Life can sweep against us like a rising tide, threatening to pull us out and swallow us up. But in Christ we can stand among the waves.
Like a seismograph, my wife is intimately tuned to recognize any time the ground is moving in the lives and needs 0f our five children. She can sense a fever from a mile away and knows if her offspring need a Kleenex five minutes before a nose begins to run. This has come not only because of the amazingly intuitive and attentive mother she is, but also because of the immense amount of time that she has invested in our children. She has been the primary resource to meet every one of their needs from their conception onward. As each of our five children developed in her womb, there was not a physical need her body didn’t anticipate or provide for them. As they have entered the world and have grown, she has been a constant presence and provider for them. When they have a need, she meets it. As a result, they go to her for almost everything.
It’s a bit humorous when I’m at home, because even when I’m close by and available to meet their needs, my kids don’t default to me as a major resource for their most basic needs. There are times when I will be in the room near my wife when one of my smaller children walks in and asks her a question like, “Does Daddy have to go to work today?” At that moment, Keri and I will exchange a bemused and knowing glance. Her eyes will momentarily return to the child’s, and with the power of a gravitational force (I’m convinced that mothers actually have tractor beams in their eyes) will guide a pair of five year-old eyes—simply with a nod—to my waiting and attentive face. She’ll gently say, “Your dad is right here. Ask him.”
The resulting transformation of a child’s face from query to comprehension (and on a good day, to delight) is miraculous. It’s as if a veil has been lifted and the child has noticed my presence in their world for the very first time. Their eyes widen, a smile broadens across their face, and oftentimes a hug ensues (these are the sweet times). The child’s attention is then diverted to me, and the questioner has been re-introduced to the appropriate party with a simple directive: “Your dad is right here for you. Ask him.”
Christ, the Perfect Mediator
Christian theology has long acknowledged and celebrated Christ’s unique office as Mediator: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Through his sacrificial and atoning death, burial, resurrection and ascension, Christ has accomplished the enduring reconciliation of relationship between God and his people. There is no greater truth, no greater reality.
And yet the robustness of Jesus’ mediation is often weakened when we tell ourselves that maybe God isn’t really happy with us. Maybe he just tolerates us. So we are hesitant to get too close to him. This is one reason why we need Jesus to continuously run interference for us with an unhappy God.
The fact of the matter is that Christ is such a perfect mediator between us and God that he has provided a way for us to come to the Father directly. His righteousness is now our own (2 Cor. 5:21), and we are counted as fully-vested, adopted children. It is utterly profound, and often rather difficult, for us to believe what Jesus says in John 16:
“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full…In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you.” – John 16:23–24, 26–27
Jesus references a radical change in relationship between his followers and his Father that will happen through his mediating work; specifically, through his redemptive death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Jesus is assuring his gathered disciples that “that day” will come when direct access to the Father will take place. In that day, Jesus says that we will be able to ask directly, that is, we will be able to pray. We will be able to approach the Father directly in Jesus’ name and through his mediating work—and we will be the ones asking (“I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf”). In turn, the Father himself will be the one hearing, listening, and responding, “for the Father himself loves you.”
A pastor friend of mine often reminds me that at the core of the gospel is the often-missed truth that Jesus died so that we could pray. The author of the letter to the Hebrews assures us that we may “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). We have truly been given “boldness and access” to the Father “with confidence through our faith in him” (Eph. 2:18, 3:12).
And God expects us to come, to pray, and to ask. In fact, he commands us to ask. He wants us to ask. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Your Dad is right here for you. Ask him.”
Ask Out of Joy, Not Shame
But, if you’re like me, prayer is often a labor and a grind for you, accompanied by overtones of duty, burden, and guilt. We know we ought to pray, so we simultaneously carry an awareness of our deficiency in prayer. Ask any of your Christian friends how their prayer life is going, and you will likely get a sheepish aversion of the eyes, a quick change of the subject, or a dejected expression.
Yet the fact that we now have access to the very throne of God is incredible, and should be for us a source of much joy. What else could bring us greater joy than a new, intimate relationship with God himself? God doesn’t want us to associate prayer with guilt and shame. Instead, he grants us the ability to find joy in our relationship with him through prayer: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn. 16:24).
We often take this to mean that our joy will be full because of our receiving, but its true meaning is deeper than this. Joy comes because of the relationship in which we can ask God something because he loves us:
“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you.” – John 16:26-27 (emphasis added)
Perhaps Jesus is saying that joy comes because of our new relationship with the One whom we are asking—the One who is present; the One who loves us; the One who listens to and answers our requests. Because of this new relationship, we are learning to ask for that which is actually able to make us joyful. As a result, we receive what we truly want, the very thing that we will find ourselves asking for, more of God.
ASKING FOR JOY
What if instead of loading our prayer life with false expectations, guilt, fear, aversion, humiliation, anger, frustration, or even boredom, we were to ask for what God is so willing to give? What if we were to ask God for joy?
For God prayer is all about relationship; it’s all about being with his children. And for us, it should be about being with our Father, in whose presence is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11). God would have you be joyful, even in your sadness, sorrow, broken-heartedness and pain. So come to him—especially if you don’t feel joyful—and ask for joy from the Healer, the Care-giver, and the only One who can turn your sorrow into joy.
Ask for joy! Fight for joy! Find joy! For in Christ, you are in the smiling, happy presence of the God who made you and loves you more than you could ever ask or imagine. He wants to be with you. He wants you to devote your time and attention and energy to him. He loves you and offers you joy.
Your Dad is right here for you. Ask him.
Mike Phay serve as Lead Pastor at FBC Prineville (Oregon) and as an Affiliate Professor at Kilns College in Bend, OR. He has been married to Keri for 20 years and they have five amazing kids (Emma, Caleb, Halle, Maggie, and Daisy). He loves books and coffee, preferably at the same time.