by Paul Tautges /
The first of three posts on the role of the Trinity in prayer.
The first person of the Trinity—the one who freely chose to send his only Son to die for our sins—is aware of our needs, listens to our cries, and delights to give us what is good for us.
The Father Knows Our Needs
While teaching his disciples about prayer, Jesus made this amazing statement: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).
Your Father. The first thing to notice here is that Jesus does not call the first person of the Trinity “the Father of heaven and earth,” though that surely is true. Instead he stresses the relational aspect, saying “your Father.”
The believer in Christ has a relationship with God that the unbeliever does not. God is the Father of all in the sense that he is the Creator “from whom are all things” (1 Corinthians 8:6), but he is Father, relationally, only to believers. This relationship, which is based on grace alone through faith in Christ alone, deepens and thrives when we take our needs to the Father in prayer.
Before you ask. The second part of Jesus’ comment—that our Father “knows what you need before you ask him”—can easily raise an honest question: If God already knows our needs and the always-faithful Father has promised to meet them, why bother to pray? It may seem like an obvious question, perhaps with an obvious answer, but what happens next in the gospel account is striking.
Notice what Jesus didn’t do after telling us about the Father’s foreknowledge: he didn’t just stop talking! If he had, we might conclude prayer is unnecessary—God knows what you need; end of story. But Jesus refused to leave us to our own flawed, finite human logic. Instead, going against our logic, our Lord said essentially the opposite: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…’”
Your loving Father knows what you need before you ask him, therefore… ask him? Jesus wants us to see that prayer is more about changing us than it is about informing God or moving him to action.
As a sacrifice of time and energy that could have been used for other things, prayer is an act of worship, one by which our hearts are exercised in faith, not merely in religious ritual. “Ask,” Jesus tells us, “just ask.” Why? Because true prayer cultivates humility. It requires us to acknowledge our helplessness. We ask because Jesus told us to ask. We ask because all that is good comes from God, not from our own efforts.[tweet “Prayer is far more about changing us than it is about informing God or moving him to action.”]
As we build a lifestyle of prayer, this regular acknowledgment of God’s fatherly provision is infinitely more valuable than anything else we may receive. The main thing is not that in the future we might get what we pray for. The main thing is that in the present, as we pray, our greatest need is already being met. That need is the transforming work of God in our hearts, with prayer itself as one of God’s appointed means of meeting that need. When Jesus promised a “reward” for those who pray in secret (Matthew 6:6), perhaps this refining work of God in our hearts is at least partly what he had in mind.
The Father Delights to Give Gifts
Having taken joy in hearing the cries of our needy hearts and knowing our needs better than we do, God delights to give us those things that will be best for us. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Written by James, the half-brother of Jesus, this verse portrays God in a way that should powerfully motivate us to pray.
Good and perfect gifts. God is the source of all that is good, and he delights in giving good things to his children. Jesus says in Luke 11:13, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” If we as human beings find joy in giving our children what we believe to be good gifts, how much more does an infinitely good God know how to give to his children!
Sometimes we think God withholds things from us because he does not love us. The opposite is true. Sometimes God’s withholding of our requests proves his love. He did exactly this for the apostle Paul to keep his pride in check (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). God loves us too much to let us go down a harmful path, even if we see it as the path of blessing.[tweet “God’s not answering prayer often proves his love: Paul’s thorn in the flesh checked his pride.”]
Father of lights. All of these undeserved gifts come down from the “Father of lights,” the creator of the sun, moon, and stars (Genesis 1:14). These heavenly bodies testify to God’s glory in part by offering a visual representation of God’s “light”—his holiness and purity (1 John 1:5). Men, however, are not light—we naturally love darkness because we love sin (John 3:19). But it is impossible for God to be involved in darkness in any way whatsoever. There is “no variation or shadow due to change” in God for he is pure light—unchanging and unchangeable. Unlike the sun, moon, and stars, the light of God’s holiness never surges or fades. It always burns with the same infinite intensity. Therefore it is impossible for God to tempt us toward evil. If we ask him for a fish, he will not give us a serpent (Luke 11:11).
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Of course, the Father is not the only member of the three-in-one God. The perfect work of the sinless Son of God opened the door to the grace-saturated throne of our prayer-answering Father. The next post in this series will address the role of the Son in prayer.
Paul Tautges serves as senior pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Previously, he pastored Immanuel Bible Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin for 22 years. Paul is a husband, father, and the author of eight books. He also blogs regularly on discipleship and the Christian life at www.counselingoneanother.com.