I’m not much of a liturgist. Catholic weddings make me sweat, I find Episcopalian worship too structured, and a simple listing of the “Order of Service” on a church bulletin can set me to wondering how much room has been left for God to move. And yet, I have a hard time holding real conversations with God. Even in the privacy of my “closet”, my prayers take on a religious rhythm – a monologue of appeal couched in the language of the court; I the supplicant, He the Sovereign.

In Hebrews 4:16 we are encouraged to “come boldly unto the throne of grace.” The Greek word used for “boldly” in this verse is parresia, which indicates a frankness of speech: blunt and honest. In spite of this clear directive I find myself hiding behind the latticework of liturgical language when I approach His throne: “Heavenly Father, thank you for this day…” “I pray for your hedge over my household…” “Lord, make me profitable for your kingdom and profitable to my employer…” “I pray for open doors of utterance…” There is nothing wrong with these prayers. They come from the heart. They come from Scripture. But they sound stilted when compared to the conversations I had with my father.

“What’s for dinner, Dad?” “I’m scared I’ll fail in school.” “Why do they sell grave plots on television?” “How did you pick my name?” “Can you show me how you print stuff?” “Can I go out and play?” “I want that bicycle!” “Does it hurt to have your head cut off?” I would pepper him with questions, comments, and complaints. Little to no formality framed my speech or his responses.

“If we had some eggs, we could have bacon and eggs – if we had bacon,” he was often fond of saying. In response to my scholastic concerns, he smiled and upped the ante. “You know, if you are bored in school we can see if they will let you jump a grade.” “My father had a hunting buddy. A Spanish man named Nicolas…” “Look at the color on the page with my loop. See all those dots? That’s how we make the images appear…” “Make sure you get back in before dark.” “Are you sure you want that bicycle?” “I don’t know. When you get to heaven, why don’t you ask John the Baptist.”

These types of conversations should characterize my prayer life much more than the formal patterns I’ve grown familiar with. I say my piece and walk away. Was I expecting a conversation or just an audience? I know better, but bad habits are hard to break. Thankfully, our Father knows our frame and He had the Holy Spirit record real conversations in Scripture; frank “prayers” spoken by bold saints who met with God hearts wide open.

Abraham, the Friend of God
Abraham is called the father of faith (Rom 4:11, 16) and the friend of God (James 2:23; 2 Chr 20:7; Isa 41:8). His conversations with God were consistently candid.

Genesis 15:1
After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. KJV[1]

Though raised Baptist, I’ve been a Pentecostal most of my life. Even among folks who believe in visions, having one of the Lord telling one not to fear for He is their shield and great reward at best produces exuberant hallelujahs; at worst it engenders uncontrollable tears and falling out “in the Spirit.” Never have I heard anyone give a testimony about the Lord showing up to them in a vision and their response being: What are you going to give me, Lord?

Genesis 15:2-3
2 And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

I would not accuse Abraham of being unimpressed with God, overly familiar with the Creator of the Universe, or presumptuous. God had already promised to make of him a great nation (Gen 12:2). Some twelve years later, the Lord appears to him and promises to be his great reward. “For what,” Abraham responds, “I have no children to give it to!” Abraham isn’t being disrespectful; he’s being real. “Lord, I’ve got an issue with having no issue!” Lightning bolts don’t vaporize him. The ground doesn’t open to swallow him alive. God doesn’t slap him down. He invites him out to see a promise of galactic proportions.

Genesis 15:4-6
4 And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

“Christianity is not a religion; it’s a relationship.” Of such clichés are bumper stickers made. Abraham’s conversations with God are surely much more relational than the religious prayer patterns I have learned in the Christian Church. We witness to people to receive Jesus as their personal Savior and then we teach them to speak to Him as a distant Sovereign. It makes me ponder how much of my person I have actually opened up to His salvation. If I can’t speak to Him as a friend – the One who died for me – how will I manage to appeal to God as my Daddy? And yet, this is the very thing the Holy Spirit does within me (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6).

Abraham’s prayers are intimately earnest. When He sees the Lord walking on the road, he insists that He stop for supper (Gen 18:1-5). When the Lord says He’s going to take a look at Sodom, Abraham has the temerity to ask God if He will destroy the righteous with the wicked (Gen 18:23) and then proceeds to press his point with all the tenacity of a bazaar merchant (Gen 18:24-32).

Moses, the Reluctant Prophet
For a man who wrote the book on systematic sacrificial services, Moses’s private prayer life was remarkably unscripted. Even in the light of the burning bush, he spoke with a stubborn bluntness that tried the Eternal One’s patience. When asked to go to Egypt to lead the children of Israel out, he says, “Who am I for such a mission?”[2] When the Lord says that He will go with him, he asks, “Who are you?”[3] After receiving miracles to perform, he remains unconvinced. “Send someone else,” he tells God, which made the Almighty angry enough to appoint Aaron as the prophet’s press secretary.[4] Moses and God were off to a great start. And God for one was happy about it.

Exodus 33:11a
And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.

Friends speak clearly to one another, face to face and heart to heart. And because they know each other’s hearts, they don’t take kindly to outsiders maligning them.

Numbers 12:1-8
1 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman.
2 So they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it.
3 (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.)
4 Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tabernacle of meeting!” So the three came out.
5 Then the Lord came down in the pillar of cloud and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam. And they both went forward.
6 Then He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.
7 Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house.
8 I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?” NKJV

Those prone to the prophetic may feel privileged for having seen visions or dreamed dreams. Prophecy is not to be despised, but it pales in comparison to crystal clear conversations with the Creator. Moses had no problem telling the Lord exactly how he felt.

Numbers 11:11-15
11 And Moses said unto the Lord, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?
12 Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?
13 Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat.
14 I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.
15 And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.

Can you imagine stepping up to God and saying, “Are these my kids? How do you expect me to feed them? Kill me if that’s how it’s going to be!”? Coming from a man who had seen the backside of God in all His glory, this sounds foolhardy indeed.[5] Of all people, Moses was fully aware of the Lord’s destructive power. But this knowledge didn’t restrain him from sharing the state of his heart fully. “Lord, I would rather die than have to put up with all this whining!” I can’t help but think that the Lord shared his sentiment.

Jesus Prays
In response to his disciples’ request for a prayer seminar, Jesus presented what we’ve all come to know as The Lord’s Prayer.[6] If you are anything like me, a simple mention of “Our Father which art in heaven” elicits an immediate “Hallowed be thy name” response in your brain. The prayer is comforting in its familiarity, but can become a vain repetition[7] like any other mantra if we are simply reciting in our head instead of communicating from our heart.

Jesus went beyond giving his disciples a framework for their prayers. He opened the door to the inner chamber of his heart so we could listen in on his conversations with his Father.

Abraham asked God, “What will You give me?” In fulfillment of this sentiment, Jesus prayed, “Keep those You have given me” and “Behold, I and the children which God has given me.”[8] But he goes beyond what we would generally consider to be an acceptable prayer of intercession to one that intentionally excludes multitudes of people.

John 17:9
I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.

“I pray not for the world…” Coming from the mouth of the Savior of all mankind, this intentional focus of faith for his followers is breathtaking. “Father, my time has come. The cross is near. I am not interceding for the world right now. I am praying for my own.”

Moses had the burning bush, Jesus had the bleeding forehead. Moses begged the bush to send somebody else. Jesus pleaded with his Father to find another way.

Luke 22:41-44
41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,
42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

The heartbreak in this prayer is impossible to imagine. The idea that Jesus intensified the pathos of his prayer, that the Eternal Son of God dug through to the deepest places of his humanity and wailed out to his Father while sweating blood, paints my pale prayer life in its appropriate light.

In the darkness of the garden, Jesus shows us how the weakness of the flesh is overcome with a spirit willing to fully pour out its contents before the Father in Heaven. Where Moses prayed “kill me now,” Jesus offered “Thy will be done.” It is with this heart of prayer that Heaven comes down to Earth and our issues are truly resolved.

[1] All Scriptures are from the King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.
[2] Exodus 3:11
[3] Exodus 3:12-13
[4] Exodus 4:1-16
[5] Surprisingly, the “Kill me now” prayer isn’t rare among men of God in the Bible. Elijah prayed it after defeating the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 19:4). Paul expressed a form of it in his letter to the Romans (Rom 9:3). Jonah even prayed it after having been resurrected from the fish’s belly (Jonah 4:1-3).
[6] Luke 11:1-4
[7] Matt 6:7
[8] John 17:11; Heb 2:13