Kids are one of the most wonderful things in life! I have two of them, a 4-year-old girl named Sydney and a 2-year-old boy named Liam (although he insists on being called “big boy” and nothing else). One of the fun things to do with kids is experiment (within the parameters of what is psychologically safe, of course). In an earlier article entitled “Prayer Sydney-style” (NZ Baptist, March 2010) I reflected on my experiment in prayer with Sydney and how I sought to eradicate the word “God” from our prayers and instead pray in a more Trinitarian – hence relational and personal – way.
Well I am experimenting again. While continuing with prayer “Sydney-style,” I decided with Liam to be as equally Trinitarian, but in another way, and conduct prayer “Liam-like.” So as with Sydney so too with Liam, I don’t pray to “God” with Liam but to the Trinity, and so we use the name: Father, Son/Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit for God. But I do so in a different way than I do with Sydney. Let me explain.
There are two basic forms of trinitarian prayer – the doxological and the mediatorial. In the first, prayer is addressed directly to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. In formal liturgical settings this is known as a co-ordinated doxology: “Glory to the Father with the Son, together with the Holy Spirit.”
“Glory” in Greek is doxa, hence doxological prayer. This is prayer Sydney-style. The strengths of this form of prayer are that it is dynamic and personal, it directly addresses the triune God, and it (hopefully) will mean that static and remote notions or concepts of God will not be implicit in Sydney’s psyche. This form of prayer is also a trenchant affirmation of the deity of Christ as the eternal Son of God, and the deity of the Spirit as the Holy one.
Mediatorial prayer is slightly different. In mediatorial doxologies one prays: “Glory to the Father through and with the Son and in the Spirit.” In this, doxology prayer is directed to the Father but indirectly, through and with the Son and in or by the Holy Spirit. It thus highlights the mediation and humanity of Christ as our great High Priest. This is prayer Liam-like. Under this construct we only approach the Father in and with Jesus Christ, enabled by the Spirit who unites us to him. And so with Liam I might pray something like: “Dear Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, thank you loving us by the Holy Spirit.” Or we may pray: “Dear Jesus, thank you for making your Father our Father, and for sending us your Holy Spirit to help us and love us.” Here Jesus is thrust in-between God and man as he assumes his rightful place as our Lord and Saviour, our Priest and Mediator.
Doxological prayer, while not wrong, can have the unintended effect of diminishing the humanity of Christ and thus give a distorted view of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mediatorial prayer has the advantage of keeping Jesus before us as the one in whom and with whom we relate to the Father by the Spirit. As someone once expressed so beautifully, “Christ is the choir master who tunes our hearts for worship.” Mediatorial prayer seeks to emphasise this fact.
Now here is what is interesting. Both Sydney and Liam are now able to say grace at the dinner table, and how do they typically address the Godhead? Like this: “Dear God … .” Is this a good thing or a theological failure on my part? Well, I think it is a good thing. I hope and trust that when my children think of God and speak to God, they are explicitly and intuitively addressing the triune God of grace: the Father who loves us and has, through Christ and by the Spirit, given us every good gift.
May a similar reformation occur in all our prayer, private and corporate, at home and at church. May we begin to experience the personal, relational, triune God of grace, not the remote god of the philosophers.
And now: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God [the Father], and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
• Myk Habets, Carey Baptist College lecturer