"Therefore your servant has found courage to pray before you."
-King David (1 Chr. 17:25b)
If you are anything like me your prayer life look more like a graph of the stock exchange than you would like to admit. Some days I find that my mind is continually running towards Abba to thank, ask, plan, rest, and all the rest. And some days I find that I keep finding things to do when I feel that gentile prompting to pray. Maybe that's not you, perhaps you have perfected the art of prayer. If you I will save you time and let you know that you need read no further. But if you, like me, need all the help you can get...I hope this may be helpful.
There could be a number of reasons for this up and down lifestyle of prayer. But this morning as I sat with my Bible open before me that caught my attention. David desires to do something for God, and God says no. (1 Chr. 17)
But more than telling David what he could not do, God reminded David of who he was. And God reminded David who God was. He reminded David that He has always been with His people (v. 5-6). More than that He reminded David that He has always been with him personally and He tells him again of the promises He has made to him (v. 8). And to finish it off He reminds David of His love, not only for him but for his son after him (v. 13).
And it is this that drives David, the man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22), to say that he has the courage, and desire, to come and sit before God.
And I think that there is something here that is more than a story of something that happened far away, long ago, to someone other than us. It is here that we see the heart of gospel inspired prayer. Prayer that pleases the heart of God and honest prayer that leaves us walking away from God justified.
For there are prayers that can be uttered that do not do this. Remember the story of prayer in Luke 18? There was a man who believed that he was righteous before God. He thanked God that he was not the sinners around him. And that sounds right, right? He was thanking God. But at the heart of his prayer his identity and his righteousness was not wholly upon what God has done for him. It was based upon what he had done for God. How he had stayed clean, how he had not become like others, how he understood what God wanted and did it. He was thanking God in words, but it seems that in his heart he was only thankful for himself. But there was another man, a self-identified sinner. He simply came before God and asked for mercy. Knowing that the only thing that could make him righteous was a merciful and generous God.
I believe that many people can spend a lot of time in prayer because of a feeling of religious duty. But it seems that God isn't interested in those types of prayers. God says clearly that He desires prayers birthed from love, not duty (Hosea 6:6).
I believe that Christ shows us this clearly. For He walked in the love of Abba more than anyone who has ever lived. He understood the words that were spoken to Him at His baptism, "You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17). And it was these words, spoken before any recored parable or miracle. Before the cross or the resurrection, that gave Christ what we can only grasp at.
For Christ understood what the Father was like. For He is one with the Father (John 10:30). And the Father is love (1 John 4:8). And that is the gospel.
No matter where we have been, or where we are, we are deeply loved by the one who intimately knows the worst parts of us. And isn't that why we don't pray. At least it's what keeps me away. I forget the gospel. I forget that I can just run to God. Anytime. Anywhere. After anything. In the middle of anything. For any reason.
I have long loved the way that Tim Keller put it, "The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access." But maybe you are reading this and feel, as I do at times, that you are not close enough to run across the hall to God's room in the house. Maybe you feel like you are in a far off country of sin and shame. If that is you read these words, "When you blow it, God still celebrates His Son in you. The litmus test of whether or not you understand the gospel is what you do when you fail. Do you run from Him and go clean yourself up a little bit before you come back into the throne room? Or do you approach the throne of grace with confidence? If you don't approach the throne of grace with confidence, you don't understand the gospel."
This is what gives us the courage to approach God. In Christ alone we may run to Him. He has called us beloved and He means what He says. He's not like an angry father who says one thing yet means another. He loves you with the same love that He loved Christ (John 17:23). He has tattooed your name on his own hands as a reminder that you are His (Is. 49:16). He is so overcome by love that He dances and sings over you (Zep. 3:17).
Allow yourself to see God this way. See Him as your loving Father, your Abba. If you cannot, ask Him that you could. For I promise that when you do you will want nothing but to run to Him. And after you experience pray that you would have it again, for I know how often I can forget it. Ask for this over and again. And, as Brennan Manning wrote, " Allow yourself to be captivated by joy and wonder at the surpassing greatness of (the) Father's love for the lost...The proclamation of the Kingdom was born rom the urgency in the heart of Jesus. It was crucial that He bring the Good News of the gospel of grace; if only people could realize their own belovedness, their lives would be transformed and a new kingdom would spring into being."