by Brad Fidler
Lead Elder at Niagara Community Church and a member of the Board of Directors for National House of Prayer
My wife and I have three amazing boys. They’re so incredibly different from each other. Our oldest son has always been one who likes to keep to himself, stay in his own space. But our second, well, he is a man after my own heart: he loves to be where people are. He lovessocializing. If people are hanging out, he has to be there. Every game or event has to be a group function with him. When he was around 8 months old, he wanted nothing more than to carry on a conversation with me. The trick was, his vocabulary was not much bigger than “mama”, “dada”, and “more meat” (again, a man after my own heart). But it’s tough to carry on a conversation within those limits. He used to run up to me, excitement in his eyes, and babble on and on without a single intelligible word being uttered. There wasn’t a single time that I was annoyed by this. Quite the opposite: I had been longing for this from a child of mine. He had no language, but he tried to tell me everything…and I loved it! It never once entered my mind to tell him: “Stop it. This is ridiculous. You have nothing to say. Come back when you can say something intelligent.” Every time he came and blabbed nonsense to me, my heart burst with joy. I’ll never forget it. I once asked a room full of youth, “How many of you avoid praying because you don’t know what to say?” Something like 95% of the hands in the room went up. For some of us, not knowing what to say can make us hesitant to approach God in prayer. Maybe we think that prayer is something like making a pitch to a boss at work, or to a teacher in class: it’d better be well-prepared and convincing, or you’ll get a failing grade, or possibly even laughed out of the room.
But that’s not what prayer is! We’re children approaching our Father: A Father who created us for the very purpose of relationship with Him, and whose heart is for us. Jesus made the point that the Father is good and delights in giving us good things, more than even the most loving human fathers (Mt. 7:11).
Follow me on a bit of a trail for a minute. Let’s consider two encounters that Moses and Elijah had with God (in Ex. 33:12 – 34:9 and 1 Kings 19:1-13). In these accounts, Moses & Elijah found themselves on a mountain, being hidden in a cleft (or cave) in the rock, having an incredible encounter with God. Check out Exodus 34: the residual glory from Moses’ encounter (shining face) was too much for the people of Israel to handle. Pretty incredible stuff.
Fast-forward to early 1st Century Jerusalem, and we see the God-Man, “the stone which the builders rejected” (Mt. 21:42; 1 Pet. 2:7), hanging on a cross at Passover. Before they could lower him for burial, they needed to ensure he was dead. An attending soldier pierced His side, from which blood and water flowed (Jn. 19:33-34). Water was frequently used in ceremonial washings in Mosaic Law. They could not approach God with their sacrifices if they were ceremonially unclean, so instructions were given as to how they could become clean again – washing with water was often involved. The writer of Hebrews tells us that in the New Covenant, the blood of Jesus does that job for us, but with much better results: “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God…for by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified…’their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more’.” (Heb. 10:12,14,17; italics added) What does that have to do with prayer? “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22, italics added). We’ve been “sprinkled” (think ceremonial washings from the Mosaic Law) with the blood that flowed from Jesus side. That blood puts us in right standing with God, allowing us to approach His very presence with boldness. And we can do that with a clean conscience! No doubting, no talking ourselves up to it. We can set ourselves in the finished work of Jesus (“the cleft of the Rock”) and show our face before the Father. We are welcome in the Holiest of Holies. He wants us there!
The verse that really hit this home for me might surprise you a bit…it’s from the Song of Solomon: “O my dove, in the cleft of the rock (there’s that phrase again), in the secret place of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (2:14). Solomon is not telling the Shulammite that it’s her way with words that he loves about her…it’s the sight of her face and the sound of her voice that he craves. In the cleft of the rock (Jesus’ side, where His blood flowed to cleanse us to approach His throne with boldness), in the secret place: He wants to see your face, He wants to hear your voice.
Prayer is not a “pitch.” Prayer is a place of encounter between God and the ones He loves; a taste of what Adam & Eve enjoyed with God in the garden before the fall. That’s what He’s looking for: He loves the sound of our voice and the sight of our face…it’s not that He needs to be impressed by the words we come up with. God treasures this idea of encounter so deeply that He took on flesh like one of us, lived a sinless life, then shed His sinless blood in order to make a “new and living way” for us to return to His presence. He sprinkles us with that blood, so that we can boldly approach Him in the Holy of Holies, the very throne room of God, and give Him the delight of seeing our face and hearing our voice.
So, remember this next time you want to pray, but want to quit because you don’t know what to say: He’s eager just to hear your voice and see your face. If you don’t know what to say, don’t worry about it. Just start. Just show up in the place of prayer and turn your face (your thoughts and attention) toward Him. Spill the words you do have, as weak as you may think they are. I can tell you from experience: His heart is overcome when you do.