I’m going to risk ignoring the advice given me by one of my earliest pastoral mentors, Don Howard. “Don’t be a one-trick pony. Don’t preach from a hobby-horse.” In other words, don’t dwell on just one theme or topic. Don’t nag. But this morning I just can’t resist. I’ve written about this before and stress it every chance I get. It is my hobby-horse.
Because we use words to understand ideas, especially complex concepts like, “Who is our God? What is He like?,” words matter. That’s the theme of these Wednesday blogs. We must use words carefully. So here are five important words we use all the time which do not accurately represent the person and nature of our God.
There is power in prayer.
I understand the idea but, no, I don’t think so. Before you call the Inquisition Committee to drag me off for heresy, allow me to offer an alternative set of words:
The God to whom I pray holds all power.
The difference is huge. In the first phrase, the “power” is inherent in the words I utter (my prayer) and conditional on me actually saying them. What if I don’t pray? What if I don’t pray correctly? Believing there is power in prayer reduces it to being little more than an incantation. This would suggest, then, that God can somehow be manipulated if I use just the right words. What if I pray His promises back to Him - can that make Him do what I want? When we say, “There is power in prayer” we make ourselves the centre of the act of praying rather than God. It is subtle and dangerously untrue.
If God doesn’t answer “my” prayer what does that say about God? He didn’t hear? He didn’t like the combination of words I put together?
On the other hand, if I acknowledge that I pray to the God who holds all power then the focus is on God. This simple shift transforms my prayer from an incantation to a confessional statement. I am acknowledging that God is God, and I am not. I am confessing my dependence on Him - only He can respond, I do not have control. I confess my loyalty to Him - and this is the heart of authentic worship.
When I pray to the God who holds all power and authority my focus changes. It is sharpened. I am reminded of His grace, mercy, and compassion which is directed toward us. I remember He is holy and just, and the Judge of all the earth will always do what is right (Gen. 18:25). I renew my confidence that God is good and all that He does is goodness (Psa. 119:65-67). And I know that my Heavenly Father will always hear me and knows what I need before I even ask (Matt. 6:8). I am comforted knowing that this God, the Creator of heaven and earth and all it contains, is working all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). So I CAN boldly enter His throne room of grace, and lay before Him everything that is on my heart. Anything. And He will hear me (Heb. 4:16). And when I don’t know what to say or how to say it, God still knows my heart and my needs (Rom. 8:26).
Is that not much better than believing in the “power” of words I speak, my feeble attempts to influence God, to get His attention?
Read the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. After a day of ritual and extreme self-abuse, the prophets of Baal were exhausted and it is noted, “there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention” (18:29). This stands in contrast to Elijah’s prayer, recorded in about 60 words, and probably takes less than a minute to utter. And in that instant the God of all power and authority responded. It wasn’t because Elijah’s incantation was better than that of the prophets of Baal. It was because He prayed to the God who holds all power and authority.
Words matter: God has never abdicated His throne. He alone is God; there is no other. Let us pray to the One who holds all power and authority.