"Yo God! What's up mate? You are so cool! You totally rule, Dude, and that is just sweet like candy Bro!"
I used to think of these examples as the extremes of how a person might approach God in prayer. Sure, they are perhaps extremes with regard to word choice and levels of formality, but more and more, I'm seeing that these two styles of prayer have more in common than I thought.
Before I go there, let me just affirm where both of these types of prayer come from. The formal type often comes from individuals with a strong (and quite proper) conviction to address God with reverence. They may perhaps (again - rightly and biblically) have images of God as King on His throne, and therefore take on the posture of 'kneeling' not only in physical posture, but in their word choice as well. Rather than making the mistake (sin?) of praying something that is 'un'-humble or 'un'-biblical, they aim for ultra-humility and ultra-biblical-ness.
The casual type perhaps comes from individuals who desire to break free from what they feel to be impersonal and overly eloquent methods of prayer. Their convictions take different form in that they, perhaps, feel quite strongly (and not without biblical support) that we are invited to a personal, fatherly way. (the word 'Abba' in Scripture would quite literally mean something like 'Daddy') Rather than make the mistake of not meaning what they say, they opt for a more personal expression of their heart to God.
I think both types have strengths and potential dangers. While I think reverence for God in prayer is deeply important and more and more overlooked, I find it hard to imagine how some of the lofty sermon-esque prayers can be totally free of at least a hint of spiritual pride - having prayed all too often this way myself. There seems to be a subtle arrogance in the 'Amen' to these prayers, as though we might feel quite pleased with ourselves with the eloquent prayer we have just offered. Conversely, while I appreciate the personal and relational informality some bring to their prayers, I am deeply concerned that we may risk losing the vital essence of God's majesty and sheer holiness.
But none of this is my point, really...
There is another dimension that I wonder if we often forget altogether...
- Abraham in Genesis 18:25 (check out the whole story)
"O God, why have You cast us off forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture? ...O God, how long will the adversary reproach? Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever? ...Do not forget the life of Your poor forever. Have respect to the covenant;"
- Psalm 74:1,2,10,19,20
"Do not keep silent, O God! Do not hold Your peace, and do not be still, O God!"
- Psalm 83:1
Are we afraid to question God? Do we (for some reason) think that God doesn't want to be questioned? Make no mistake; we are not to ever take God's place, but does this mean that doubts and questions are unhealthy?
Perhaps our desire to maintain a healthy respect and reverence for God may be part of the reason we are slow to embrace our doubts and/or questions, but I wonder if there is another underlying reason. Though it may sound weird to say it, might it be that we don't trust God enough? When was the last time you 'respectfully vented' to God like the Psalmists did? If you can't remember, then I recommend reconsidering your understanding of God. Is your God unable to handle your 'big' problems, doubts or concerns?
I don't think God is in the slightest way afraid of these. Why should we hide them from Him? (as if we really can anyway!) In the same way that God knows our needs before we ask for them in prayer, He also knows how we feel - whether we tell Him or not. But He still wants us to ask for things and to be real with Him about how we feel! We don't need to 'protect' God from who we are. He wants you. He doesn't want 'not' you. We must be honest with Him. Don't trust me, trust Him - He can handle it.
To take things a little further, I wonder if this shows up in our relationships with those around us? If we can't be honest to God, then might we also struggle to be completely honest and real with others? Maybe the reasons we struggle to be honest with each other are the same reasons we avoid honesty with God. We may be trying so hard to respect each other, we may forget to trust each other.
My best friends in life have been the ones who have trusted me enough to do at least these two things: 1.) admit who they really are (how they're really doing, etc.) to me; and 2.) challenge me when they think I need it. To me, it shows that our relationship is not so fragile that they feel the need to walk on egg-shells around me. If someone has a problem with me, I'd rather know it than wonder if they do or what it is, etc. I think that God feels the same way with us - except He doesn't have to wonder - he already knows!
I've heard someone say that by not telling someone when you have a problem with them, you are actually disrespecting them. If effect, you are saying that they can't handle it. True, some people deal with conflict better than others, but dishonesty is not an option if we are to develop better relationships with each other. I'm convinced that the same goes for our relationship with God.
Perhaps no verse summarizes this better than Hebrews 4:16 - "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need." (I think the idea of the words 'boldly' and 'throne' being in the same sentence should be more striking than we often appreciate.)
I believe I can approach God with such 'boldness' and honesty precisely because I believe He is who He says He is! Let us be people characterised by trust. So much that our trust is evidenced in our honesty toward God and each other.