We are finally nearing the conclusion of the first chapter. Sorry it has taken quite a while to put this one out. If you are joining us now, let me just bring you up to speed. We are looking at the first chapter of a book called “Praying” written by J.I Packer and Carolyn Nystrom. In this book, both of the authors look at what it means, and how it looks to have a prayer life that is vibrant and growing. The first chapter is the main theme throughout the entire book. It establishes who is the God we pray to, and why it is good to pray to Him. From there, I believe the other chapter summaries will make the most sense. So I encourage you, dear readers, to take your time with the previous three posts and just wrestle and pray through it.
The previous post we looked at the first 4 truths of our God. I believe that each truth flows and builds directly into one another. In this post we will look at the final 4 that make up the 8 truths of God. Now I understand, and fully believe that God cannot be relegated to just 8 simple truths. For He is much larger than that. However, I believe understanding these truths will not only give us a sense of how immense He is, but it will also be encouraging because we do get a fuller (though not complete) look at who God is. So without further delay lets look at the final 4 truths that J.I Packer has listed for us.
Truth 5: God is purposeful
God never does things without a purpose. In the end, He always knows what He is doing. So then the question is, according to J.I Packer, “What is God’s purpose in the world that He has made?” J.I Packer claims that it is twofold. The first purpose is ” the honoring and glorifying of his incarnate Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who in turn glorifies the Father by his obedience.” This is vitally important to remember. I believe what J.I Packer is saying, and rightly so, is that the first and foremost purpose of God in and for this world is that He, in Trinity, gets the glory and honor due Him. This purpose is throughout the entire New Testament. Packer highlights a key moment that Jesus glorifies the Father in His obedience. That moment of course being His crucifixion. Prior to the trial and crucifixion, we see within the Scriptures, that Jesus knew the torment that was awaiting Him. And He prays to the Father “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Despite that prayer, Jesus knew what must be done, and He continued to honor the Father by obediently taking the path set before him “to the point of death, even death on the cross.” Of course, we also see the Father honoring the Son. First at Jesus’ baptism where the voice of the Father announced “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” and then once more when Moses and Elijah appeared at Jesus’ transfiguration. It is a relationship that honors and glorifies both parties because as we see later that Jesus after his humiliation is then glorified. It is here that Packer finishes this profound statement with a beautifully written transition into his next point. He writes “The divine purposes were formed before time and extend to eternity. We, the followers of Jesus, are drawn into those purposes through Christ’s love, death, risen life and ongoing intercession for us. No higher destiny can be imagined.” It is through Christ, through the Cross, through the empty tomb that God pulls us into Himself. And that in turn draws us into what His purpose is. In essence, we get to play and participate with what God is already doing in the world.
The second point, Packer states is tied to the first point. and second point is “the holiness and happiness of God’s adopted family, which is the church…millions of redeemed sinners including you and us. Then a third element of it is a consequence of…the second, namely the church’s grateful worship, which belongs to the happiness of which we are speaking.” So then, our worship of God is tied into, and comes forth from God’s relationship with Himself. We are given the privilege to participate within God’s relationship, and inevitably have a relationship with God because of what Christ did. J.I Packer explains it clearly when he writes “the Son, as the Father’s agent and the mediator of his grace, gives the saints glory, that is, the blessing of a new inner life, a new heavenly hope and a new present joy, while the saints give the Son, along with the Father, the honor and praise that are jointly their due.” What J.I Packer saying is that Jesus, through what He did, gives us all things new. Everything that is of utmost importance is new. It is here that Packer points out that the word glory is used in two sense in the Scriptures. He writes “Glory in Scripture means both God on display (the glory God shows) and people praising God (the glory we give). We give him glory for putting himself on display in our lives and for out eternal benefit.” It is a glory that is both given for and created by God himself. Blessing is the same way, Packer argues. Much like the word glory, the word blessing is used in two senses. Primarily it is what God does that allows us to do after. This order, I believe is incredibly important. So for blessing “The Father blesses us by the gift of His Son, and the Son blesses us by his gift of salvation. Then we bless God by words of gratitude, devotion, thanksgiving and joy in his presence.” As we can see, the use of glory and blessing in the Gospel, first and foremost comes from God has done (and not what we have done), this in turn allows us to respond in worship. So then from this we can conclude, as does J.I Packer, that the purpose of God is first and foremost His glory and honor which, in consequence, leads to our (the church’s) holiness and happiness. Which includes our praise for everything good.
It is with this that we should remember, know and believe that we can enter into an incredibly close relationship with God. “The Christian life, is a matter of developing friendship with God, friendship that flows from the Father’s gift to us of our Lord Jesus Christ, who on his own behalf, now makes friends with us in his own way…a transforming friendship with our glorified Savior whereby our life becomes a case of friend loving friend, friend serving friend, friend enjoying intimacy with friend, all along the line.” It is this friendship that we should, and must, live out through prayer.
Truth 6: God is a promise keeper
About this truth Packer writes “…a promise-keeper was a character quality that God established as his own. So the basis of all our asking in prayer, as of all our trusting in God, is and must be knowing his promises, claiming them, relying on them and holding fast to them whatever happens, in the confidence that they will always be kept.” This is incredibly important to remember, dear Christian, J.I Packer’s point is this: that the only times we rightly ask in prayer are when we know, hold fast, trust, and believe in God’s promises. It is receiving these promises from God that are vital and foundational in a Christian life. Not just in prayer, but really in how we live, grow and change. On this point Packer writes “receiving God’s promises and trusting those promises is an integral building block, a truly foundational activity in a Christian life. Promise-based prayer is the reality of which we will be speaking throughout this book.” This is one of the key points of the book, that to pray well, and pray Biblically we NEED to know, trust and believe God’s promises. It is for this reason that “Promise-trusting faith is indeed at the center of the Biblical prayer pattern.”
Truth 7: God is paternal
This means that God, in his perfection, cares for His children in a way that a perfect father should, and in all honesty, God does. J.I Packer writes “The biblical ideal of fatherhood blends authority, fidelity, affection, care, discipline, long-suffering and protection in a course of sustained love that aims always at the children’s advance into strength, wisdom and maturity.” This means that God, in his perfection fulfills the Biblical ideal of fatherhood, and everything that He does (discipline, protection etc.) has one aim and that is to grow us (the church body and individually) in strength, wisdom and maturity. Packer then writes an incredibly beautiful passage in which he describes just how God brings this about. He writes “He, the eternal Father of Jesus the eternal Son, in whom we have been brought into our new life, adopts us sinners to be his sons and heirs with Jesus, who thus becomes our elder brother. Now by means of the ministry to us of the Son and the Spirit, our heavenly Father is leading us home to full Christlikeness and eternal glory.” So this is how God brings it about. He uses His Son, and because of what Christ did, we can be adopted. And because we are adopted, God the Father will eventually bring us home into full Christlikeness and glory. We can now therefore, due to our adoption, communicate with the Father through prayer, just like He communicates with us.
Truth 8: God is praiseworthy
“God is personal, plural, perfect, powerful, purposeful, promise-keeping, paternal, and, finally, in light of all that has preceded, a praiseworthy God.” This line pretty much sums up why the God we pray to, the God of the Bible is a praiseworthy God. It is here also that we are given a distinction between praise and thanks and the way we express both. To make this distinction J.I Packer writes “Prayers of thanks focus on some extent on us. We thank God for particular gifts given to us and others personally, and for general gifts bestowed on all. Praise, on the other hand, focuses directly on God. We praise him because of who and what he is. It is the difference between one spouse saying to the other, ‘You are the most understanding person I know; that’s one reason I love you so much’ and ‘Thanks for the sandwich; I needed it.” Using that spouse analogy J.I Packer makes a clear distinction between a prayer of thanks and a prayer of praise. Keep in mind however, that Packer is not saying that prayers of thanks are not wrong. In fact, he claims and believes, and rightly so, that both kinds of prayers (thanks and praise) are appropriate. We just naturally tend to focus more on prayers of thanks because we are self-centered creatures and “God’s gifts and mercies to us constantly fill our minds.” In Psalms 147:1 it says “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God;for he is beautiful, and a song of praise is fitting” With this verse we can see that it is good for us to focus the attention away from ourselves and focus on God with praise.
As this chapter comes to a close, J.I Packer then reveals the purpose of this book. He writes “What this book offers, as you can now see, is less a ‘how to’ than a ‘who to’ (more grammatically, a ‘to whom’) approach to praying. Realizing the reality of God, as we have described him, is the exercise of heart that sets prayer on the right footing. And now note what follows. In the light of this knowledge of who and what our God is, you and we have to be clear who we are when we come to God (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) in our prayers. And that is a major matter.” So this is a book that doesn’t offer steps in how to pray, but it reveals to us who we pray to and, should you or I read it while honestly and openly allowing the Holy Spirit to move us, it reveals who we are in light of that. It is a book that should be encouraging, challenging, and convicting. It is a book that doesn’t teach us techniques but rather reminds us what prayer is all about and that is “When we ask God for an interview, requesting his attention (which is what we actually do when we pray), we need to be very clear in our own minds not only about who he is but also about who we are and what constitutes a humble, honest, realistic, reverent attitude towards him.” So with that in mind, who are we in light of God? We are sinners saved by Grace. We are rebellious sons and daughters who have been redeemed by Jesus. We are servants. We are adopted children of God the Father. We are His disciples. We are His friends. How amazing is that? There is just so much to be encouraged by, humbled by.
J.I Packer ends off the chapter with an encouraging and humbling thought. He writes “So approaching God as Father with a full realization of all that is involved not only in doing it but in being able to do it is where real, realistic Christian praying begins. And then the more we appreciate the holy love of our God in Christ, the more we will realize what sinners we are, and the more we realize what sinners we are, the more we will appreciate the holy love of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, and the more real our praying will then become.” True, vibrant, passionate praying begins when we know God. When we come to understand deeply the Gospel and His love for us. Not only for us, but when we, even moreso, understand the love God has for Himself (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). It is there that I believe that we must start because it is there that every amazing attribute of God, that makes Him worthy of praise, builds and flows out of. Our prayer life is built, grown, and flow out of understanding and appreciating deeper and deeper Christ’s love for us sinners.
This is the end of the first chapter. Chapter 2 is entitled Paths and By-Paths. Hopefully I will get that out in the next several days.
Some final thoughts before ending this:
– as with the first part of “This is your God” these four truths flow into and build upon each other. In fact, taking both parts in entirety, all these truths of God flow into one another flawlessly. Again, dear reader, I implore you to remember, hold onto, trust in, and believe in these truths. It is only from knowing who our God is that we may be able to truly pray.
– We often tend to focus more on ourselves. Thanking God for the many blessings that we have. Now don’t get me wrong, that is an appropriate prayer, and we should thank God for the many blessings and mercies that we receive. However how much time do we (I include myself in this as well) spend thanking God instead of praising Him? If we were to ask ourselves honestly, do we tend to interchange praise and thanks, even though they are different? I want to challenge us (you and I) this week to focus more on just praising Him.