our unwillingness to work out that difficulty we have without parents (because some of you wouldn’t dare to confront the pain that you have), might complicated how we relate to God further.
But sometimes I got bread from my parents—Dad is incredibly generous with his resources, which didn’t mean as much to me as a different kind of love, that he expressed, finally, when he visited me on the day I moved into college (he said he couldn’t be there).
I really bring up the family dynamic because I want us to ponder that image as we relate to God. It’s not scientific—it’s not guaranteed.
It’s about relating like a family. And it’s hard because we had inadequate parents, and we might have been wicked kids. So how we relate to God leaves us longing for more, often, because we’re working it out. . We may expect scorpions and snakes, and maybe even think we deserve them (maybe because our parents told us we weren’t praying hard enough!). That makes us hard to connect to God. And intercessory prayer is all about the connection we have with God—spirit-to-spirit, heart-to-heart. Not just our lips to God’s ear.
Sometimes our self-image is so beat down and abused, that that keeps us from praying too. What’s the point of praying? I don’t know what I’m talking about anyway.
So you can work with a different kind of prayer then. We need things we don’t even want yet and may get them without asking. Paul says it is a good thing we have the Spirit interceding for us because we don’t even know how to pray. That is why our teachers of contemplative prayer teach us a wordless prayer that is intent on being present to the Spirit who is doing the deepest praying in us.
So I pray because Jesus prays. And I intercede because it is elemental to the love relationship I have with the living God who is like a parent and moved with a fierce grace.
Thanks to Rod for his inspiration and influence on this post.