Think of a friend that you have gotten to know over the years. Was there ever a something that puzzled you or put you off but you now understand. For example when you first met them they seemed aloof and like they didn’t want to be bothered with you only to find out later that they were very shy. Or talking about a party you were planning for family member and they changed the subject or didn’t want to help you only to find out later that they lost a child through an accident. Now that you know these things your relationship with them has gotten better because your view of them has changed.
I can be the same with God. Our perceptions or misperceptions affect our conversations with with Him. I preached a sermon, last year, about how important is to be open and honest with God (read “Stop Faking It” here). But who wants to risk being open unless we are sure that He will accept us warts and all, no matter our condition. When we have a clear view of who God is we will become more free and confident in prayer. Upgrading our views of God to match His true character is essential if we are to develop a real relationship with Him.
We all know certain truths about God:
- He is love - 1 John 4:8-10 (HCSB)8 The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
- He is faithful - 1 Corinthians 1:9 (HCSB)9 God is faithful; you were called by Him into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.; 2 Timothy 2:13 (HCSB)13 if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.; 1 John 1:9 (HCSB)9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
- He is patient - 2 Peter 3:9 (HCSB)9 The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
- He is forgiving - Isaiah 43:25-26 (HCSB)25 “It is I who sweep away your transgressions for My own sake and remember your sins no more.26 Take Me to court; let us argue our case together. State your ⌊case⌋, so that you may be vindicated.; 1 John 1:9 (HCSB)9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.; Ephesians 1:7 (HCSB)7 We have redemption in Him through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.
Head Beliefs vs. Heart Beliefs
These truths are good basic theology. However, we often have another set of beliefs about God that we hold almost subconsciously. We don’t consciously think thiem, much less say them aloud. Nevertheless these thoughts are there deep in our subconscious. The lady who wrote the book “Prayer Begins with Relationship”, Cynthia Hyle Bezek, calls these two set of beliefs “head” beliefs and “heart” belief. Head beliefs are what we say we believe, and heart beliefs are the perceptions that actually shape our feelings and reactions to circumstances and our relationship with God.
For example you may believe in your head that God will protect you and provide for you and not let any real harm come to you. But when the doctor says,”we need to do a second test just to rule out cancer”, or when you lose a job, or face foreclosure, that belief of protection may not be the one you operate on. A misperception about God may take over and shake you whether you say it or not. You may operate on the belief that God is really allowing you to suffer to develop something in your character, or He’s disciplining you for something.
These heart beliefs may come from anywhere like a negative experience with a boss, a parent, or even a church leader. Those heart beliefs are usually not entirely wrong but twisted just enough to create a barrier to approaching God as He really is.
Here are some perceptions that we often have of God.
- Enforcer - Always watching to see if I’m obeying, When I mess up He’s going to be angry, disappointed in me or going to punish me
- Strong, silent type - God is powerful and good but He usually lets things just happen and I really don’t expect much interaction from Him.
- High and lofty one - God is Creator, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I love and revere Him but I don’t expect to become intimate or familiar with Him. (we talked about that last week when we said that it may be hard to imagine man in a friend-to-friend relationship with God)
- Amorphous force - God is a spirit, vague and nebulous. He’s really a cosmic force but not really a person but I have to try to align with Him
- Never satisfied - No matter what I do He’s never satisfied. He's always wanting something more form me, or needs me to do to make Him happy. His primary means of motivating me is guilt.
- Indulgent - Because He’s concerned with my happiness He won’t allow much difficulty in my life. He’ll give me the desires or my heart and will spare me from any consequences if and when I get in trouble.
- Busy with big issues - He’ really too busy with big things like wars, disasters, a world population of 6.7 billion people. He doesn’t bother with my everyday concerns so I’ll go to Him for the big stuff but I’ll handle the small stuff myself.
- Lessons to teach - Everything that happens to me is to teach me a lesson. God allows me to experience a lot of pain and hardship just to train me in godly character. This will continue until I get the message of what He’s trying to teach me.
- Mission control - God’s primary concern is that I’m busy carrying out His ministry. He relies on me to evangelize, love the poor, meet the needs of others, service my church, and always be available
If your perception of God is that He’s an enforcer, or the strong silent type, of just wants to teach you a lesson, you may not tell anybody that’s what you think about God, you may not want to say it to yourself, because you know what the Bible says about God being love, and never leaving you alone, your relationship is based on His grace and not your performance. But you still somehow have this heart belief. Your relationship will be affected by these views of God so when you pray and have your conversations with God they become more stuffy and formal rather than real and open. Sometimes you may not talk to Him at all.
If you thought of God as a friend you would be more open about how you really feel. I finally admitted that I was worried and that I was viewing what was going on as a lesson, and that God was never satisfied with me, and He was an enforcer and angry because I wasn’t more trusting and aware of His faithfulness and love for me.
We need to change that heart belief to a head belief, something that we say we believe.
Here are some characteristics that are true about God and that enable us to talk freely and openly with Him. Truths which we should want to regularly experience as you pray.
- Delights in and takes pleasure in me. - Psalm 147:11 (HCSB)11 The LORD values those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His faithful love.; Zephaniah 3:17 (HCSB)17 Yahweh your God is among you, a warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will bring ⌊you⌋ quietness with His love. He will delight in you with shouts of joy.”
- Cares about even the smallest details of my life - Matthew 6:31-32 (HCSB)31 So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’32 For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.; Luke 12:6-7 (HCSB)6 Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight.7 Indeed, the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows!
- Pities (has compassion on) me when I’m hurting - Psalm 72:12-14 (HCSB)12 For he will rescue the poor who cry out and the afflicted who have no helper.13 He will have pity on the poor and helpless and save the lives of the poor.14 He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious in his sight.; Isaiah 63:9 (HCSB)9 In all their suffering, He suffered, and the Angel of His Presence saved them. He redeemed them because of His love and compassion; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of the past.; 2 Corinthians 13:3-4 (HCSB)3 since you seek proof of Christ speaking in me. He is not weak toward you, but powerful among you.4 In fact, He was crucified in weakness, but He lives by God’s power. For we also are weak in Him, yet toward you we will live with Him by God’s power.
- Is patient with and understanding of my weaknesses and failures - Psalm 103:12-14 (HCSB)12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.14 For He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.; Hebrews 4:15-16 (HCSB)15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.16 Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.
- Wants to help me out of the messes I get myself into - Psalm 40:1-3 (HCSB)1 I waited patiently for the LORD, and He turned to me and heard my cry for help.2 He brought me up from a desolate pit, out of the muddy clay, and set my feet on a rock, making my steps secure.3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.; Isaiah 61:7 (HCSB)7 Because your shame was double, and they cried out, “Disgrace is their portion,” therefore, they will possess double in their land, and eternal joy will be theirs. (The double glory or blessing of (a) membership in God's family, (b) possession of Christ himself as their indwelling Lord and Companion. - The Wycliffe Bible Commentary.)
- Enjoys sharing His heart with me - Psalm 25:14 (HCSB)14 The secret counsel of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He reveals His covenant to them.; Matthew 11:25-26 (HCSB)25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to infants.26 Yes, Father, because this was Your good pleasure.
- Likes to hear what I think and feel - Psalm 62:8 (HCSB)8 Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him. God is our refuge.Selah; 1 Peter 5:7 (HCSB)7 casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you.
- Is always happy to see me, even when I’ve sinned against Him - Luke 15:1-2, 11-24 (HCSB)1 All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to Him.2 And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” 11 He also said: “A man had two sons.12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them.13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living.14 After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing.15 Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.16 He longed to eat his fill from the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one would give him any.17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger!18 I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight.19 I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.’20 So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him.21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’22 “But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.23 Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast,24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.
- Always has time for me - Deuteronomy 31:6 (HCSB)6 Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the LORD your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. (Pastors song); Psalm 139:7-10 (HCSB)7 Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?8 If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there.9 If I live at the eastern horizon ⌊or⌋ settle at the western limits,10 even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me.; Hebrews 13:5 (HCSB)5 Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.
- Wants to rescue me when I’m in trouble - Psalm 91:14-15 (HCSB)14 Because he is lovingly devoted to Me, I will deliver him; I will protect him because he knows My name.15 When he calls out to Me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble. I will rescue him and give him honor.; 2 Timothy 4:18 (HCSB)18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever! Amen.; 2 Peter 2:9 (HCSB)9 ⌊then⌋ the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,
By Rick Warren
“For the Lord is always good. He is always loving and kind, and his faithfulness goes on and on to each succeeding generation”(Psalm 100:5 TLB).
Don’t you hate it when people call you on the phone and don’t identify themselves? They just jump right in as soon as you answer, assuming you know who it is. When you don’t know if it’s the pope or the pizza guy on the other end, it affects your conversation a lot. You don’t know what tone to use. You’re a little more guarded.
Even when you’re talking with someone in person, if you don’t know much about that person, you tend to be more formal. I can always tell when people I run into around town are a part of Saddleback Church because they’ll say, “Hey, Pastor Rick, how’s it going?” But when someone says, “Hello, Reverend Warren,” it’s clear they know who I am but not that much about me.
Proximity and relationship determine how you talk to somebody. What you know about somebody determines your conversation with that person.
The same is true with God. Your understanding of what God is really like shapes everything else in your life, including your prayer life.
A lot of people have misconceptions about God. Some people think he’s a grumpy god, who’s cranky and upset all the time, and they think they can never please him. Some people picture the “crouching tiger” god, who is ready to pounce on them when they make the wrong move. Some people have the flaky father god, who’s moody and changes his mind continually about them.
Some people think of God as the cosmic cop, whose goal is just to make sure you keep the rules, or the dictator god, who’s never satisfied and always demanding more and more and more. And some people have what I call the Play-Doh god and just make him into any form they want.
Ever heard somebody say, “I like to think of God as . . .”? Well, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t really matter what you think God is like. It matters what the Bible says he is!
A. W. Tozer wrote, “What comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you, because it affects everything else in your life.”
It’s important that you know the real God. If you have a misconception about him, then prayer is going to be a duty and drudgery. God doesn’t want you to pray out of guilt! He wants you to talk to him because you love him. And you will love him more as you get to know him better through his Word.