In this weekend’s sermon, Greg provides us with a framework for the importance of prayer. While most of us have been taught about the importance of prayer, it can still feel like an empty duty if we do not have a framework for the reason why prayer matters.
We begin today as Greg reminds us of the foundational importance of prayer.
To discover this framework, Greg begins by unpacking what it means to be in the image of God. In the ancient Near East, they used this concept to mean one of two things. The first of which was a statue or idol to a god. An artesian would seek inspiration from a god to create a statue that resembled that god. For example, if the god was a warrior god then the statue was designed to represent that characteristic. After this statue was formed, an elaborate ceremony would take place to prepare the statue to become the habitation for the deity which is when the statue would become “the image of god.” On the final day of the ceremony, they would place this statue in a garden that, when described, resembles the account of the Garden of Eden and also what an ancient Near Eastern mind might think of as heaven. Interestingly, while in their culture people created the garden for God, in the Genesis account God creates a garden for his people. The ceremony would then culminate when the high priest would breathe into the nostrils of the statue. At this point, the statue was considered to be alive.
…Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.
Here, we can see how the Genesis narrative is tapping to the culture of it’s day to communicate that we are living statues of God. It communicated brilliantly to that culture that to represent the true and living God, you need a living image. God being life itself could never be represented by a lifeless statue. To reflect what God is like you need a being who can think, love, experience deep emotions, jump, play, sing, dance, and be what it is to be fully alive. To quote Irenaeus, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Our God is an extreme God who goes all the way with anything he does. He is the kind of God that became a human being and died a God-forsaken death for a people who couldn’t deserve it less. What does it look like to image this kind of vibrant, beautiful, and loving God? Surely it means more than settling for a bland existence of just getting by.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
God created us to be fully alive. He didn’t create us to be spectators but to be active participants who image his vibrant aliveness. God created us to live on the edge, to push the envelope, to live fully awake, to live in love, to be willing to take risks, to be invested in others, and to experience adventure, mystery, and passion. What does your life more resemble: a lifeless statue or a fully alive human being living in the image of God? If it is the case that you do feel more like a lifeless statue, as Greg explains, more often than not it is due to a wound(s) that freeze us. The good news is that God is the best therapist in the world and is a genius at healing wounds. Greg encourages us to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any wound(s) and then invite Jesus into that place. God loves and delights in setting captives free and melting chains off of us.
As Greg points out, the second cultural meaning of the image of God referred to a king who was a special person allowed to be called the image of a god. He was called “the image of god” because it was believed that he had special access to God and would reflect the character and will of the deity to everyone else. It was also believed that the fate of the nation depended on how well the king aligned themselves and imaged their deities. We see this play out in the Old Testament in which the Israelites begin to ask God for a king. Though this was not God’s intent for them, he acquiesces after they complain about it. From then on the fate of Israel is narratively tied to their king. In that light we read:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
In a culture where it felt obvious that the king alone imaged God, Genesis has the audacity to pose that humankind, male and female, as a whole, were created in God’s image. Using cultural language the Genesis account is claiming that human beings inherently are kings and queens. We are all created to rule. We are all born for greatness. We are all to view and treat every other human the same. Though the world may not acknowledge this truth, God does. God, being the only one who knows things perfectly, alone holds the power to define what is true about us, and he says we are kings and queens. This reign will look different than how ancient kings ruled in that we are to take on the image of the crucified Christ who self-sacrificially laid down his life for us. We rule through humble self-sacrificial love. We rule by reflecting the character of the one who thought every human being was a king or a queen worth dying for. In the following verses Greg notes that we will engage in this kind of reign for quite some time:
2 Timothy 2:11–12
The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
Greg explains, from the very start, God desired a bride who would reign with him to extend his loving lordship over the earth and the animal kingdom. This plan will only be fully manifested when the kingdom comes in fullness. But we are also to be living into this reality now as co-workers with God. Paul writes:
1 Corinthians 3:9
For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Greg describes that the word for co-workers, synergos, means to bring your energy alongside another. We are to take our energy and bring it alongside God’s. This is not a one-way deal. We have something to bring to the table, and what we bring is significant. God does everything through relationships and though he could rule the world on his own without us, he chooses to invite us in to be authentic active participants. What we find in the Trinity is that God’s very essence is perfect love and that core to his being is relationality. God wants us to interact in the process. He longs for relationship with us.
This then explains why prayer is so important to God. If we are to be reigning with Christ, it would not make sense for us not to be talking to him. A relationship essentially involves intimate two-way communication where both parties are making themselves known to each other. This being the case, it makes sense that communicating with God would be hardwired into creation. When we talk to God, nature responds. God wanted a bride with authority, say-so, and personality.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
So, whether we see the outcome we are praying for or not we can know on the authority of Scripture that the situation is more kingdomized then before. This is our royal opportunity and responsibility.
Lastly, Greg gives us these 5 tips about prayer that we can implement:
1. Use your imagination. We are to align our mind with God’s truth by representing it vividly in our head.
2. Talk out loud when you pray.
3. Agreement with others matters.
4. Pray continually. We are to make God a conversation partner throughout our day.
5. God cares about the small stuff. Nothing is too small for us to bring to God.
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