“Shh—I’m listening to your opinion of God!”
If you, by some secretive means, were able to eavesdrop on the private conversations between my husband and me, you would get a pretty good gauge on the status of our marriage. Though it wouldn’t tell you everything, hearing our words would clue you in on our opinions of each other and the level of trust in our relationship.
In the same way, if you could hear my private words to God, they would reveal the level of intimacy in my relationship with him. But our prayers reveal so much more than that. The way we think about God determines whether we pray to him at all—and if we do, our opinion of him affects what we feel comfortable praying to him about.
A terrible judge
When Jesus wanted to teach his followers about prayer, he used my favorite way to learn: through stories. One story was about a widow who came to a judge “who neither feared God nor cared what people thought” (Luke 18:2 NIV). Over and over, this terrible judge refused the widow’s request, but she wouldn’t give up. Finally, not because the judge felt pity for the woman, but because he was so annoyed with her and wanted to be left alone, he acquiesced.
A stingy friend
Jesus also tells a story of a man who came to his friend in the middle of the night, asking for three loaves of bread (Luke 11:5–8). Though the friend initially didn’t care, he eventually produced the bread to get rid of his midnight visitor.
Christ didn’t tell these two stories to imply that we need to approach God with the same request repeatedly before he complies. He tells them to make the point that if even an unjust judge and a stingy man will fulfill someone’s request, how much more will God—the righteous Judge and generous Friend—answer the prayers of his beloved people?
A generous father
Jesus presents another scenario to illustrate prayer. Suppose your child is hungry and asks you for food, but instead of giving him something that will satisfy his appetite, you give him something with the potential to kill him. Would you ever do such a thing? I imagine the listeners laughed at the suggestion. But Christ brings up such an absurd scenario to cement this lesson of prayer into his hearers’ hearts: If even a sinful parent finds pleasure in fulfilling his child’s request, how much more does our perfect heavenly Father delight to give his children good things (Luke 11:11–13)? This is why, when the disciples came to Jesus with the request of, “Teach us to pray,” he tells them to address God—not as their Creator, Judge, or King—but as their Father (Luke 11:2).
If I could listen in on your prayers, what would they tell me about your opinion of God and your trust in him? If you think of God as a begrudging judge or a stingy friend, that will affect the way you approach him and what things you feel comfortable bringing to him. But if you come to him as the perfectly righteous Judge of all the earth, the Friend who is so generous he laid down his life for you, and a Heavenly Father who knows every detail of your life yet still lavishes his love on you, then that will change everything.