Written by David Kennedy Bird
In Dallas Willard’s contemporary classic work, The Divine Conspiracy, the basic theme is that there’s a conflict of cosmic proportions going on around us: God is on the move, he’s building His kingdom, but He’s doing it in ways that are secret or not easily understood by the mass of humanity. And He’s calling us to join Him in what He’s got going on. This is what Willard means by the ‘Divine Conspiracy.’
All of which is terrific stuff. But this little meditation on prayer was inspired by something that Willard says almost offhandedly at one point, when he is talking about God’s attitude toward us:
When you pray… (1) Look God in the face
A relationship with God is a real relationship, every bit as real as the familiar relationships we have with family and friends. A relationship with God is, however, unique, in that God—an infinite being—is involved. We must resist the temptation to understand God in impersonal terms. He is a Person, albeit a Person of Infinite and Cosmic magnitude.
In the Bible, He repeatedly reveals Himself as having a Face. Whether He intends this to be taken literally or figuratively is not the point; the point is that God has given us a way of thinking about Him, of relating to Him.
When we converse with a person, we do so while looking upon the person’s face.
So when we pray, we should do so imagining that we are gazing into the Face of the One to Whom we are addressing our thoughts, feelings, and entreaties.
When you pray… (2) Know that God is looking you in the face
The things that the Bible says about God’s countenance would not make any sense unless that countenance were turned in our direction.
God sees you. He knows you. He emphasizes repeatedly in Scripture the degree to which He is aware of you. He is paying deep attention to you; He knows at least as much about your inner world as He does about the birds of the air and the hairs of your head… and He certainly knows everything there is to know about them.
God sees all of the kind, constructive and meaningful things that you’ve done, the things that are aligned with the architecture of heaven. He also sees the damaging, insensitive, rebellious, chaos-breeding things you’ve done, the things that align with the architecture of this present darkness.
But He sees far, far more than this.
He sees the confused systems of motivation out of which your choices emerge. He sees your areas of woundedness and the ways in which your background may have handicapped you in your ability to respond to the people around you. He sees your anger, your pain, your frustrations and the ways in which your perceptions may be distorted by factors you are unaware of. In other words, God not only sees your sins, He knows all about why you’ve tended to walk in those particular sins. He sees fifteen layers further into the depths of your personhood than you are able to. He, as they say, gets you. He knows infinitely more about you than even you do. He is better equipped to be patient with you than you are, never mind your detractors; when He looks upon you, He sees the whole of you, every deeply-buried crevice, into the diseased places from which patterns of wickedness come… and He alone knows how to excise those places of infection, cleanse the wounds and bring complete healing to your inner places.
So when we pray, we should do so knowing that God has turned His face toward us, is giving us His complete attention… He knows us, He gets us, He knows the entirety of who we are, and he knows why... and He is listening with rapt attention for what we’re about to say.
When you pray… (3) Know that the expression on His face is a smile
This must be acknowledged: Obviously, there is a stern aspect to God’s nature. We would have to tear the Old Testament out of our Bibles, as well as significant passages in the New Testament, if we wished to deny this.
His sternness is toward those who are under His judgment, who have defied His grace, who are in rebellion against Him.
We must not apply to ourselves passages in the Bible where God is talking about His enemies. We are not His enemies. If we are in Christ, then we are His adopted children, citizens in His Kingdom, members of His household.
When we were His enemies, it would have been accurate to say that the Face of God was turned away from us. The expression on His Face at that time was not a smile; it was one of sorrow, of anger, of deep disturbance within His Spirit. But the work of Christ on our behalf changes all that: changes it utterly.
God loves us, He loves you. God goes to great lengths in Scripture to convince us that He loves us—those who are in Christ, whose sins have been cleansed by the blood of Christ, and who have been personally ushered into the Presence of the Father by Christ. He assures us that His will toward us is benevolent, that He desires joy and blessing for us.
Friends, the expression on the Father’s face is not one of condemnation.
So when we pray, we should do so with a certain vision in our minds: that we are looking God in the face as we talk with Him, and He is likewise looking us in the face, and the expression on His face is one of benevolence, acceptance, gentleness, grace, yearning, tenderness, and love.