“He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him.” Psalm 91:15
Augustine in reflecting on this statement says “And how shall I call upon my God — my God and my Lord? For when I call on Him I ask Him to come into me.” Augustine sums up something as Christians we often fail to realise.
Prayer is insane. The very thought that I could summon the God who alone formed me in my mother’s womb, knit me together, who has determined my birthday and my death day; who holds the universe in the palm of his hand, forging history, lifting up and tearing down presidents and kings, effortlessly weaving billions of lives, billions of choices into a seamless, ordained redemption plan; spinning galaxies and creating stars – chuckling as scientists whelp with delight at the discovery of a planetary formation he had placed there light years before.
This God I can come before with a request. To help me find that missing cable to my hotpot plate, to enable my kids to do well in their exams, to bring my friend to know him, to stay calm in the midst of a period of worry which he knows will last only a day or so. To call up the president of the USA or of China with such trivial demands would be an insult, preposterous. In fact, how could I even approach as a mere citizen, a mere nobody one who holds so great a title?
If it were possible to even get through to the White House, the conversation could go little beyond, “Excuse me. I’d like to speak to President Trump about my big toe – the nail has come off and it’s causing me pain. Click.” Great leaders have better things to worry about than my varnished pedals.
Unless I had something of value to them. Unless I offered an opportunity they did not hold within their grasp. Unless I was the master of a secret that they desired and could not have without my assistance. Then and only then would I gain access to their ear.
The pagan gods were needy. They loved a little flattery, a stroking of their back, an offering to appease them. If the mood suited them, they would shower down their blessings all for a bowl of fruit or a little greasing of their palms.
But YHWH is holy. He is not in need of our sacrifices. He lives in perfect loving community, in need of nothing, incorruptible, unbribable, utterly satisfied with unmatched glory that requires no polishing or shining, no sailors to keep his boat from sinking, no servants to keep his house from dustiness, no civil servants to keep his administration afloat.
And yet, he invites me to come and call upon the Lord, and he will hear my cry. How can I call one who is so great to come to ME. Why would he listen to ME? He has no incentive, I have nothing to give. The transaction is unreasonable, unthinkable. And yet, and yet. He does. For he is holy. Unlike other rulers. Unlike other leaders. Unlike the system of our world. Unlike the religions of this globe. Unlike our market economies with which we approach the gods. For we can pray to him, because he is love. I can approach him because he is love. He will hear because he is love.
But this is not empty Hollywood love. This is not a disregarding of the fallout of our choices kind of love. This isn’t brush the past under the carpet kind of love. This is love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and gave himself for us.
It is through the cross that we can come. It is through the pouring out of the Holy One of Israel – pierced through, ripped apart, lacerated, wounds gushing forth a fountain of agonising heartbreak. He took our punishment. He removed all obstacles. He cleared the way so we could come and pray to him. No ticket to a game has been so costly. No entrance fee to a concert has required so much. No audience with an emperor has been granted with so dear a price.
And yet this is the privilege, the wonder, the insanity of prayer.