How does the love between the Father and Son affect my praying? That question is a little bit unusual, isn't it? What does the love between God the Father and God the Son have to do with how I pray? Why ask this question at all?
We know that knowing God's character and will greatly influences our prayers. Knowing that God is the Creator gives us confidence in His power, so we pray confidently. Knowing that God is our Father through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ allows us to come with peace in our hearts that we are accepted not by our own works, but by God's grace alone.
Now, the New Testament presents the Father-Son relationship as being at the heart of the gospel. For example, Ephesians 3:8-12 speaks about
“the eternal purpose that [God] has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord”
The apostle Paul said that he was called to preach,
“the unsearchable riches of Christ,” which stood at the center of “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (Eph. 3:8-9).
Meanwhile, Jesus Himself said,
“this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
We know that Christ is at the heart of the gospel. But it's easy to overlook the reason for this fact: God delights to make it so. It pleases the Father to exalt the Son, and so, He forgives our sins for the sake of the Son (1 John 2:12).
In short, the love between the Father and the Son is at the very heart of the gospel. If it's so important, then we should expect it to affect how we pray. At the same time, since we are attempting to wade in the theological “deep waters,” we shouldn't be surprised if extra effort in needed to grasp the immense blessing this truth has to offer.
The God-Centeredness of God in Salvation
The first thing to note is the sheer God-centeredness of salvation. God didn't save because He had to. It's not that God looks at us, and thinks,
“Wow, this person is really sincere and doing his best. I can't help but feel sorry for Him and it would be so unkind of me not to save him from hell and take him to heaven.”
No. The Bible is clear that,
“God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Ps.7:11).
But if God forgives our sins for the sake of the Son, as John 2:12 says, that means that were it not for the Father's desire to honor the Son, we would not be forgiven!
This is very important to understand because it's easy to think that somehow, God's mercy compels Him to save us. “He had to save us,” we might say, “just because it's in His nature to be merciful and gracious.” Now, it's true that it is God's nature to be merciful and gracious. After all, He describes Himself as
“merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex.34:6).
What a wonderful image of a loving God! It's hard to imagine that such a truth can be over-emphasized. But, unfortunately, we do over-emphasize it when we conclude that therefore, it was never really an option for God not to save us! I think RC Sproul is right when he says:
The Bible says many things about why God initiates salvation of people: He loves the world; he has a benevolent attitude toward his fallen creatures. We know that. But when we get down to the specifics, the Bible speaks of God's sovereign work of redemption and uses the terms predestination and election. … You and I are saved not only because of God's concern for us but chiefly and ultimately for God's total determination to honor his obedient Son. We are the love gifts that the Father gives to the Son so that the Son, who lived a life of perfect obedience and died on the cross, will see the travail of his soul and be satisfied. That's the main reason I think God has saved you: to honor Jesus.” (Sproul)
The Father's primary motivation for saving us was not to show mercy but to glorify Himself! As the apostle Paul explains, God elected us so that we could be living testimonies to
“the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy” (Rom. 9:23).
Elsewhere, the New Testament makes it very clear that for God to display the riches of His glory is for Him to glorify Christ. Ephesians 2:7 says that we were saved
“so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:7),
Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:1-4, and other similar texts make this abundantly clear. It is so important for our spiritual growth that we understand that we exist not to enjoy our salvation only, but to make Christ look good in the eyes of all the peoples of the earth!
Let's go back to something Dr. Sproul said, that we are
“love gifts that the Father gives to the Son”.
It might sound strange, but that's exactly what Jesus says in John 17:6, where He spoke of
“the people whom you gave me out of the world.” (John 17:6)
But let's stop and think about that for a while. In what scenario can a person be given to someone as a gift? I can only think of one: when that person is a possession of another, in other words, a slave.
So we are God's slaves and God is our Master. That should certainly affect the content of our prayers – what we ask for.
In my experience, what takes up the bulk of most Christians' prayers are mundane things like financial provision, success in school or at work, healing, strength, safety, and the like. Indeed, we should ask for such things with a heart that rests in and delights in our Lord's generosity and faithfulness. It's good to ask for these things regularly because it's an important way of acknowledging our child-like dependence upon God.
Children of God we may be, but we are also slaves. And slaves do not exist to simply be fed, cared for, and protected by their masters. If a slave ever decided to behave like this, he would cease to live like a slave and begin to live like a lord. And I imagine he would soon be thrown out by his master (or worse)! Slaves are to serve their master's interests.
What About Our Prayers?
So what can all of this teach us about prayer?
First, our prayers should reflect the fact that God is God-centered. If a non-Christian listened in on our prayers, would she get the idea that God is serving us, or that we are serving God? Would she simply hear a long string of personal petitions –
“Lord, please give me this. Lord I need this. Lord I need your help in this area”
– and not one word of awe, wonder, and sincere gratitude? How often do we praise God, not just with rehashed Christian jargon that we've picked up over the years, but with words that reflect holy affections and genuine experience? Let us remember that God is looking for heartfelt and thoughtful worship (John 4:24).
How much does God want to be praised? Well, he forbade His most faithful servant, Moses, from entering the Promised Land because on one occasion, he behaved irreverently (Num.20:10-13; Dt.3:23-27). He drove the great King Nebuchadnezzar insane in order to humble him and teach him to praise the Lord (Dan.4). He also killed King Herod for failing to recognize Him as the only God (Acts 12:20-23). Clearly, God doesn't take the matter of praise lightly, and neither should we!
Second, we should pray specifically for the honor of Christ. A Christian is by definition a gift from the Father to the Son. We were saved for this very purpose, and shame on us if we never groan in prayer for the glory of Christ among the nations, or even in our own communities!
Lastly, we should pray with confidence in the exalted Christ. For the Father's sake the Son went to the cross. For the Son's sake the Father raised Him from the dead, seated him at His right hand, gave Him the name above all names. This means that if we are in Christ, we are standing on the only ground that will remain firm for all eternity, and that ground is the Father's complete and unqualified commitment to honor His Son.
Praise the Lord for allowing us to taste and see – even in the littlest way – the glory and beauty of the love shared between the Father and the Son!
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