If prayer is entering into the presence of God, it is grounded in our relationship with Him. But many people find it hard to pray and when asked why, the most voiced excuse is, “I don’t know how.” The words themselves state a lack of knowledge, but beneath the words there’s an underlying emotion of fear. And it is usually fear, not just lack of knowledge, that’s stops people from praying. The fear attached to entering into a relationship with God is a lie for we are already fully known by God and God desires for us to deeper know Him.
As Christians, our relationship with God isn’t vaguely suggested but perfectly exemplified by Jesus. Throughout his life, Jesus displays three important characteristics related to his relationship with the Father: intimacy, obedience, and confidence. There are various independent examples of each trait but the three attributes intersect when Jesus prays to God in the moment of one his greatest needs.
While in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” The address of “My Father” is theAramaic word “Abba,” the word children used to address their parent. However, this intimacy does not lead to an overly-familiar behavior but is coupled with a respect for God and a desire to obey His will. Finally, Jesus approaches God with confidence that his request will be heard and with trust in God’s will.
Jesus not only provides an example of the model relationship with God but also instructs by giving us language to use in prayer.
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Throughout this prayer, the three characteristics of intimacy, obedience, and confidence are reiterated in the invocation of Father, the desire for His will to be done, and the petition itself, trusting God will listen and act.
Believers are able to use Christ’s example and instruction to inform a perspective of the relationship we have with God but Jesus was also not just another man. He is also divine and the only way we are able to approach God’s throne. Hebrews 4:15-16 tells us:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but on who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
While our high priest is able to sympathize with us, He is also unlike us in regards to sin; thus the believer is unable to duplicate Jesus’ relationship with the Father. But Jesus’ own relationship with God is able to inform us of the relationship God desires. This relationship is evidenced through the type of mediator God has provided. Our mediator is not distant but able to understand our weakness and temptations that we might draw near.
The believer then knows from Hebrews that God desires a relationship which allows for us to draw near. This act of drawing near is often described with the phrase “encountering God.” The word “encounter” literally means “within and against.” When we pray, we enter into the inner chamber and are able to commune with Him in an intimate struggle. The Psalmist cries out in Psalm 139, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” Our relationship with God is a struggle because of our sin, but it is simultaneously deeply personal and for the purpose of our sanctification.
So how do we approach God? Without the false fear that hinders a relationship with Him. While He is not a fawning friend concerned with securing our love at the expense of our good, neither is He a doctor scientifically probing us for his own sterile delight. We should not let our fear of the unknown or fear of failure keep us from God also knowing we have the Spirit to help us in our weakness. For even though we do not always know what to pray for as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. So let us confidently approach the throne of God, not letting our fear stand in the way of our relationship but entering into the relationship God lovingly invites us into through his example, instruction and himself.