by Mike Phay
Like a precisely tuned seismograph, my wife is intimately tuned into the lives and needs of 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, of course, not only because of the amazingly intuitive and attentive mother that she is but also because of the immense amount of time that she has invested in her 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 that her body did not 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 natural and right result, they go to her for almost everything.
It’s a bit humorous when I’m at home because even when I might be close and available to meet their needs, my kids don’t generally default to me as a major resource for their most basic needs (unless there’s cash involved…but we can discuss teenagers later).
There are times when I will be in the room near my wife, doing something important – like stuffing my face with dessert or staring at my iPhone – when one of my smaller children walks in and asks my wife 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 gravitational force (I’m sure that mothers actually have tractor beams in their eyes) will guide a pair of 5-year-old eyes – simply with a nod – to the waiting and attentive face of their father. Gently, she will say, “Your dad is right here for you. 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: Eyes widen, a smile broadens across their face, and oftentimes a hug ensues (these are the sweet times…again, we can discuss teenagers later). The child’s attention is then diverted to me, and the questioner has been re-introduced to the appropriate party with a simple redirect: “Your dad is right here for you. Ask Him.”
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 Timothy 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 His mediation is often lessened, as we tend to think that maybe God isn’t really happy with us. Maybe He just tolerates us. And so we are hesitant to come too close to Him. We need Jesus to continuously run full-time interference for us with an unhappy God.
But 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 Corinthians 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 about this 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 here makes reference to 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. He is assuring His gathered disciples that “that day” will come when direct access to the Father will take place. In “that day,” Jesus says, we will be able to ask – that is, we will be able to pray.
I have a pastor friend who often reminds that at the core of the Gospel is the often-missed truth that Jesus died so that we could pray. The author 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” (Hebrews 4:16). We have truly been given “boldness and access” to the Father “with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 2:18; 3:12).
And He expects us to come. To pray. 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.”
But, if you are like me, prayer is often a labor and a grind, accompanied by overtones of duty, burden, and guilt. We know that we ought to pray, while simultaneously carrying an awareness of our deficiency in prayer. Ask any of your Christian friends how their prayer life is going, and the probability is high that you will get a sheepish aversion of the eyes, a quick change of the subject, or a dejected dropping of the countenance.
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?
We don’t always associate prayer with joy, but God doesn’t want us to associate it 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.” (John 16:24)
We often take this to mean that our joy will be full because of our receiving. But I think it’s more full-orbed than this. Joy comes because of the relationship in which we can ask:
“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…” (verses 26-27, italics mine)
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. And 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.
So 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?
You see, for God, prayer is all about relationship. It’s all about being with His children.
And for us, it should be all about being with our Father, in whose presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 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.
But if you’re just grumpy? Inordinately angry? Morbid or morose? Sure. Come to God with those things, but beware if you are intent on holding onto them. God would have you be joyful – so don’t resist it.
Instead, 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.
So ask your Daddy. He’s right here for you. Ask Him for joy.
[note: versions of this article were published at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and For The Church]