I wrote earlier about the time God sat me down and said, “We need to talk.” I’ve been trying to unpack the implications of the first thing he told me, “I’m God—not you.” But the second thing he said forever changed how I thought about prayer.
He said, “I’m a person. And you must relate to me person to person.”
About this time, someone always gets visions of some super sized version of Charlton Heston with whiskers. (Yes, I know that was Moses; but I’m going for an image here.) Does God really look anything like that grand old man in Michelangelo’s painting?
The answer would be—no.
Jesus told us that God is a spirit. (John 4:24) Don’t look for head and shoulders, knees and toes. Theologians agree that personhood requires three things: intelligence, emotion, and will. So we’re not talking about The Force from Star Wars either. In fact, we received our own set of intelligence, emotion and will when we were created in God’s image. This correspondence of personality traits makes it possible for us to walk and talk with God. That’s why we were created in the first place. And that brings us to the subject of prayer.
The personal God has a will of his own. And I have a will of my own. That’s the source of our problems, really. Because he is God, and not me, my first priority in prayer must be to align myself with his will, as Jesus left us the example. (Luke 22:41-42) Of course, that isn’t always easy to know; but we must at least begin with that purpose—and always keep it in view.
The personal God is intelligent. And I’m . . . well, some of us are more intelligent than others, I’ll agree. And none of us can ever hope to match wits with God. When I say we must use our intelligence when we talk to God; I’m not suggesting that God would ever be impressed with our vocabulary or our elaborately constructed sentences. High church speech is not what we’re after here. But we do want to be thoughtful. And that’s my point. Are you ever guilty of thoughtlessly repeating the same tired phrases you’ve used since you were six when you pray? Could we honestly be accused of depending on “meaningless repetition” when we pray? (Matthew 6:7) Do your prayers ever seem to run on autopilot? Stop! Think about what you really want to say. Now say it. . . . That’s better.
Finally, the personal God is emotional. We don’t need to hyperventilate here. But I have to believe we need to approach our conversations with God with a little more feeling than if we were simply solving an equation in algebra. We’ve been given a full range of emotions, as a gift from God, who has made us to correspond to himself in this way. It’s ok to laugh at times, or cry at times, or even shout at times—whenever the occasion calls for it. In fact—we might even suspect that something is wrong if we never show any emotion—ever—when we’re in close communication with the most loving, the most exciting, the most awesome person in the universe. That’s our God!
Just ask yourself—if someone talked to me the way I talk to God, what would I think? Would I recognize them as being thoughtful and intelligent? Or mindless and monotonous? Would I be able to detect any kind of emotional pulse at all? Would I be moved by such expressions?
There’s a lot more that can be said about this matter of talking to God—person to person. For example, who do you think should do most of the talking? But we’ll pick that up some other time.
For next time, I’d like to switch gears entirely, and recall an experience when I passed about three feet from a tragedy—and I didn’t even know it.