It is worth stopping sometimes and seeing what big thick doctrines like justification by faith and adoption by God mean in relation to that gentle art of prayer.
We know from Romans 5:1 that justification by faith in Jesus results in a declaration from God of 'You are Not Guilty!' (put negatively) or 'You are Completely Right with Me!' (put positively). Therefore, we have peace with God. We also know that this newly righted (justified) relationship with God begins with the work of the Holy Spirit in us, who is the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:14). So we are declared totally OK before God, and by the work of the Spirit we become even more than OK – we become his children!
Zephaniah 3:17 says of people in this position that 'He will rejoice over you with singing'. The Who used to sing a song called 'The Kids are Alright'. That’s what God is singing over us. Who could doubt him? But what does it have to do with prayer?
The Who's Who of Heaven
Let's start with how this justification and adoption stuff works in some of the images given to us by the bible which also happen to paint the picture of how Christian prayer works. I'll do a mash-up of these images and see if they are as moving for you as they are for me. Here we go:
Now we come into the presence of a Heavenly Father who loves to hear from us, and who holds all the love we could ever possibly need and a character that will cause us to worship Him. We come into his presence, standing next to Jesus, our great brother who carries our name written on his shoulders just as the great high priests of Israel did. He represents us to God. He never leaves our side. When his Father sees and loves him, He sees and loves us with Him. We are just as much a part of this great Heavenly family as He is. On his hands and side are reminders of the blood that purchased our entry and washed us clean before we stepped through that heavenly door. All this happens in a deep peace, because we have the same Spirit of Love dwelling in us that dwells in and between the Father and the Son. It’s a peace that assures me that I am really meant to be in this great and heavenly room, with this Father and this Son, without any feelings of inadequacy and with every feeling of freedom. So now I come into the presence of our Father: 'bold I approach the eternal throne'.
This is the thing we call prayer. Why does it often seem so hard, and feel so heavy?
Well, no-one said prayer had to be easy, but it should be free. Prayer should be part of our new freedom as the kids of God.
As I read my bible, we are:
1. Free to pray for everyday basics to be given to us (Matthew 6:11)
2. Free to pray for God's whole future kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10)
3. Free to pray in easily recognised forms (Matthew 6:9-13)
4. Free to pray in forms others may think weird or despise (2 Samuel 6:12-16)
5. Free to pray short in public (Matthew 6:7)
6. Free to pray long in public (Nehemiah 9)
7. Free to pray without performance in public, and refusing human approval (Matthew 6:5)
8. Free to pray without doubt (James 1:6-8)
9. Free to pray through your doubt (Ps. 73) I know, it seems contradictory!
10. Free to pray for the most extraordinary things (Eph 3:20-21)
11. Free to pray for the most obvious things (Matthew 6:11)
12. Free to pray in all circumstances (Phil 4:6; James 5:13)
13. Free to pray for the sick (James 5:14)
14. Free to pray with anointing oil (James 5:14)
15. Free to pray with laying on of hands (2 Timothy 1:6)
16. Free to pray in song (James 5:13)
17. Free to pray in dance (2 Samuel 6:12-16)
18. Free to pray happy, sad, joyful, despairing. (James 5:13; The Psalms)
19. Free to pray Satan away (Ephesians 6:18)
20. Free to pray in tongues personally (1 Cor 14:39-40)
21. Free to pray persistently (Luke 18:1-8)
22. Free to be encouraged by God that we are praying even when we think we can't pray (Rom 8:26-27)
23. Free to call God our Father (Matthew 6:9)
24. Free to pray to Jesus (Revelation 5:12)
25. Free to pray ‘in the Spirit’ (Ephesians 6:18)
We have a heavenly Father that enables and frees us in so many ways to draw near to Him, through Jesus and the Spirit. This ought to give us great joy.
Why is prayer then, sometimes, so full of fear?
It is possible to pray badly. To pray in a way that neglects what God has done, or to pray to someone other than God, or to pray as way to gain approval, rather than enjoying being the approved kids of God. This is prayer in chains.
1. Chained prayer is fearful about performing up to scratch.
2. Chained prayer fears God's approval, as if it were a question, rather than rejoicing in it as a promise.
3. Chained prayer fears the approval of others, as if it were important.
4. Chained prayer fears uselessness and futility in our words.
5. Chained prayer fears humility.
6. Chained prayer fears people more than God so chatters to humans rather than God.
This prayer looks like prayer, but always adds something or someone to prayer, and so robs it of everything. It is 'prayer plus'. And the plus really takes away the actual prayer.
How good is it to pray simply with God, because of who He is and what He has done. Pray free of such ridiculous people-centred clutter.