What we believe about God and His nature has a profound effect on the way we pray.
If we believe He’s an angry God, looking for us to do something wrong so He can strike us down, then our prayers will reflect a distrust and even a fear of Him.
If we believe He is distant and uncaring, then our prayers probably don’t even happen because we don’t see the point.
If we believe He good at His core and wants what is best for us, then our prayers will be full of trust and hope.
Maxie Dunnam, in his book, The Intercessory Life, says it this way,
“How we perceive God’s nature determines how we pray. Moses was bold in his intercession (Ex 32) because he knew God’s nature and character. Moses appealed to the nature of God to keep faith with God’s promise and covenant.”
So, let’s make sure we know who God really is so that our prayers come from hearts that are fully engaged and expectant.
James Bryan Smith, a theologian, writer, and teacher who has worked with contemporary spiritual giants as Richard Foster, Brennan Manning, and Dallas Willard, has written “a curriculum of Christlikeness” called The Apprentice Series.
The first book in the series, The Good and Beautiful God, has been formative for me in my understanding of who God is and how my personal perceptions of Him influence my relationship (and trust) of Him.
Each chapter addresses one of God’s character traits. God is…
- Transforming (us)
James Bryan Smith wants to help believers discover the God Jesus revealed, dealing with our false concepts (or narratives) by showing us the true character of God:
“When the Spirit has changed our narratives sufficiently, we begin to think differently. As a result, we begin to believe in and trust a good and loving God who is strong and powerful.”
J.D. Walt would add that “how we understand God determines how we see ourselves, and how we see ourselves determines how we experience the world” (The Daily Text, May 24, 2018).
We have all these “lenses,” don’t we? But at the base of it all…how we see God influences everything — our beliefs, our thoughts, our prayer life, the world, and even ourselves.
That means we need to get to know God — really know WHO He is, His character. This will build our trust in Him so that when we go to Him with our hurts and hopes, we have that strong foundation of knowing He is good and He wants what is best for us.
Without that foundation, our prayer and faith life can crumble when tragedy hits.
In my 20s I had a firsthand experience that tested my faith. We miscarried our first child around week 11 of the pregnancy. And we were devastated. As I moved through the physical healing phase, I found myself in an emotional pit.
It was there that I started asking the question so many of us do when tragedy strikes, WHY?
Of course, there was no sufficient answer. Not really. Not for my heart.
I can’t explain it, but somewhere in the grief process I turned to God and discovered that I had a faith in Him based on trust. He and I had been through enough together by then that I knew He wanted what was good for me. I knew He would never leave me or forsake me, that He held me in His victorious right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
And I chose to trust that. I chose to trust Him.
I healed. Body, mind, and heart — I healed. The scar I bear is just that, a scar. Proof that God is in the business of healing our hurts that happen because we live in a world that dishes out lots of pain and injustices.
Because of this experience with Him, my faith foundation has only grown stronger. He carried me through that hard time and in many more hard times to come. It’s the kind of faith that sustains. That builds trust. That becomes part of me and my prayers.
“It is at the heart of prayer to know that God loves us and that when we pray we are heard by Divine Love.”
Maxie Dunnam in The Intercessory Life
It’s my prayer today that if you don’t already know God’s true character — that He is good and faithful and wants what is very best for you, that He is not the “cause” of all the bad in the world but a God who will help you navigate and walk through it all, and that He loves you with all that is in Him — you will. I pray that you’ll take time to look in His Word to discover for yourself who God is.
Look to Jesus, as James Bryan Smith suggests. The four gospel books in the New Testament tell the story of Jesus — God in the flesh. Let His story teach you about who God is.
Then let that settle into your heart, soul, and mind. Let the truths of who He is shatter the false notions you’ve had of Him. And let those truths build in you a faith that allows you to go to Him in trust. Fully trusting Him…even when life doesn’t make sense and your heart is hurting. Even when you’re afraid or lonely or broken.
As this faith takes root, you’ll discover that you start talking to Him more. You’ll start talking to Him in with a new hope, a new perspective. The connection becomes real.
A beautiful thing about prayer is that it can help us shift our eyes from ourselves and put them onto God. When that happens, everything we know about God becomes more true. We start to pray with more faith and fervency.
That’s why so many prayer teachers suggest we start our prayers with praise.
“Before we start asking God for anything, or start telling God our sorrows and anxieties, we focus on who God is…God’s nature, glory, love, power, holiness.”
Maxie Dunnam in The Intercessory Life
I think of Peter when he stepped out of the boat in faith to walk upon the stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee. As long as his focus was on Jesus, his faith soared. He walked on water.
The second his eyes shifted to the waves and storm around him, his faith sank. And so did he. (Matthew 14:25-31)
This is such a great analogy for us! How often do I look at the storms brewing around me in my life instead of looking to Jesus? And as long as my eyes are on the waves that are about to overtake me, my faith flounders.
Praise. Praise is one way I can shift my focus. I start telling God all about Him. I tell Him how good He is. How faithful and safe. How constant and sufficient. I tell Him that He is full of hope and truth and love. That He is the God of the universe. The Great Healer. The Great Sustainer. The Holy One who is Creator and Protector and Provider.
And to my amazement, my faith begins to soar. By “telling God who He is,” my mind is flooded with the truths it needs to shift from despair to hope, from fear to love, from anger to grace.
We praise to help FOCUS OURSELVES, to remind ourselves of God’s nature — His goodness, His holy ways, His faithfulness. We’re quieting our minds, centering our souls, and aligning ourselves with the truth of who He is.
Give it a try. If you can’t think of any good words to describe God, open up the Psalms. Read them aloud. Put on a great praise song that belts out the truths of Scripture and sing along. Start a list in your journal. Paint a picture of who God is. Take a walk in nature, noticing all the details and beauty that surround you — and let those things awaken in you an awareness of who God is.
And praise Him!
There are lots of prayer “structures” out there. And while I don’t believe there is any ONE right way to pray, I do believe that we can help ourselves pray more effectively.
The A.C.T.S. acronym is one such structure. It’s an acronym for Adoration Confession Thanksgiving Supplication.
To use this format is to train yourself to start your time of prayer with praise (or adoration). Not because A.C.T.S. is a magic formula but because there is truth and power in starting our prayers with praise and adoration…for all the reasons above.
I’ll unpack the other portions of the acronym next time so that we can leave today focused on the PRAISE. Try it out this week. Put some praise into your prayers.
Come, let us adore Him!!