So who, or what is it we’re praying to?
If we are going to draw closer to God in prayer, we need to have a good image or idea of what the God we are praying to is like. God, the Trinity, is a mysterious but beautiful and totally compelling relationship. Our prayer lives would be totally transformed if we got the picture a bit better!
If you try find the word ‘Trinity’ in the Bible you’re not going to have much success.
Say what?? Isn’t that like, one of the core parts of what Christians believe?
Yes it is. It’s just not in the Bible … the word ‘Trinity’ that is.
Is that a problem?
Not really, because the Trinity as we’ve come to understand God is so deeply embedded into the Story the Bible tells it’s kinda hard to miss when you know what you’re looking for. Here are a few examples:
Genesis 1v26: God says: ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness …’ (the Hebrew verbs and nouns are all in the first person plural form, indicating ‘us’ and ‘our’)
Deuteronomy 6v4: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’
Mark 1v10-11: ‘As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
A guy called Tertullian, who lived sometime around the 2nd Century AD was one of the first people to pull all those Biblical clues about who God is and what God is like into a single doctrine, or way of thinking. God is One God – there aren’t three sub-Gods ruling by committee. But there are also three persons in God – Father, Son, Spirit. How does that work?? Well, it’s one of the great mysteries! But the three-person – one God picture the Bible gives us is too clear to ignore…
One of the best ways I’ve heard to help in understanding the Trinity is to think of a three-note chord in music – say C, E and G. If you hit any one of those notes on a piano or guitar that one note will fill the whole room with sound right?
But if you play all three notes together as a chord, the sound you hear is still one sound. The chord also fills the whole room. You don’t hear three separate sounds, just one sound, but the music is made up of three distinct frequencies, each unique but all blending together (check out this simple demo here, and hear a theologian and musician Jeremy Begbie’s explanation here).
This session is the first in a series in which we’re exploring what it means to connect with God – this three-person community – in prayer. It’s really important to get a good picture of what the God we’re praying to is like so that we’ll be drawn into prayer out of a real desire to connect with God rather than just praying out of duty or not wanting to pray at all.
Darrell Johnson uses seven words to describe God and the relationship at the heart of the Trinity in his book Experiencing the Trinity. I hope that by exploring these aspects a bit that you will be drawn towards this amazing God and want to connect more deeply with God in prayer… Ready?
The first word is Intimate. In John 14 the disciple John who enjoyed one of the most intimate relationships of all the disciples with Jesus shows us a God who knows and enjoys the deepest levels of intimacy:
‘How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? … it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.’ John 14v9-10
If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’ John 14v23
God is characterised by a deeply intimate relationship. It’s an intimacy God loves to draw us into when we pray to God too.
The second word is Joyful. God knows, and Jesus experienced first-hand how messed up and miserable life on earth can be. And yet there is an unshakeable joy at the heart of God. This joy isn’t a ‘don’t worry, be happy’ kind of feeling. It’s something that comes from knowing we are loved unconditionally and that there is nothing that can separate us from that.
Jesus said: ‘I have told you this so that my joy may in you and that your joy may be complete.’ (John 15v11). When we connect to God in prayer we discover that we are loved no matter what – and that unlocks a godly joy we might never have known was there.
The third word is Servanthood – that might not be what you were expecting the Trinity to be like but God loves people who are servant-like because that’s what God is like too. In Philippians 2 Paul quotes one of the earliest Christian hymns that celebrated the servant nature of Jesus:
‘ … Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!’ Philippians 2v5-11
The fourth word is Purity. When we pray to God we are praying to someone in whom there is no darkness or any kind of the sin –untrustworthiness, neglect, selfishness or hidden motives – we see so much of in our own relationships.
‘God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.’ (1 John 1v5)
Purity is also about being open and transparent. God loves to share what’s on his heart with us too.
God ‘confides in those who fear him’ (Psalm 25v14).
What an amazing thought! With God there is nothing we need to hide either (as if we could!) even though we’re tempted to do just that…
The fifth word is Powerful. Isaiah the prophet said this about God:
‘Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.’ (Isaiah 40v26).
Paul prayed that all those who believe in God would know ‘his incomparably great power’ (Ephesians 1v19) that was enough to physically raise Jesus from the dead and then also put Jesus in charge in the spiritual realm too. When we pray to the Trinity we are reaching out to a power that is simply indescribable and has no equal, in any dimension anywhere.…
The sixth word is Creativity. One of the pictures Genesis 1 gives us is that of a God who is limitless in his creativity. From the smallest part of our intricately woven-together bodies to the greatest constellations and galaxies there is no end to God’s creative work: ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good’ (Genesis 1v31)
God continues to create new things in and through us. In 1 Corinthians 12v4-6 Paul says this: ‘there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people.’ Notice the persons of the Trinity there? And the great variety of gifts and ways of serving and working God gives to each of us.
The seventh word is Peace. One of the promises Jesus makes is that as we connect to God in prayer our lives will be made whole and we will begin to experience a deep –otherworldly – peace. In Isaiah 40 Jesus is called the ‘Prince of Peace’ and in John 14v27 Jesus says: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’
The peace we find in the Trinity when we pray is not just the absence of conflict but a deep wholeness and completeness to life that gently removes the fear inside us and enables us to find joy and contentment.
When we pray to God we are connecting with a deep mystery but also with someone personal and who is GOOD! Look back over those 7 characteristics of the three-in-one God. Aren’t those just awesome things?
A few ideas about how to teach this session to a class or youth group … These are just our ideas – we’re pretty sure there are some way better ones out there. If you know a video clip or intro idea or teaching illustration we’d love to hear about it and include it here too. Use the comment box below to get in touch.
What’s the one thing you want people to remember when they leave?
How are you going to get that idea across in the time you have?
Here are some ideas to get people thinking.
1) Think back to the last time you prayed to God, can you remember what it was that motivated you to do that – be honest! Was it something you were anxious about – like doing badly in a test you were about to write, or something you really needed? A family ritual maybe?
2) What word or phrase would you use to describe the picture you have in your mind of what the God you pray to is like?
3) Agree or disagree: If God knows the future and how things will turn out then there’s no use really in praying because whatever’s meant to happen will happen anyway.
4) Here’s a clip from the series West Wing where President Bartlett has a go at God about some of the tragedies that have happened recently. On You Tube here
Are we allowed to talk to God like that? Does Bartlett’s idea of what God is like feel familiar to you in any way?
Options for your input time
1) The Brad Fish video in the next tab might be a helpful way to introduce some new ideas about what God is like
2) Which of the three persons of the Trinity do you relate to the easiest: Father, Son, Holy Spirit? Which is the most mysterious or hard to know?
2) Explore how a bad or unhelpful idea of what God is like can cause us avoid praying or to pray in small or limited ways.
2) Take the seven words we use to describe the Trinity in the Story tab. Explain what each of these is about. Get people to say which of those they are drawn to most. Which one is the hardest to relate to?
Finding Jesus in the Story
Think about those images you see of baby Jesus in the manger on the first Christmas eve. How does knowing that that same Jesus is also part of this mysterious, intimate, powerful relationship we call the Trinity change or add to the way you imagine Jesus to be like?
Something to take-away
1) Often we find prayer difficult because our idea of God is distorted in some way. How might you need to re-draw your picture of what God is like?
2) Which one of the characteristics of the Trinity we focused on in this session would inspire you to pray in a new way to God? What would that prayer look like?
In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.
Think back over the past few weeks or months to any kind of interaction you’ve had with God. Maybe just a thought about God or the idea of God, or a prayer you’ve prayed. What, for you, is the God you’ve thought about or prayed to like?
If you had to come up with a few words to describe that idea of what God is like, which ones would you choose? What or who has been most influential in shaping your idea of God?
If you are familiar with the idea of three persons of the Trinity – Father, Son, Spirit – which one do you tend to relate to the best?
Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to re-read one or more of the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them on the website.)
o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?
o Are there any posts that you disagree with?
o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend or keep for themselves, which one would it be?
Read the post in The Story tab.
Here’s Brad Fish’s take on prayer and the Trinity … On YouTube here
Some questions to help you replay your story …
o This session has focused a bit on what God is like. Was there anything you heard that grabbed your imagination or sounded like good news? Anything that was hard to hear?
o How do you feel hearing those 7 words that describe something of what God is like? Are there other, maybe negative words you’ve used that make it hard to relate to God?
Re – draw your picture of Jesus
The Gospels give us a good picture of what Jesus is like. How does knowing that Jesus is also part of this mysterious, intimate, powerful relationship we call the Trinity change or add to the way you imagine Jesus to be like?
How could this new way of thinking about Jesus inspire you to worship him in a fresh way?
What practical action, response, thought do you want to take into the week?
Have you encountered something today that makes you want to say to God:
‘wow, I’ve been imagining things about what you are like that really haven’t been helpful, sorry!
Help me see you in a fresh and exciting way and draw me closer to you so that I can become more like you?
Jesus invites us to repent often and with freedom. It’s a real gift from God – go for it!
Some questions to help you remix your story …
o Often we find prayer difficult because our idea of God is distorted in some way. What characteristics of God would be helpful for you to focus on this week?
o How could that new understanding of God help you to draw closer to God this week?
Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:
There are people I know I can confide in in a crisis. I could call on them any time and they’d come running. I know this because I know what they’re like.
There are also people I wouldn’t call on, because I just don’t know them well enough. It would be awkward. Would they even respond?
Is that what’s keeping you from prayer? Maybe you’re not crying out to God because, really, you just don’t know him well enough. You’re not sure you can trust him to come through for you.
God knows you so very well – and he longs for you to know him. Please hear Jesus’ invitation today: ‘Come to me Just as you are.’
How well do you know who or what you pray to?
The Trinity (God, not the lady in the Matrix movie) is a mysterious concept but it can really enrich our prayer life.
God is one God but revealed to us in three Persons – Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Instead of simply praying to God, try focusing on different aspects of the three.
What would you say to the Creator of the Universe as you reflect on creation? What words would you use to speak to the perfect example of a father? What gratitude might you express to the one who died to save you? What words to the guide and counsellor who lives inside of you?
This video might help a bit – let us know what you think!
What’s the God I’m supposed to be praying to like? Here’s a word: Pure.
When we pray we’re connecting to someone in whom there is no darkness or any kind of the junk -untrustworthiness, neglect, selfishness or hidden motives – that we see so much of in our own relationships.
‘God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.’ (1 John 1v5)
Purity is about being open and transparent. God loves to share what’s on his heart with us too.
God ‘confides in those who fear him’ (Psalm 25v14).
What an amazing thought! With God there is nothing we need to hide (as if we could!)
How can that thought help you pray today?
I’m no #belieber, but I have to sit up and listen when Justin Bieber sings about prayer:
‘I close my eyes and I can see a better day / I close my eyes and pray’ (Pray – listen here: http://bit.ly/1wkp5W3)
It’s easy to become discouraged when we look at the way things are. Justin is upset at war, homelessness, children suffering, and world hunger. And probably at Selena Gomez.
In prayer we are seeing and speaking a ‘better day’ into being where God’s kingdom breaks out in a new way. God cares about our world, our lives, and our future, just like we do.
Read Proverbs 23:18, and dream with God about a better day.
Proverbs 23 here: http://bit.ly/1wkp97W
Intimate. Joyful. Servanthood. Purity. Powerful. Creativity. Peace.
These are 7 words that can be used to describe what God is like. But how does that help me?
Firstly, God made you to be like him. So we are created to be all 7 of those things! Not feeling like that right now? Well, the second piece of good news is that God is in you, and his desire is to help you be more like that!
Take a moment. Pick one of these 7 things that you need more of in your life right now. Ask God to give you a supercharge of that part of himself for the week ahead!
If you’re a leader and want to read up more or use this idea for a youth session check our full post here: http://bit.ly/1wfboKj