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Connections between the Bible and prayer: Who is God?

Thursday September 6 2018

Connections between the Bible and prayer: Who is God?

I argued in my post last week that prayer fuels our Bible reading, and the Bible fuels our prayers. Next week I’ll begin looking at some of the many specific passages that help us learn to pray more deeply. This week I want to reflect on the character and nature of the God revealed in the Bible and the ways our understanding of God shapes our prayers.

1. God the Creator. At the very beginning of the Bible, God is introduced as the Creator of everything in the cosmos and everything on earth. In my home office, where I am writing this blog post, my windows look out into our back yard, and I can see several trees, a laurel hedge, the trees in the yard of another house, and a small patch of sky. The morning sun is hitting the laurel hedge in golden patches. God made the green of the trees, the golden morning light, the blue of the sky, and gave me eyes to see it all. This little slice of God’s creation lifts my heart, as do mountains, rivers, lakes, Siberian tigers and fragrant roses. Because of the Bible, I know who to thank. In addition to creating this beauty, God in Christ sustains the creation every moment (Colossians 1:17).

The picture of God as Creator – presented in Genesis, reinforced by many Psalms (including Psalms 8, 19 and 104), and echoed again in the New Testament (see Hebrews 11:3) – helps us see God’s handiwork in the creation and calls us to praise and thanks. As I’ve conducted interviews for my books on spiritual practices, thanking God for the beauty of creation has been a form of prayer mentioned with joy by many interviewees.

The beauty of God’s creation also calls us to prayers of intercession and lament. We might pray for the earth to bring forth crops for everyone to eat and water for animals and humans to drink. We might intercede for protection and care of this world so intricately created and sustained by God. Environmental damage is heart-breaking and calls us to lament, particularly when we see all this beauty as reflecting the beauty of the One who made it and sustains it, and when we understand that environmental damage disproportionately affects the poor, who are near to God’s heart.

2. God the Redeemer. The book of Exodus recounts God’s actions freeing the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The four Gospels describe God’s acts through Jesus Christ that freed humans and the creation from slavery to sin, death and the devil. Jesus reads Isaiah 61:1 on a Sabbath day in a synagogue, saying he is fulfilling these words (see Luke 4:18):

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners.

God as Redeemer influences our prayers in many ways. God has redeemed us already, and we are called to thank and praise God for all the manifestations of that freedom that we see in our lives already. God redeemed me from the loneliness of a childhood where my family moved 12 times in my first 15 years. God has given me a family,  friends, and a home. I am so grateful. And I am even more grateful for God’s redemption from slavery to sin. Over and over, God forgives me for unloving things I do and say.

But God’s redemption isn’t complete yet; God is still redeeming us. God calls us to pray for freedom for ourselves and for others, and when we read or hear the news, we see no shortage of places in the world where God’s freedom is needed. When I read Psalm 103, the great psalm honoring God the redeemer, I can see so many ways God has been at work in my life, as well as many more ways to pray for God’s redemption for myself and others.

3. God the shepherd. Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34 and John 10 give us the picture of a God who binds up the wounded, feeds the hungry, and seeks out the lost. These characteristics of God call us to prayers of thanks and praise, as well as prayers of intercession and lament for the places in our broken world where a shepherd is needed.

4. God our rock, our fortress. God our refuge and strength. Jesus, the light of the world. Jesus, the bread of life. Jesus, the true vine, and God the vine-dresser. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate. All of these metaphors, and many more in the Bible, teach us about aspects of God’s character and call us to prayers of praise, thanks, lament, and intercession.

(Next week: Instruction about prayer in the Bible. Illustration: Lake Hawea in New Zealand by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

My new book came out last month, and I am hoping my blog readers will let the pastoral care people in your churches know about it. Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century



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