Prayer Starts with God

What is prayer, then, in the fullest sense? Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him . . . .

Throughout most of the great Old Testament book that bears his name, Job cries out to God in agonized prayer. For all his complaints, Job never walks away from God or denies existence—he processes all his pain and suffering through prayer. Yet he cannot accept the life God is calling him to live. Then the sky clouds over and God speaks to Job “out of the whirlwind” (Job 38:1). The Lord recounts in vivid detail his creation and sustenance of the universe and of the natural world. Job is astonished and humbled by this deeper vision of God (Job 40:3–5) and has a breakthrough. He finally prays a mighty prayer of repentance and adoration (Job 42:1–6).

The question of the book of Job this pose its very beginning. Is it possible that a man or woman can come to love God for himself alone so that there is a fundamental contentment in life regardless of circumstances (Job 1:9)?  By the end of the book we see the answer. Yes, this is possible, but only through prayer. 

What happened? The more clearly Job saw who God was, the fuller his prayer became—moving from mere complaint to confession, appeal, and praise. In the end he broke through and was able to face anything in life. This new refinement and level of character came through the interaction of listening to God’s revealed Word and answering in prayer. The more true his knowledge of God, the more fruitful his prayers became, and the more sweeping the change in his life. 

The power of our prayers, then, lies not primarily in our effort and striving, or in any technique, but rather in our knowledge of God. You may respond, “But God spoke audible words to Job out of the storm. I wish God spoke to me like that.” The answer is—we have something better, and incalculably clearer expression of God‘s character. “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . .  the radiance of God‘s glory in the exact representation of his being” (Heb 1:1–3).

Jesus Christ is the Word of God because no more comprehensive, personal, and beautiful communication of God is possible. We cannot look directly at the sun with our eyes. The glory of it will immediately overwhelm and destroy our sight. We have to look at it through a filter, and then we can see the great flames and colors of it. When we look at Jesus Christ as he is shown to us in the Scriptures, we are looking at the glory of God through the filter of a human nature. This is one of the many reasons, as we shall see, that Christians pray “in Jesus’ name.” Through Christ, prayer becomes what the Scottish reformer John Knox called “an earnest and familiar talking with God,” and John Calvin called an “intimate conversation” of believers with God, or elsewhere “a communion of men with God”—a two-way communicative interaction. “For through [Christ] we . . . have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Eph 2:18).

— Timothy J. Keller, Prayer

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