Luke tells us that as Jesus prays, the Spirit of God descends like a dove and God’s voice is heard, “You are my Beloved Son.” In this simple and quiet moment, Jesus is filled with the Spirit of God; his life given new meaning and purpose.
How can we turn to God in prayer that we might receive God’s Spirit, that we might be refreshed for our journeys? What prevents us from receiving this power, from fanning the flames of Gods Spirit within us?
One of the things that prevents us from opening up to God in prayer is fear. Many people assumed that fear motivates people to act. Some have even used Scripture to promote a crippling fear of God. Many of us carry images of angry preachers who have tried to instill the fear of God in our hearts. Often, however, fear paralyzes us, we build walls of defense and distrust. When the Bible talks about the fear of God, it is better understood as awesome respect for God’s power. The Bible does not promote crippling fear, but motivating awe for God’s mysterious power.
The power of God is for purifying, for building up. This is what the Psalmist says when, in Psalm 29, it says, “The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire, the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.” This power of God, greater than the powers of humankind or of nature is a power that builds up, which gives the Psalmist the confidence to pray in verse 11, “May the Lord give strength to his people, May the Lord bless his people with peace.”
One of the things that disturbs me about our culture is when natural disasters are so often called “acts of God”. From newspaper articles to insurance policies, God is often held accountable for tragedy. The image of God we might get from this is a God who wreaks havoc on innocent victims, a God who blindly exercises power for no good reason.
If we only see God active in tragic events of life, we are not likely to turn to God in prayer with the kind of trust that opens us up to God’s Spirit. We are more likely to try to escape from God. If we do pray, our prayers are more efforts to keep God away, to keep bad things from happening to us. If God is only active in tragedy, who would want God to be close? As one writer, Emil Brunner, puts it, “When we look beyond ourselves out into the world, prayer fades away.” Our tragic lot robs us the courage to pray.
The Bible offers us other images of God, however. In Isaiah, the Spirit of the Lord God is within the prophet, bringing good news to the oppressed, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives. The power of God is not tearing down, but building up. The vengeance of God is not used to increase suffering, but to comfort those who are persecuted. Those who are afflicted by powers and principalities working against the will of God.
Here, in the middle of the crowd, Jesus kneels and prays and the heavens are opened. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove and a voice is heard from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” In prayer, the intimate relationship of Jesus and his heavenly Father is displayed for all to see.
In Christ, it is possible to approach God as a loving parent, and not as one only active in the tragic events of life. Christ inspires us to be open to God’s Spirit in prayer, to leave false images of God behind and trust in God’s goodness.