Experiencing the Trinity Through Prayer

Most new Christians find prayer comes as naturally as breathing.  After a little time goes by, however, we discover that our familiarity with God often leads to neglect in our prayer lives.  Taking for granted that God will always be listening, the sweet communion of our initial walk begins to fade away and soon we wake up to find, as B.B. King would say, “the thrill is gone.”

If you haven’t fell into this pit yet, I encourage you to read this chapter carefully because it can save you from a lot of grief.  But even if you’ve already sunk into the mire, I have good news for you.  One of the best ways to reenergize a stagnant prayer life is to catch a glimpse of how each member of the Trinity is involved.

Prayer follows the Trinitarian pattern we’ve already seen in our salvation and Bible reading. We pray to God the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.  In Ephesians 2:18 the Apostle Paul writes, “For through Him we both have access in One Spirit to the Father.” Commenting on this verse, Harold Hoehner notes that just as, “it took the work of the three persons of the Trinity to redeem humans.  Here the three persons of the Trinity are involved in the believers’ access to God.” (Hoehner 2002, 389) Our access to the Father is made possible through the work of Jesus on the cross and the ongoing intercession of the Holy Spirit.

In our zeal to make prayer a casual conversation with God, we often miss the profound nature of this Trinitarian approach.  We need to take a moment, therefore, and focus on what happens behind the scenes when we pray.  Often our focus in prayer is only on what we’re doing or saying.  To truly understand prayer, however, we need to pull back the veil and capture a glimpse of how each member of the Godhead is involved.  Doing so will enable us to develop a more Biblical approach and tidy up the loose vocabulary we use about prayer.  All of this will serve to deepen our intimacy with God and motivate us to an even deeper life of prayer.

           

We Pray to God the Father

In the model prayer, Jesus taught the disciples to address God as, “Our Father in heaven.” (Matt 6:9)   For the believer, addressing God as Father is a reflection of our familial relationship.  The word Father (pater) was an expression of intimacy closely tied with the Aramaic term abba, used to identify the special relationship between a young child and his/her parents. It is a term of affection similar to calling an earthly father, daddy.

In Jesus’ day, it was practically unheard of to call God by such an intmate name. Jews in that day, carefully avoided the use of “my Father” or “our Father” when referring to God. Such a term of familal intimacy, however, fits perfectly with the picture of salvation in the New Testament.  John 1:12 says, “…to all who did receive him, who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”  As the adopted children of God we enjoy the unique priviliege of approaching God as our Father (see 1 John 3:1 and Eph 2:19) This new status was what motivated the  early chuch to stand during prayer.  Slaves bow, children stand.  Because God is our Father we can stand before Him as beloved children.

Addressing God as Father is also a recognition of His sovereignty and an acknowledgement of our dependence.  Just as an earthly Father supports his family, God provides for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of His children. We can be confident He cares about every aspect of our lives, because we are His beloved children.  As such, we can approach Him as a kind, caring and benevolent Father.  But this access is only made possible through the work of Jesus, which brings us to the second aspect of prayer.

 

We Pray Through God the Son

We never approach God the Father on our own merits.  We always come to God the Father through Jesus the Son. (Eph 2:18) Jesus made this clear in John 14:6 where He says, “I am the way the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Our access to the Father is made possible because Jesus is both our mediator and our intercessor.

As the mediator of our salvation, Jesus died in our place to secure our salvation.  1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  The job of a mediator is to bridge the gap between two parties in a dispute, to help them resolve their problems.  Because of our sin, there’s nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves God. No amount of law keeping, good works or religious activity can bridge the gap and give us a right standing before God.  So, Jesus stood in our place, becoming the perfect sacrifice for our sin on the cross so we can go free.  As our mediator, Jesus died for our sin and gave us access to God the Father.  But His work does not end with securing our salvation.  Having ascended back to heaven, Jesus continues to stand for us before the Father as our intercessor.

As intercessor, Jesus pleads our case and prays on our behalf before the Father.   Hebrews 4:14-16 says,

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens.  Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

As our High Priest, Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses and understands the things we go through because He’s experienced everything it means to be human, except for sin.  As a result, we can be confident in prayer, knowing that someone who perfectly understands our plight is praying in heaven for us. This fact alone should be enough to drive us towards a deeper prayer life. But there is one more aspect we need to consider in our prayer life.

 

We Prayer in the Power of the Holy Spirit

The entire Christian life is to be lived under the direction and control of the Holy Spirit.  This pattern is shown for us in the life of Jesus — who was begotten (Luke 1:35), led (Lk 4:1), anointed (Acts 10:38), taught (Is 9:2,3), performed miracles (Marr 12:28), and raised from the dead (Acts 1:2) by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, the Holy Spirit works in our lives by convicting us of sin (John 16:8-11), bringing about the new birth (John 3:3-8), sealing our salvation (Eph 1:13-14), and gifting us for service (1 Cor 12:4-11).  It makes perfect sense then, that the Holy Spirit has a major role in our prayer life.

We often struggle with the weaknesses of our old sinful nature.  As a result, we sometimes don’t know how to pray.  Several years ago, I faced this situation with my dad.  At the time, I knew my dad was very sick and he wanted God to take him home.  But I was not ready to let him go.  Every time I’d try to pray my heart would be torn.  On one hand, I wanted to ask God to end his suffering. But on the other, I desperately wanted God to sustain his life for a little while longer so that I’d have more time with him.  This is just one of the many times in my life when I really didn’t know how to pray.

These are the times when we experience some of the deepest workings of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 8:26-27 says;

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning’s too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Commenting on this passage, Robert Mounce writes, “Prayer has always been one of the great mysteries of the spiritual life.  We understand that God is listening, but we sense our inadequacy when it comes to knowing how to pray or exactly what we should pray for.” (Mounce 1995, 186) That’s exactly the poistion I was in with my dad.  But there’s a tremendous promise in this verse.  When we don’t know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit takes over and intercedes on our behalf.

A number of years ago, we had a couple in our church who were struggling with a decision about whether or not to go back on the mission field.  They had served for a number of years on the foreign mission field, but returned to the United States for the birth of a their first child, who faced some serious medical problems.  After a year of treatment and therapy, their baby was doing better and they were faced with the decision about whether or not to return to the mission field. Every direction they turned they were encountering mixed signal.  On one side, they heard from the churches back on the mission field desperatley begging them to return.  But on the other, their family and friends were urging them to remain in the United States for their baby’s health.  Rather, than looking for advice, this genuinely devoted and godly couple simply wanted me to pray for them.

In that situation, and many others, I honestly didn’t know how I should pray. All I could do was trust the Holy Spirit to guide me.  For several hours,  I prayed with that couple in my office, desperatley seeking the will of God. During most of that time we simply cried out to God in “groanings too deep for words.” (Rom 8:26)  But as we searched the Word and sought the mind of God, slowly the Holy Spirit began to impress upon all of us that at that time it was not God’s will for them to return to the field.

There will be times when our vision is too limited and our minds to small to comprehend the mind of God,  It’s in these moments that we experience the deep work of the Holy Spirit, taking up the slack and intereceding before the Father on our behalf. That’s why we constantly need to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct our prayer. (Eph 6:18 Jude 1:20)

 

Conclusion

Simply knowing that we pray to God the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit is not enough.  We need to put this into daily practice in our lives.  Doing so requires discipline and focus.  Our physical health requires that we discipline ourselves to eat the right foods, get enough rest, and exercise to keep our bodies fit.  It makes sense then that our Spiritual lives also need discipline to be healthy.

Richard Foster captured the essence of the Spiritual disciples when he said, “The Discipline’s allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.”  These are not a magic formula or a quid pro quo, but a positioning of ourselves for God’s use and blessing.  Dallas Willard noted that the key to the Christian life is “the intelligent, informed, unyielding resolve to live like Jesus lived in all aspects of his life.”  The problem is that most of us try to live the Christian life in the “moment of specific decision” without taking adequate steps to prepare ourselves.  The Spiritual disciplines are how God prepares us for His service

Tom Landry, the legendary coach of the Dallas Cowboys, once said, “The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do to achieve what they’ve always wanted to be.” Every successful athlete learns the importance of discipline.  Sheer athletic talent is all it takes to succeed in the pee wee leagues and High School.  By the time an athlete goes to college, however, the playing field is leveled.  In college sports success or failure is decided as much by discipline as talent.  Those who have both, usually succeed.  Those who have talent but lack discipline will most often fail.

Our familiarity with prayer often leads to neglect.  Half the remedy then is simple discipline.  Spiritual growth does not happen by accident.  If you want to grow, you must deliberately cultivate the disciplines that will help you mature.  This is what Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So, run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” Just as an athlete disciplines him or herself to be ready when the game starts, so to must believers train themselves to always be ready.  Things like setting a specific time and place for prayer, creating a prayer journal, and setting up a prayer/accountability partner are excellent ways of developing a more disciplined prayer life.  But discipline is only half the equation — you also need focus.

One reason many believers never develop an effective prayer life is that they don’t understand how God works in prayer.  When prayer is merely a habit it will quickly become monotonous and boring. But prayer takes on an entirely different dynamic when viewed as an experience with the Triune God. Saying that we pray to God the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit is more than just a doctrinal affirmation.  It is a roadmap to keep us focused on the role each member of the Trinity plays in our prayer life.  It reminds us that we have a loving Father who longs for us to come before Him with every need and concern.  It focuses our attention on our King and brother, Jesus, whose sacrifice gives us access to the Father and who continues to plead our case before Him.  But it also encourages us by assuring that we have a divine helper who knows the mind of God and teaches us how to pray when we’re not sure what to ask for.

I cannot overemphasize the need to find another believer or small group to help develop your prayer life.  Obviously, this is helpful for accountability, but it can also help with focus.  Meeting together to talk and pray together will deepen your experience.  Praying with other believers also tends to have a different dynamic than when we pray alone.  Often, I find the Holy Spirit uses other people to speak to me in ways I hadn’t thought about in private.  Over the years, some of deepest and most intense spiritual experiences I’ve had have been in corporate prayer meetings.  Try it and you’ll quickly see what I mean.

 

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Experiencing the Trinity: Through the Bible

If familiarity breeds neglect when it comes to the Trinity, our present topic represents the proverbial double whammy.  In this post, we confront not only our neglect of the Trinity, but also our understanding of the Bible.  Evangelicals are a people of the book and we have a high regard for the Bible. Our understanding of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible are core doctrines of our faith.  In many ways, the doctrine of the Bible defines who we are. But just as with the Trinity, our familiarity with the doctrine of the Bible has led to neglect.

The good news is that our study of the Trinity can help kill both birds with one stone. Not only will the present chapter help us understand the Trinity, but just as the earlier chapter heightened our understanding of salvation, this chapter will strengthen our appreciation for the Bible.  We’ll see that the Bible is inspired by God the Father through the agency of the Holy Spirit to point us towards the Son.

It may be helpful to pause here and explain three terms that I’m going to use throughout this chapter — inspiration, illumination, and application. The Inspiration of Scripture refers to the process by which God caused human writers to record His message.  Inspiration, therefore, is about the origin of the Bible. Illumination on the other hand refers to the process by which God makes His word understandable. (Grudem 1994, 645) It might be helpful to think of it like this —  inspiration refers to God speaking to the human writers of Scripture in the past while illumination involves Him making the Word understood today.  Lastly, the word application, signifies the way God instructs us to put the Bible into practice.  These three terms help us to answer three important questions — Who wrote the Bible? How can we understand the Bible? How do we put the teachings of the Bible into practice?  As you may have guessed, each member of the Trinity is involved in how we answer these questions.

 

INSPIRATION: Who wrote the Bible?

Our understanding of the origin Bible begins in the mind of God the Father, who took the initiative to reveal Himself to us.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The phrase “breathed out by God” here is the translation of the compound Greek word, theopneustos — from theos meaning God and pneuma meaning “to breathe.” Paul is pointing here to the fact that the origin of the Bible is found in the mind of God the Father.  He took the initiative to reveal Himself and His plans to mankind by inspiring the various human writers of Scripture to put pen to paper and record His message.  God the Father took the initiative in the inspiration of the Bible.

The Holy Spirit was the direct agent through which the process of inspiration took place.  2 Peter 1:21 says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This passage shows that Bible is not a mere product of man’s imagination. The writers of Scripture did not sit down one day and decide to start writing.  Instead, God the Father moved them along through the agency of the Holy Spirit. The Bible does not explain to us exactly how the process inspiration worked.  But the Holy spirit moved the human writers of Scripture to record exactly what He intended. We can draw this conclusion for two reasons. First, it is unimaginable that a righteous and holy God would inspire a lie. (see Heb 6:18, Titus 1:2)   Second, an all-powerful God could absolutely ensure the human writers recorded exactly what He wanted.

Those who doubt the accuracy and integrity of the Bible have argued that any human involvement in the process of inspiration destroys its trustworthiness. Their argument is that it would be impossible for fallible human beings to be involved in the production of infallible book. As proof, they sometimes point to the many textual errors that have been found in the Biblical manuscripts. While at first this may sound very convincing, there are a couple major problems with this line of reasoning.

First, while textual variants do exist in the Biblical manuscripts, none of them have been shown to change any major teaching of the Christian faith.  In fact, careful examination shows most of, many of variants consist of minor errors in spelling, punctuation, and word order. Contrary to what the skeptics argue, a comparison of the ancient Biblical manuscripts shows it has been remarkably well transmitted through the ages. Furthermore, there has never been any textual variant found that changed a major point of doctrine.

Second, from a theological standpoint, the presence of a human element in the writing of the Bible does not require that it has been corrupted. As proof, we can simply point to Jesus, who as we’ve already discussed in chapter 2, possessed both a divine and a human nature.  Both of which co-existed perfectly together in one personality. Theologians even have a cool name for this teaching — the hypostatic union.  If Jesus divine nature was not corrupted by his humanity, isn’t it reasonable to conclude that the same is true of the Bible as well.  Surely an omnipotent God can protect His Word from being corrupted by human writers.

So far, then we have two members of the Trinity involved in the inspiration of the Bible. God the Father took the initiative to speak to us through the agency of the Holy Spirit who moved the writers of the Bible to record His message. This brings us to issue of illumination. While inspiration deals with the origin of the Bible, illumination refers to the process by which God makes it understandable. (Grudem 1994, 645)  It answers the question, How can I understand the Bible?  This is an urgent subject because our minds have been so darkened by sin that it is impossible to understand the Bible on our own. (Rom 1:21, Eph 4:18)

 

ILLUMINATION: How can we understand the Bible?

Whenever someone asks me how to understand the Bible, I tell them two things.  First, they need to depend on the Holy Spirit.  Second, they need to remember that the entire Bible is about Jesus.  Both statements inform our understanding of the process of illumination.  Let’s look at each one more carefully.

 

Depend on the Holy Spirit

The illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit is tied closely to the mission of Jesus.  One of the clearest places to see this in Scripture is John 16:13-14, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  Rather than being a replacement for Jesus, this passages indicates that the Holy Spirit operates in the role of a “prompter” or “one who brings to memory the ideas of Jesus…” (Borchert 2002, 132)  Instead of speaking on His own authority or pointing people to Himself, the Holy Spirit is always shown to be pointing people towards Christ. (see John 14:15-17, 25) The Holy Spirit does not give any new information or revelation, He simply continues the work of Jesus by removing our spiritual blindness and helping us to see the truth in the Word of God.

As we read the Bible we must always depend on the Holy Spirit to illuminate our understanding.  One way to do this is to earnestly, and sincerely ask God the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to the truth of the Bible.  Humility is required here.  No matter how long you’ve been walking with Jesus or how smart you think you are, you need the enlightment of the Holy Spirit. As you read, focus on how the text points you to Jesus.  Keep in mind the entire Bible is about Jesus.

                                 

The Entire Bible is about Jesus

The Bible is made up of sixty-six different books written over the course 1600+ years by more than forty human writers, yet it all points towards one, single person — Jesus Christ.  That fact alone, makes it the most astounding work of literature ever produced.  When God the Father inspired the Holy Spirit to move the human writer of Scripture He had one primary goal in mind – to point people to His Son.

Just in case, you don’t believe me, turn over to Luke 24:13-35.  In this passage, Luke tells the story of two disciples who were walking on the road to Emmaus the Monday after the resurrection.  Like thousands of other pilgrims, these two men were returning home from celebrating the Passover. Walking along they could not help but talk about the things they’d experienced in the previous days. Suddenly a stranger came alongside and asked what they were talking about. Although they had no idea at the time, Luke informs us that this stranger was Jesus.

Shocked to think anyone leaving the city could be so uninformed, the disciples began telling their story. Once they finished, Jesus spoke up and said, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (v.25) Then in v.27 Luke inform us that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”

Did you catch that last statement? Basically, Jesus picked up His Bible and gave these two disciples the greatest Bible lesson ever taught. He showed these two disciples that when rightly understood, the entire Bible points us to Him.  In short, Jesus is the central figure in all the Bible.  Stop to think about that for just a minute. The Old Testament points us towards His coming and explains why it was necessary. The Gospels give us the record of what He said and did while He was on earth.  The Epistles help us to understand how He wants us to live, how we are to operate as His church, and how we carry out His mission. The entire Bible –from beginning to end — is a book about Jesus.

Sometimes we are guilty of treating the Bible like its merely a self-help book, written to give us principles for a better life.  While living according to the Bible will certainly give you a better life, we need to know that our happiness, success, and contentment are not the primary concerns of the Bible. God’s goal is not that we will be happy, or even that we’ll be saved, but that Jesus be glorified.  Don’t get me wrong, our salvation is important to God, but it is not the primary end for which the Bible was written.  In truth, our salvation is just a means towards God’s greater purpose – that Jesus be glorified.

You might want to read that last sentence again, then pause to let it sink in.  One of the major problems in the evangelical church is that we tend to be very man centered in our theology.  Much of preaching, worship and ministry is based on the idea that God’s chief end is to glorify us!  Therefore, we tend to see all of God’s activity as centering on us.  To hear many evangelicals, you would think that our salvation is the primary thing for which God is working.  But in truth the Scripture shows that our salvation is just a part of God’s bigger program to glorify His Son.

A good place to see this is Ephesians 1:1-11, where God reminds us that every step of our salvation is for “the praise of His glory.” (v.6, 12, 14) God’s goal in saving us is that Jesus be glorified.  Our salvation is part of a much bigger program; therefore, we should never think God’s primary purpose is our convenience and comfort.  Instead we need to remind ourselves that the Bible is about Jesus and our motivation for obeying it should always be His glory. (1 Cor 10:31, Col 3:17) This raises our obedience to an entirely new level.  Instead obeying God so that we will get more blessings, our true motivation should always be focused on Jesus.  This brings us to the third way that we experience the Trinity through the Bible — Application.  Here we are dealing with question: How do we put the teachings of the Bible into practice?

 

APPLICATION: How do we put the teachings of the Bible into practice?

Application needs a high degree of human involvement because we must put in the effort necessary to study and discover ways the Bible can be applied to our lives.  But at the same time, we should not deny the fact that each member of the Trinity plays a role in this process.   Let me show you what I mean.

The Scriptures teach that our primary focus of Jesus’ life was to carry out the will of His Father. (see John 6:38, 17:4) But He did so by depending on the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:35, Matt 1:18 Mk 1:10, Luke 4:14-19).  We could summarize this by saying that Jesus’ primary motivation was to glorify God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Notice that all three members of the Trinity are once again involved.

Likewise, the New Testament teaches that, as believers, our aim should always be to glorify God.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 reminds us that “…you were bought with a price.  So, glorify God in your body.” (see also 10:31 and Col 3:17). The Westminster Confession captured the essence of this Biblical teaching saying, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  The problem, of course, is that sin has destroyed our capacity for fulfilling this purpose.  No matter how hard we try, in our fallen state we can never hope to glorify God because our entire lives have been stained by sin.  This, of course, is where Jesus enters the picture.

Through His active obedience to the will of God the Father, Jesus fulfilled all the demands of the law on our behalf and died in our place so that we can be declared not guilty.  Sadly, this is where many Christians stop in their understanding of the Christian life. But the Bible reveals there is more to the Christian life than simply being saved.  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to indwell us, guide us, and aid us in living out the Christian life.

Do you see how each member of the trinity in involved in this process?  God the Son redeems us and sends the Holy Spirit to indwell us and enable us to live for the glory of God the Father. This brings us back to our discussion about how the Trinity is involved in applying the Scripture to our lives because the main motivation for applying the Scripture in our lives is so that we can be conformed to the image of Jesus and glorify God the Father.  But the only means by which we can do this is the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s stop and flesh that out just a little bit more.  Whenever we read our Bibles we should be looking for two things.  First, how does this passage point me to Jesus? And second, what must I do because of this passage so that I can glorify God the Father?  But even after we can answer these two questions, we still must admit that in our own strength we are powerless to carry out any of the principles or commands we discover in the Scripture.  For that, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to empower us and help us to apply the Word to our daily lives.  With the aim, of course, being to become more like Jesus so that we can glorify the Father.  So even in the application of the Scripture we find that from beginning to end it is an experience of the Trinity.

 

Conclusion

Every time we read our Bibles we are experiencing the Trinity at work. The Bible is the result of God the Father speaking to us through the agency of the Holy Spirt as He inspired the various authors of the Scripture to record His message.  Its central theme and primary focus is to point us towards Jesus.  Therefore, the Bible is genuinely a product of all three members of the Trinity at work. But their work does not end with inspiration, they also continue to show us the Scriptures meaning and how to live out its truth.

As we read the pages of Scripture, the Holy Spirit illuminates our understanding by showing us the Son.  When rightly understood, every passage of Scripture points us to Jesus.  He is the central focus of the entire Bible.  As we come to know Jesus through the word, the Holy Spirit continues to teach us, showing us how to apply the word to our lives and bring glory to God the Father.