The ongoing ideology around us and overwhelming media coverage of death and suffering are constantly challenging the image of a good God. Like the proud beast in Revelation 13:6, Satan’s strategy is to constantly undermine the character and goodness of God.
“He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling-place and those who live in heaven.”
We are almost deafened by the cries – carried often on the wings of our own cruel suffering and loss, that God is somehow nasty, asleep, unfair and uncaring. We are constantly challenged to push against this prevailing blasphemy and find the true perspective of God’s love. This is the heart of spiritual warfare as we battle against a wrong perception and experience of who God really is. To pray successfully we need to be healed of this wrong perception and gain fresh revelation of God’s ultimate goodness and willingness to answer prayer on our behalf.
Satan’s strategy is to deform our perception of God, and slander Him to us thus destroying our faith and vitality.
From childhood authority figures, from teachers to parents to political and religious leaders, are sometimes abusive and mould deep within our beings a wrong conception of God.
Jesus himself recognised this truth in his own teaching on prayer, so let’s learn from the master. It is important to note that, as a good teacher, Jesus exposed the wrong conceptions in the hearts of his listeners before replacing them with the radical truth of God’s grace. Certain phrases are repeated over and over again in Christ’s teaching as he juxtaposes our erroneous conceptions with the truth concerning his Father. It is important to grasp these “leitmotifs” as they lead us on the path to a genuine vision of God’s greatness and love. Phrases like, “How much more”, “So I say to you”, and “And will not God”, open the texts up to comparisons between human and heavenly perspectives.
I’ll limit myself to three specific texts of Jesus concerning prayer but we could find many more as well as finding overlaps in the epistles. Jesus lays down a foundation for prayer in Matthew 7 :7-11, Luke 11 :1-13 and Luke 18 :1-8. We will study these passages in the next posts.
In Matthew, Jesus is giving his disciples the key to prayer. Thinking back perhaps to his own commissioning in Psalm 2 : 7,
“You are my Son; Today I have become your Father.”
where the element of “sonship” was so important.
“This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven…” Matthew 6 :9
He hammers the message home even more strongly in chapter 7, and I imagine him being quite humorous in his style, using everyday family images which would touch a chord in each heart. His longing is to heal his hearers of a wrong concept of Fatherhood.
“Ask and it will be given to you.”is the wonderfully frank truth of scripture. However in a world of hard knocks the hearers minds are already putting up barriers and get out clauses in a wounded, knee jerk response to such a generous theology. Jesus, however, is already one step ahead of them.
“Which of you , if his son asks for bread , will give him a stone ?”
Little Johnny, hungrily expectant at the dinner table, is suddenly summoned to the garden by his Dad. Grabbing his son by the hair he pulls him forward and rams a dirt covered stone down his throat !
“Here son, chew on that ! It’ll do you good !”
Next Friday he’s there again at the table looking forward to a promise of fish and chips when suddenly he is summoned once again to the garden. ( Remember Jesus was speaking to a middle eastern audience who had much more exotic things in their gardens than slugs and lettuce !). There stands his Father with a nasty snake which he quickly puts to his son’s tender mouth. Poisonous fangs await to do their damage. Other options on the menu include scorpions with a vicious sting in the tail ! (See Luke 11:12)
“Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake ?”
By now you can almost imagine Jesus’ audience, amused and yet slightly enraged at such an ungenerous Father, wanting to butt in and say something more positive about Fatherhood. Jesus, having gotten them thinking in the right direction, beats them to it:
“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 good gifts to those who ask him!”
Has our view of God been so warped that we think he will give us something hard like a stone ? Many, like the servant in the parable of the talents, think of God as being a “hard man”. Many of my Catholic friends here in France have a view of two ways to God. The hard way through God the stern Father, and the easy way via Mary.
Even in more evangelical circles there is often the hidden fear that God’s will for me will be something hard and horrible ! Deep down are we afraid of obeying God? Are we fearful of getting too involved in prayer, in case He might actually speak to us ? Do we think he has prepared something for us with a nasty sting in the tail ? The devil lies to us and perverts the truth of God’s love by filling us with fear.
Jesus goes to the heart of this fear and unbelief by gently bringing it to the surface in His example of the evil Father. He exposes such a concept for the demonic lie it is and unequivocally asserts the truth of God’s Fatherly care. His words carry the balm of healing and restore the image of God the Father in the hearts of His hearers.
Perfect love casts out fear ! Meditate on Christ’s words and enable Him to free you from your own deep-seated fears in order to be able to receive the faith to pray aright to a loving heavenly Father who longs to give good gifts to his children.