There is no doctrine more foundational, or more misunderstood, than the doctrine of God. All other doctrines orbit around it. For our purposes, it is right to acknowledge that there is no doctrine more important concerning one’s prayer life.
Who is God? What is he like? How do we come to know him? To whom are we speaking when we go to God in prayer?
At the heart of a person’s identity as a Christian is a confession: “God is God; I am not.” The latter claim is readily provable – there are countless pieces of evidence by which we can know we are not ultimate. But what is meant by first?
For centuries, believers have been at pains to accurately communicate and describe the reality of God’s “one in three persons” identity. The creeds have served us well in this regard. However, it has been imperative of Christians to reassert the significance of the content of these creeds for each subsequent generation of believers. No generation of believers or "age of Christianity" has needed to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it has proven to be more helpful to study the scriptures more acutely, to read more broadly the theologians and church leaders of old, and to trust God and the illumining power of the Spirit more intently. In doing so, we express the sort of dependence on God that should also characterize our prayers.
When we go to God in prayer, there is another confession, one of our limitations and of God's capability: “I believe you, God, are capable of things that I am not capable of.” God’s “capability” in this regard is owed to his character – the things God does are always consistent with who God is. In prayer, it is right to acknowledge this reality, particularly in the way we address God. Jesus began the model prayer referring to God as “our Father” (Matt. 6:9) At other points in Scripture, we see God acknowledged as “Lord” (Psalm 3; Jonah 2:2), “My God” (Psalm 63:1-2), and the “God of our Lord, Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:17) among other identifiers. There is acknowledgement of the One to whom a person is praying, a confession that we are looking, not only beyond ourselves, but also unto God as the source of guidance and direction, as the only One capable of fulfilling our requests, and as the terminal point of all our praise.
In light of this, here are reflections on four truths about God that influence the content of our prayers:
God is simple, therefore we can have confidence that he does not act contrary to his nature (Deut. 6:4). God is without parts; he is not a composite of his attributes. “Every attribute of God is identical with his essence.” What we perceive God has, he is, and no attribute is more central to God’s character than another. God will not act lovingly in an unjust manner and he cannot act justly in an unloving way. He is not holy at the expense of being gracious, and is not merciful because of some diminishment of his power. He fundamentally is all of these things and more. When we pray, we gain confidence from God's consistency in this regard and can fully expect him to act according to his nature.
God is immutable, therefore we know that God does not act contrary to his nature and that he will not (Mal. 3:6). We know the promises of God are sure because in him there is “no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). This fact about God is the basis for our dependence on him when we come to him in prayer. We are not making our plea with baited breath, nor do we have to approach him timidly, wondering if we are truly acceptable to him. God has accepted Christ as the once-for-all sacrifice on our behalf and he has not and will not have second thoughts. By virtue of our union with the Son, we are now free to come and pray.
God is omniscient, therefore he knows what we need before we even ask (Mt. 6:8). Yet our asking expresses dependence on him for answers. We are comforted by the fact God is all-knowing because we know nothing we ask catches him off-guard. Nothing we throw at him, whether in ecstasy or angst, gives him pause, nor can it leave him perplexed. He knows, therefore we can approach him confidently.
God is all-powerful, therefore nothing we ask is impossible for him (Mt. 19:26). That is not to say he will answer every prayer in the manner we expect; it’s simply a matter of confessing that he could. That is when we begin to see God rightly. Wrapping our minds around this truth about God helps us relate to him in accordance with who God actually is, instead of bumping our heads against the wall of the wish-dream “God” we’ve imagined him as being.
In acknowledging God for who he is, rather than merely for what he has done, could do, or will do in the future, we confess not only that God is God, but that he has always been so, even before we understood what we know about Him through the lens of Scripture and the testimony of his magnificent works. This is the essence of looking through the gift to the Giver, the substance of what it means to seek God’s face and not his hand, only. Reflecting on God’s character, i.e. the doctrine of God, proves to be a fail-safe way to ensure we’re approaching God as he is, and not merely as we imagine him to be, a product of our seemingly sacred whims and fancies. Our prayers are not wishfully launched into the void of hopefully and maybe; they’re heard by a God who inclines his ear to listen and we can now, with full confidence, call upon him as long as we live (Ps. 116:2).