The Way We Come to God
It is impossible to exaggerate how necessary prayer is. That so many talk about prayer, gather for prayer, and are helped by God through prayer reveal this to be beyond controversy. The clearer we understand and appropriate to ourselves the saving work of Jesus Christ, the more we pray and desire to pray rightly. He lived by praying (Matt. 26:39; Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 29; 11:1; 22:32; Heb. 5:7-8), and the Spirit forms Christ in us. It is one central reason he died and rose again – to reconcile us to God so that we come boldly before the throne of grace. When the church has thrown off priestcraft and salvation by human works, when she has embraced again the gospel of justification through Christ’s righteousness and his heavenly intercession, she has been emboldened and enflamed to pray.
Praying rightly does not come naturally to us. The flesh fights against prayer (Matt. 25:41), for the old man of sin wants us to trust ourselves. Sin wants to kill us, and it feels the death blow of Jesus’ cross and crown when we stop relying upon ourselves and come humbly to the God who hears and answers prayer. When we come, we must remember that he is the living God (Hebrews 11:6). He is the only life in the universe. All else draws its life from him and is completely dependent upon him. Even his enemies could not blaspheme his holy name if he did not give them breath to do so. When we pray, we must revere God as alive. Prayer is not a spiritual exercise or a formula to feel better – it is drawing near to the only One who lives.
This is some of what is meant by the apostle’s words: “He that comes to God must believe that He is. He is the existing one, Yahweh. He is who he is. He is the ultimate and true, the eternal and inescapably present reality. Most men live in the fiction of their artificial realities. They do not want to face the God “with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). But we cannot escape him and must stand before him and give an account to him. All things are visible and laid bare before his penetrating gaze. He transcendently exists; he immanently sees. Prayer lays us open before him willingly, and thus calls upon him to search and know us, to be our life.
This is the reason that we cannot please him without faith. Faith takes God at his word. It believes that he is whom he has revealed himself to be. To know and believe in God in a way that pleases him, we must be led solely by his word. Outside of his word there is nothing but an inescapable labyrinth of foolishness. Faith is fed by God’s word; it is faith’s path, guide, and hope. Since God, for example, says that he hears and answers prayer, faith prays to him as the God and Father who hears us. Since God says that he has installed his Beloved Son as our Advocate at his right hand, faith comes in Jesus’ name, looks trusting his merits and intercession, calling upon his name, and responding to his invitation. He says, “Come, seek me.” Faith says, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”
We must also come to God as the rewarder of those who diligently seek him. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened” (Matt. 7:7). These are the “wages” God pays when we pray to him as he has revealed himself. He gives us what we ask. His reward is gracious; in hearing us, he is showing his undeserved loved and respecting his Son’s worthiness. He has promised. He is always true to himself and because of his covenant, in being true to himself, he is faithful to us. Faith is rewarded by obtaining from the Lord through prayer the promises he has revealed to us in his word. God never sends us away empty-handed. If nothing else, he gives us himself, which is to give us what we truly need and what truly satisfies.
We must seek him diligently. This means to seek earnestly, to crave, to hunger and thirst for the living God. He is not sought well when sought carelessly or irreverently. He does not reward prayers that are little more than talking aloud or talking much – as unbelievers pray (Matt. 6:7). God rewards those who seek him in a way that craves him, feels its need of him, and desires him. It might be seeking him for help or healing, comfort or guidance, forgiveness or strength. Whatever our need, we must expect God to hear and answer the earnest seeker. This is what he has promised about himself. This is who he is.
Diligence means that we cry after God. The Psalms are helpful here, as are all the prayers of Scripture. The fervency of our Lord in Gethsemane should be carefully observed and sincerely imitated. But we have to our Savior’s heart to seek with earnestness. He must give us his Spirit to guide us. Impetuosity is not earnestness, as if we should expect God to grant our every whim or satisfy our earthly cravings. It is not things we crave but God, not even answers as much as to know that the living God has heard us. Yes, his answers are wonderful and needed. But to know that He has heard us, that our prayer has come before him, that he has heard our voice and now takes our burdens upon his omnipotent shoulders: this is the only answer we really need. The chief value of prayer, after all, is seeking and finding God himself as our reward.
“Without faith, it is impossible to please him.” Please reveals a different facet of prayer. Prayer is not all about us and our needs. It is an act of believing worship, for it pleases God when we pray in faith. We think of prayer primarily from the human side, but it will greatly encourage and inspire us to pray if we also think of it from his side. He is pleased when we draw near to him. “The Father himself loves you.” He is pleased when we take him at his word, pleased when feeling our weakness and need of him, we come to him and believe that he is. Is this not one reason for his wise plan of redemption? He has revealed his love and mercy to sinners, his openness to us, his willingness to help us, his grace that has taken us into his bosom, guards over us by his power, and has opened heaven to us through his resurrected Son. Prayer is one way we adore God for who he is and his saving grace to us.
Take, for example, our prayer for mercy and forgiveness. Our consciences are grieved when we sin. The soul craves mercy, renewed fellowship, our Father’s embrace. We wonder if he will extend mercy to us – again and again. He will if we take him at his word – “I, even I, am he that blots out your transgressions.” “He is faithful and just to forgive our sins.” It pleases God to extend mercy to us. I hope we wonder at this. Our Father does not extend mercy stingily but with pleasure. He knows our frame, our weakness, our utter weakness. He delights to bury our sins in the depths of mercy’s ocean. In this way, we can plead for mercy while rejoicing in mercy, expecting mercy, glorifying God for his mercy, and finding relief in praying to him for mercy. This is who he is, “The Lord, the Lord God, gracious and merciful.” He cannot deny himself. The believing prayer for mercy affirms him, confesses his faithfulness, and seeks renewal in his promised love and fellowship. What a wonderful God and Father, powerful Savior, and comforting Spirit!
Trusting him, we can leave the specific reward with him. Many are praying for him to save our nation, and we know that he can, but he has purposes beyond our understanding. We pray that he will heal the sick, but sometimes he answers with the fullest healing – a call home to heaven. Psalm 13 is very instructive here. David begins by pleading with the Lord not to forget him (v. 1), to alleviate his sorrows (v. 2), and to help him against his enemies (vv. 3-4). He moves quickly to this: “But I have trusted in your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (vv. 5-6). Did the Lord defeat David’s enemies in three seconds? No, but he did reveal his mercy and goodness to David’s heart. David prayed, and God satisfied him with mercy – past mercies received, future mercies expected. We can rest here also, that the Lord knows the best reward for us. Do you hesitate to come because you feel your sinfulness? Do not wait because you are unworthy; come to him now, for he delights in mercy.