Isn’t that sometimes the best way though?
I remember as a child learning the importance of prayer. Bowing your head, folding your hands, and closing your eyes were all key elements. My friends and I made a game out of the process, sometimes accusing each other of not following protocol. “You had your eyes open,” someone would exclaim. “How would you know that if you had your eyes closed like you should have!” I would reply. It was fun at the time, but I didn’t quite grasp the importance of prayer until much later on in life. What started as a harmless game would later become a magnificent burden.
One of the challenges I have as a father is teaching my children to pray. In the Garwood home, we pray before we share a meal, before bedtime, and usually in the car when the occasion arises. My seven-year-old son enjoys thanking God for the great day he had, especially if it involved him getting to go outside for a while to play. My three-year-old daughter likes to pray about things she wishes were true, like the family going to the water park or traveling to see the grandparents. My two-year-old son prays in tongues (I’m kidding). Actually, the only thing I can understand with him is “Amen” at the end, as he moves on with his day.
All joking aside, when I pray with my children, I try to convey one of the most important reasons for prayer—the beholding of the glory of Christ. Why is this important? Take a look at what Jesus prays in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” God the Son prays to the Father and asks that those who belong to him would behold his glory.
The goal of our praying ought to be the beholding of Christ.
What It Means to Behold
What does it mean to “see” Christ’s glory, and why would this be something worth pursuing? Ultimately, the Bible teaches us that we will see Christ’s glory in two ways: by faith now (2 Cor. 5:7-8) and by sight in eternity (1 Cor. 13:12).1 The end result of our running the race is a face-to-face meeting with Christ. The challenge, however, is the running of the race. We live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), which means that our pursuit of God through the means of grace we call “prayer” involves faith. We must believe the promises of God. We must cling to the truths we find in the Scriptures. The beholding we do now by faith in prayer leads to the beholding we will do in eternity. One is temporary. The other is everlasting.
John Owen is helpful:
No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight in heaven who does not, in some measure, behold it by faith in this world. Grace is a necessary preparation for glory and faith for sight. The soul unprepared by grace and faith is not capable of seeing the glory of Christ in heaven. Many will say with confidence that they desire to be with Christ and to behold his glory. But when asked, they can give no reason for this desire, except that it would be better than going to hell. If a man claims to love and desire that which he never even saw, he is deceiving himself.2
What Owen is getting at is the connection between what we do by faith here and now, and what will eventually be in eternity. “You wish to see Christ in the fulness of heaven? Great; live by faith now.” The correlation could hardly be clearer. Beholding Christ forever begins by beholding him by faith in this life. And what does it mean to behold? To behold Christ is to gaze upon, cling to, focus upon, draw near to, and rely by faith on Christ. We must take him as our own today. Beholding is about attentiveness to Christ in the present.
Problems with Beholding
The truth of the matter is that we are busy. And it’s killing us.
“How are you doing?”
“Oh, I’m doing well, thanks for asking; I’ve been really busy lately!”
“Yes, me too. Life just seems to constantly get in the way!”
Ever had this conversation? Busy is the go-to answer in assessing ourselves. We’ve moved from “I’m fine” to “I’ve been busy,” as if either of those answers suffice. In our culture of discontinuous change, we simply cannot keep up. The next iPhone is out with a new processor and upgraded camera, and suddenly ours from just last year might as well be a bag phone. The struggle with gazing upon true beauty in the face of Christ today is our lack of attentiveness. We don’t have time and even if we did, we don’t.
Is this where you’re at today? Are you struggling to behold Christ by faith in earnest prayer because you think you don’t have time?
Prayer as a Means of Beholding
The reason I chose the means of prayer is mostly because it’s the one thing we almost all wish we did more of, and it’s the one thing we can do right now. You can’t read the entirety of the Bible this very second, nor can you figure out your entire life right this very second. But you can pray. And you can pray in faith. When we stoop before the Throne we can be assured that our prayers are being handled with care (Heb. 4:16). The Mediator who is both Priest and King invites us in to gaze upon his beauty as we pray in faith for wisdom, direction, and guidance.
We’re not too busy to behold the glory of Christ in prayer; we’re too dependent upon ourselves. Prayer is for people who are needy, not those who are self-sufficient. The way to behold Christ in faith through prayer is repenting of our self-righteousness and fall before him with tears. You may feel overwhelmed, busy, anxious, and stressed to the max. You may feel like you cannot go on. But let me reassure you: God gives you more than you can handle because the idol of self-sufficiency destroys you.
Drop the facade—we are not impressive, but Christ most definitely is. Beholding Christ by faith in prayer is a means of grace to strengthen your weary heart. Repent of excuse-making. Repent of self-sufficiency. Repent of feeling the need for instant gratification. Turn away from the need to indulge yourself with the newest and greatest, and instead behold Christ with patience wrought by the Holy Spirit.
1. John Owen, The Glory of Christ, abridged and simplified by R.J.K. Law (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2009), 4.↩
2. Ibid., 4-5.↩