Imagine the Father appearing visibly at the front of your church, or even better, in a cozy fellowship room. A group would gather around Him there, just as the crowds did around Jesus. Suppose we could talk there freely with God the Father for a whole hour. Would it be appropriate at the end for someone among us to rise and say, “This has been such a special occasion, don’t you think we ought to close this meeting with a word of prayer?” Or would it be correct to understand that, having just been in conversation with our God as with a friend, we have been praying the whole hour long?
Or could such a conversation only be possible with Jesus the Son? Is it even thinkable that we could converse with the Father, the awesome One, as with a friend? The disciples wondered about this. They were comfortable with Jesus, and appreciated how He wanted them to regard themselves as His friends. He said this more than once. One of those places is John 15:15, RSV: “I have called you friends. . . .” Their friendship with Jesus prompted Phillip to say, “Could the Father be like you?” John 14:8. You may remember Jesus’ answer: “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. . . . Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:7, 9, NIV).
Marvelous as that is, I think much of our theology and worship fails to recognize that magnificent truth, to know the Son is to know the Father. That is why Jesus went on to say those stunning words, hardly ever incorporated into Christian theology: “There is no need for me to pray to the Father for you, for the Father loves you Himself” (based on John 16:26-27). Notice Goodspeed’s translation of the same text: “I do not promise to intercede with the Father for you, for the Father loves you himself.”
How hard it has been for God to convince us that He really is our Friend. Centuries ago, when He came to speak to the people on Mount Sinai, they were so terrified (Exod 19:16) that they said to Moses, “Don’t let God speak to us, lest we die” (Exod 20:19). But Moses stood there in the midst of all the thunder and lightning and said to the people, “There is no need to be afraid” (Exod 20:20). You see, all those centuries before Christ, Moses already understood the truth that John wrote about: “There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18, GNB).
If you were ushered right now into the presence of God, would you be afraid He might hurt you? That He might hit you? Do you trust Him with His almighty power? On the day that every one of us approaches God, the way we approach Him will reveal the kind of person we are persuaded He really is. With this series of conversations in mind, then, let’s go back with renewed courage to the imaginary fellowship room where God is waiting. Whether the One there is Father, Son, or Holy Spirit should make no difference to us. For Paul said in Romans 8 that all three are on our side, all three are our Friends.
Now as we walk into the room, we know that God is the all powerful Creator of the whole vast universe. We know that the mighty angels, sinless as they are, stand overwhelmed with awe and wonder at the majesty and glory of God. Nevertheless, if we are afraid to go in, God has failed to convince us of the truth about Himself. And Jesus has also failed to convince us, not just with His words, but with what He has demonstrated to be true when He was here: That God is infinitely powerful, but equally gracious, and there is no need to be afraid. And so, overwhelmed with awe, we venture to go inside anyway.
God is seated there and we gather around Him. What should we say? Should one of us be the first to speak? Once we have started speaking, would we talk all the time? Or would we let God speak now and then? Normally, when we pray we do all the talking, don’t we? And when we’re done, we say “Amen” and go about our business, or go to sleep. That kind of prayer would be like meeting in a room with our heavenly Father, talking to Him incessantly for several minutes, and then saying, “Amen, thank you very much,” and then leaving. It wouldn’t make sense if He were there, would it? It certainly wouldn’t be the kind of conversation one has with a friend.