I wanted to begin today by asking you a couple of questions; but don’t panic! There isn’t a ‘right’ answer, so don’t feel under any pressure, it’s not a test!
- When you pray, who do you tend to pray to? Do you pray to a Heavenly Father, do you pray to our Lord Jesus Christ, or do you pray to the Holy Spirit?
- Are there times when you might pray to one rather than the other?
I tend to pray to our Heavenly Father in my most intimate moments, with that picture of a Heavenly Father in my mind perhaps with echoes of the Lord’s prayer. In praying to Jesus, I am mindfully recognising the authority and power in Jesus’ name and what He has accomplished for us on the cross. In praying to the Holy Spirit, my prayer might be “Come Holy Spirit, Come”, praying that He might come into a situation and bring peace and Fruit, that the Spirit might move and equip and enable. Another way to look upon it is that we might pray to our Heavenly Father through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The reality though is that whether we pray to God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit we are still praying to the same one God. And yet which of the three persons in the Trinity we pray to at any given time might shape our prayer and perhaps how at any given moment how we see ourselves relating to God. You might think that this is strange or unusual. Yet, in psychology it is commonly recognised that we may relate to one another as parent, adult or child – we are still relating to the same one being but the nature of how we relate might change. Think about those times when you are with family and friends and if you recognise moments when you find yourself relating in those different ways.
When I was training in theological college, and we first began to study the Trinity we were jokingly told that once we got into curacy, it was more than likely that we as Curates would be asked to preach on Trinity Sunday because our training incumbent didn’t understand the Trinity. After some years of reflecting on this, I am not sure that anyone has sufficient mental capacity to say that they really understand the Trinity in all fullness. We may know in part!
According to the Church father Augustine, anyone who denies the Trinity is in danger of losing their salvation, but anyone who tries to understand the Trinity is in danger of losing their mind! Even if we cannot understand in all fullness, there is nevertheless truth that we can take hold of which encourages, equips and builds us up.
But what does the Bible teach us about the Trinity or Godhead? The Bible teaches us that God is one; much like Judaism and Islam, Christianity professes to be a monotheistic religion. We worship one God. However, there are three inseparable and markedly distinct truths at the heart of Christian belief:
- God is three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – each distinct
- Each person – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is fully God
- There is one God.
We must remember that the Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’. We must understand that the distinctions in the Trinity or Godhead do not refer to God’s essence; they do not refer to a fragmentation or compartmentalization of the very being or essence of God. In using the word ‘person’, it is a word that is equivalent to the term ‘subsistence’ which literally means ‘to stand under.’ Thus, we begin to get the idea that while God is one in essence, there are three subsistences, three ‘persons’, that ‘stand under’ the essence. They are part of the essence. All three have the essence of deity. Each is distinct from the others but never acts independently. They are one in nature and purpose, much like one person relating to others as parent, adult or child.
It might be that when you think of God as Father, the image that comes up is of a stern headmaster type of person. It might be that when you think of God as Holy Spirit, you are uncertain of how to relate and what that might even mean. It might be that when you think of God as Son, you simply look upon Jesus as being fully man but perhaps not fully God. If that is the case, hear these words as we take a journey through Scripture together:
According to Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” I am sure that is a verse you are all very familiar with, but did you ever notice that it begins with the plural verb (“let us”) and includes the plural pronouns (“our”)? What does that mean? Why would God say, “Let us”?
Some have suggested that this is because they are plurals of majesty, a form of speech a king or queen would use in saying, for example, “We are pleased to grant your request.” So that is the ‘royal we’. However, in the Hebrew Scriptures there are no other examples of a monarchs using plural verbs or pronouns of himself. This idea of a ‘plural of majesty’ was also simply unknown to people of Israel. Another suggestion is that God is speaking to angels. Yet we know that angels did not participate in the creation of man, nor was man created in the image and likeness of angels, so this suggestion is not convincing either. So we begin from the very beginning to see the Trinity at work.
Isaiah 63:10 says that God’s people “rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit”, which suggests that the Holy Spirit is distinct from God himself (it is “His Holy Spirit”), and that this Holy Spirit can be “grieved”, thus suggesting emotional capabilities characteristic of a distinct person. (Isaiah 61:1 also distinguishes “The Spirit of the Lord” from “the Lord”).
There are many other examples, but we begin to see how the Hebrew Scriptures begin to introduce and develop our understanding of the Trinity yet without losing sight of the oneness of God, which will become more fully realised in the New Testament. I believe the reason why the Hebrew Scriptures only allude to the Holy Spirit in this way is because although He had played an active role in creation, and begun to shed light on the personhood and character of Jesus through the prophets (among many other things), He had not at that time been sent upon His people as at Pentecost. The primary role of the Holy Spirit that is apparent throughout the whole of Scripture is to bring glory to Jesus and the Father.
If we take a look at Jesus’ baptism, we are told “When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”” Here at one moment we have all three persons of the Trinity performing three distinct activities. God the Father is speaking from heaven; God the Son is being baptized and is then spoken to from heaven by God the Father; and God the Holy Spirit is descending from heaven to rest upon and empower Jesus for His ministry.
In 1 John 2:1, we are told that Jesus continues as our High Priest and Advocate before the Father: “If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” In Hebrews 7:25 we read that Christ is the one who “is able to save to perfection those drawing near to God through Him, since He lives always to intercede on behalf of them.” Yet in order to intercede for us before God the Father, it is necessary that Christ be a person distinct from the Father.
Moreover the Father is not the Holy Spirit, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit. They are distinguished in several verses. Jesus says in John 14:26: “But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit also prays or “intercedes” for us (Romans 8:27: “But the One searching the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because He intercedes for the Saints according to God”), indicating a distinction between the Holy Spirit and God the Father to whom the intercession is made.
In Hebrews 1:3 we read that Jesus is “the express image of the essence of God”, meaning that God the Son exactly duplicates the being or nature of God the Father in every way: whatever attributes or power God the Father has, God the Son has them as well. Hebrews goes on to say in 1:10 “You, Lord, at the beginning founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands”. This is taken from Psalm 102:25.
In John 10 we read “The works which I do in the name of My Father, these bear witness about Me. But you do not believe, for you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give eternal life to them, and in no way shall they perish for ever, and not anyone shall pluck them out of My hand. My Father who has given them to Me is greater than all, and no one is able to pluck out of My Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”” Only Jesus as God could forgive people for their sins, only Jesus as God could heal the leper, only Jesus as God could raise the dead.
And then our first reading today (Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31) speaks of wisdom. There is a sense that wisdom calls out to the ‘simple ones’ and those who perhaps ‘lack understanding’, but not to the mockers or scorners. The truth is this: we can only hear and respond to God’s voice if our hearts are open and not hardened. If you ever encounter people who are closed to the faith that you profess, pray that God might soften their hearts!
The passage from Proverbs goes on to give us insight into how wisdom was personified, and we see that in his Son Jesus Christ with echoes in John 1:1-5:
“1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”(John 1:1-5)
The fact that the ‘Word’ (who is seen to be Christ in John 1:9-18) is ‘with’ God shows distinction from God the Father. In John 17:24, Jesus speaks to God the Father about “…my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” thus showing distinction of persons, sharing of glory, and a relationship of love between the Father and the Son before the world was created.
This relationship and interdependence is beautifully expressed in our first reading about a God who so lovingly crafted this world: “When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”
We may not think about these things often, but the truth is that Jesus was with God and was God from the very beginning, as was the Holy Spirit. “1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)
“15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”(Colossians 1:15-17)
“1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”(Hebrews 1:1-3)
What we are looking at here is the very nature of God, how He expresses himself and the extraordinary lengths that He goes to to be in communion or a relationship of love with us. In this relationship we often see very feminine qualities in God; it’s important that we recognise that and that whether male or female we can relate fully to God as ourselves, not simply thinking of God in male terms. When the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters of creation, God is described in both masculine and feminine imagery: God (a masculine noun) creates by his Word, and life begins as the spirit (a feminine noun). The Hebrew word used suggests a mother hen gently brooding over her nest – a place of nurture and growth. When God spoke to Moses through the burning bush, there are moments of such gentleness, again suggesting those feminine qualities of God. Male and female alike can find their purpose, dignity, value and identity in God.
God is always an inviting God and always a sending God. He sent the prophets, he sent the Kings, he sent of Himself through and in Jesus and then He sent His Spirit. No one can ever truthfully say that God doesn’t go the extra mile. The reason why he does this is because he loves his creation more than we can ever possibly imagine. He yearns to be in fellowship with us, constantly inviting us into that place of forgiveness, grace and relationship. He does that knowing just how we are. Someone once said that God loves us just the way we are, but too much to let us stay that way. In that inviting, he invites us to a place of transformation, health and wholeness. He takes us to a place where our heart is softened to receive him if we make that step, that response to his invitation because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
God has given us so many promises that we need to cling to through the storms of life. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” God’s truth sets us free, and God’s “word that goes out from His mouth: It will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purpose for which He sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) One day, one glorious day we will understand in all fullness and what a day that will be!
With this in mind, I hope that you take some time to think about these things and when you come before God to pray be free, be free to pray to God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit with a hope that might draw you closer to a God of grace and truth.