Creative Prayer: Speaking the Language of God's Heart

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9781590529317: Creative Prayer: Speaking the Language of God's Heart
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A young man is deeply in love with a young woman. He pours out his heart, singing to her, writing poems for her, giving her beautiful flowers. And how does she express her love back to him? She talks, usually briefly. And that’s all.

That’s an imbalanced relationship,but it’s an accurate picture of our communication with God. God speaks with pictures, symbols, music, tastes, smells, and all the rich diversity of creation. So why do we express ourselves to Him with nothing more than words?

Connect with Our Creative God

In Creative Prayer, Chris Tiegreen encourages us to communicate more intimately with God by speaking the language of His heart. Drawing on Bible stories, psalms, and historical examples, Tiegreen reminds us that our praises and petitions can reflect the unique gifts God has given us.

Singing. Painting. Cymbals. Dancing. God has always encouraged his people to respond to him in bold, visual, active, and energetic ways. As God shows us every day in a thousand ways, real love cannot be contained.

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About the Author:

Chris Tiegreen is a writer and editor for indeed magazine at Walk Thru the Bible. A former pastor and missionary, Tiegreen is the author of numerous books, including Violent Prayer and The One Year At His Feet Devotional. Tiegreen and his family live in Atlanta, Georgia.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

God Is Not a Formula

Long, long ago, our planet was shrouded in darkness. It was a mysterious chaos, a completely unordered mass of raw material. There were no plants, no seasons, no dry land, no light. “Formless and void,” Scripture describes it. Shapeless and empty. Confused and meaningless. Deep and dark. Desperately lifeless.

But a Spirit brooded over the deep. As a wind caressed the waters, he blew away the darkness and hovered over the surface of chaos, contemplating his design and breathing the Breath of meaning into the emptiness.2 The Hebrew word means “to hover, to move, to brood.”3 His movement was a mission of fertility, and soon this formless mass exploded in creativity. The shapeless raw material became beautiful.

Not long after, God formed the shape of a man out of the dust of the ground. Genesis says he breathed his own Breath into this lifeless being; face-to-face and mouth to mouth, the divine Spirit awakened humanity–the pinnacle of creation. The first sensation this new creature felt was the warm Breath of a creative God; the first thing he saw was God’s face. His surroundings were already lush with life and fruit, stunning in beauty, and perfectly suited to sustain the created order. The Master had painted, sculpted, written, and orchestrated wonder and majesty into his work. The Breath that hovered, the Wind of God, was powerful, perfect, and extremely imaginative.4

Adam didn’t rise up into life to see a blueprint, to hear an explanation, or to find a matrix of complex codes. He awoke to find pictures and sounds and scents and tastes, to feel the warmth of the Breath and the cool of the breeze, and to have those sensations laid out in a progression of time so he could witness the interplay of creation. This Spirit that brooded had not painted by numbers or followed an instruction manual. God thought “outside the box” in everything he did. He didn’t even have a box to think outside of.

God thought “outside the box” in everything he did.

The first couple, we are told, had been made in the image of God–the God whose Spirit hovered and breathed. They had been entrusted with a taste of the Creator’s creativity, blessed with a reflection of his imagination. They would have the ability to create using the tools and raw materials God had given them, and there would be almost no limit to the ways they could express themselves.

Why did God create people in his image? Over the course of Scripture, the answer becomes obvious. We were made in the image of God in order to relate to him. We each have a mind, a will, emotions, a voice, facial expressions, gestures–everything we need to communicate at a personal level. And, because the One we relate to is highly imaginative, we have the ability to do it creatively.

But human potential took a nasty fall when the first couple gave in to temptation, and we know the tragic result. The God who made them came to them in the Garden–in “the cool of the day,” most translations say, though it’s literally “the Breath of the evening,” in the Spirit who had hovered and exhaled life into the chaos–and they hid. They had no urge to communicate, to relate to their Creator as they were designed to do. Expression turned inward as they suppressed themselves in hiding.

Creativity took an ugly turn after that. We read of the son of a murderer who became the father of “all those who play the lyre and pipe.” Another son of the same murderer was the father of those who forge bronze and iron.5 And for millennia, the creative breath of humanity sang music to false gods, crafted hand-carved idols, and designed offensive atrocities like the tower of Babel in an attempt to become divine. Human ingenuity and expression didn’t cease; it just got really, really twisted.

Human ingenuity and expression didn’t cease; it just got really, really twisted.

We get a glimpse of restoration much later when God led his people out of Egypt and into the wilderness. He gave specific instructions to Moses for making the ark of the covenant and the other articles of worship to be used in the tabernacle. And for only the second time since time began, the God of Israel filled a human being directly with his Spirit–that fertile Wind of creativity that once hovered over the deep. Who was it? An artist. Bezalel, or Btsal’el, meaning “under the shadow of God.” His name is derived from a root word that implies not just shade, but a shadow that hovers.

God breathed into Bezalel and (by implication) Oholiab, skilled craftsmen, so they could make a work of art.6 The New Testament tells us that this work of art–actually a collection of works of art, as the tabernacle included multiple elements–was a copy and shadow of heavenly things.7 It is exhibit A in the argument that God values physical expressions of invisible realities. Many centuries later, he would incarnate his Son–not just an expression of the invisible, but an embodiment of the eternal One. But the tabernacle in the wilderness reflected the courts of heaven and pointed to the coming of the Son. God commissioned this work of art because inward truths are to be expressed outwardly.

That’s a major statement from the Lord of a now dark and defiled creation. Centuries, even millennia, had passed since the last time he breathed into humanity at the dawning of creation, when a mound of dust was filled with life. Now, at the moment when a covenant of worship was established with a chosen people, he breathed again. Two wood- and metalworkers were gifted with divine creativity. They would craft a highly symbolic picture that would point to redemption, a re-genesis, a new humanity free to express itself to its Creator. Once again, this time spiritually, chaos was being called to order.

So God commissioned these two artists, and flesh was again filled with divine Breath. The box they made, the ark of the covenant, also reflected the pattern: a spiritual reality expressed in created materials. This intersection of God and humanity would be a model of things to come. The mingling of minds and emotions between the eternal and the temporal, the Creator and created, would continue to produce pictures, symbols, sounds of worship, smells of sacrifice, graphic images in prophecies and parables, and much, much more. And none of it–absolutely none of it–would fit a formula.

A MULTIMEDIA GOD

God is not a formula. That should be obvious to us, though religious instincts have always tried to make him one. But if his varying modes of expression weren’t clear to us before the incarnation, they certainly should be now. God showed us plainly how he communicates.

Long ago, this Creator of the universe clothed himself in human flesh and walked our dusty roads. He also ate our food, wore our clothes, lived in our towns, talked to our ancestors, felt our emotions, and experienced all the pain our nervous systems can experience. He lived a thoroughly human life.

Long ago, this Creator of the universe clothed himself in human flesh and walked our dusty roads.

This wasn’t the first time our Creator communicated with us, of course. He spoke to our father Abraham in the form of physical messengers; he spoke to Moses in the form of a desert brush fire that didn’t destroy the brush; he showed his face in a daytime cloud and a nighttime fire; his voice thundered from a mountain; his angels sent audible instructions to his servants; and his Spirit, his Breath, inspired prophets, priests, and kings to preach, write, and sing.

But when he clothed himself in flesh and walked among us, his communication got much more tangible to a much larger audience. He gave us concrete examples. We can learn a lot from how the Godman expressed himself to others. His words and actions tell us much about how our Creator interacts with us.

One of the first things we learn about his communication style is that it was extremely varied. Take his healing of the blind, for example. On some occasions, he spoke words of power and authority, and the blind regained their sight.8 On other occasions, he simply touched them and they were healed.9 And sometimes he combined spit and dirt and the touch of his hands to restore sight.10 One such healing even included a bath in the pool of Siloam before blindness left.11 In this series of nearly identical issues, Jesus expressed himself differently almost every time. He did not relate to people using a formula.

In fact, almost nothing in Jesus’ ministry fit a formula. Sometimes he taught with straightforward preaching; other times he used obscure parables. He responded immediately to the faith of one Gentile12 and played really hard to get with another.13 On many occasions he was very vocal toward the authorities who opposed him,14 but at history’s most critical moment was absolutely silent toward them.15 He often waited for people to come to him before helping them; other times, he approached them even when they didn’t seem interested.

Throughout the pages of the Gospels, we see a Savior who is simultaneously accessible and elusive, public and private, vocal and silent, complex and simple, profound and plain, never likely to say exactly the same thing to the same people twice. And the ways he communicated ranged from the obvious, like straightforward speech, to the enigmatic, like drawing in the sand, cooking fish on the shore, prophesying in pictures, preaching in parables, cursing a fig tree, dipping his bread with a traitor, walking on water, calming a storm, being illuminated on a mountain, hearing a voice out of heaven, receiving a descending Dove, and eating a somber meal with eternal significance–to name but a few. None of these actions were just routines of the day, the activities that get us from one place to another and accomplish the tasks we need to get done. They were the first-century version of a multimedia event involving sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch. They demonstrated a wide range of creative expression. If Jesus had written a book titled A Savior’s Guide to Effective Communication, it would have no conclusion. It would be open-ended, because he kept varying his style.

His Father has been no less creative throughout the centuries of human existence–and before, for that matter. We don’t know all the amazing creatures of heaven, though we’re given glimpses in Scripture of living beings with wings, four faces, multiple body shapes, and dazzling light or glorious colors. But we do know of the creativity of God’s visible creation: majestic mountains and waterfalls, unfathomable seas, breathtaking shorelines, colorful landscapes, intricate ecosystems, delicate flowers, elaborately designed insects, stunningly beautiful people, and so much more.

But those are just the visual aspects that seem most obvious to us. God has also filled this world with music-making creatures, roaring rapids, the angry thunder of a black sky, and the rhythmic waves of the sea, and he’s given us ears that can tune in to these aural wonders. He has created aromas both pleasant and repulsive–and with divinely orchestrated consistency, the pleasant scents lead us to beauty, and the repulsive ones warn of us danger. He has given us textures and temperatures that can make us feel warm and fuzzy, cold and lonely, tired and sore, loved and accepted, and overwhelmed with ecstasy. And the tastes...well, try visiting the array of ethnic restaurants in nearly every major city in the world, and you’ll never run out of wonderfully intriguing flavors to sample. The expressions of God in the physical world are uncountable.

His expression in spiritual matters is no less diverse, though we pick up on his voice and actions much less easily there. Even so, we can read about them in our Bibles if we haven’t experienced them ourselves. We’ve already mentioned the rainbow that made a promise to Noah, the burning bush, the thunderous voice, and the glory cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Add to that the fire that fell from heaven on Elijah’s altar, the aroma of burnt sacrifices and incense in the tabernacle and temple, the blood and bitter herbs of the Passover, the sulfurous smell of judgment, the simple tastes of the supper portraying redemption, and on and on and on.

According to Scripture, God is vocal, visual, tactile, and in every other way sensory in his expression.

The obvious truth is that God, according to Scripture, is vocal, visual, tactile, and in every other way sensory in his expression. He is a creative communicator from Genesis to Revelation. That’s easy to see in events like the Exodus and the path to the Promised Land, the worship in the temple, and the cross and resurrection of Jesus, as well as in the graphically visual books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation. But the imaginativeness of God’s expression is discernible everywhere in Scripture, not to mention everywhere in our day-today routines, if we’re sensitive enough to notice. The libraries of the world couldn’t contain all the descriptions of his creativity, and we would never have time to read all those descriptions anyway. But why read about them in the first place? Look around. His personality has a pretty wide range.

AN EMOTIONAL GOD

Where does all this creativity come from? God didn’t just invent senses and a full range of emotions. He has them. We know this because he describes himself this way in Scripture. Clearly spelled out on the pages of your Bible is a God who loves passionately, burns with jealousy for those he loves, gets angry, hates all manner of sin, has deep compassion for his people, rejoices with singing, celebrates the return of his prodigals, and accomplishes his will with zeal. God’s description of himself conveys an intensity of feeling beyond compare.

That sounds too human for most people; it seems suspiciously like a God made in our own image. We don’t understand how he who is not surprised by anything can have swells of feeling that correspond with changing circumstances. He seems in Scripture to react to the events of history and the hearts of human beings. That portrayal makes him awfully vulnerable, not worthy of the omniscience and omnipotence Scripture ascribes to him elsewhere.

So we theologize these emotions out of God, telling ourselves that he describes himself this way so we can understand him on our terms. But if he is describing himself in emotional terms without actually feeling those emotions, he’s not helping us understand him; he’s guilty of false advertising. The God of truth is portraying himself in a way that isn’t true. That’s not possible.

No, God’s emotions are true and very real. Despite our theologies, the “human” aspects of God didn’t originate with us. God has humanlike senses and a full range of emotions not because we’ve made him in our image; we have God-like senses and emotions because he made us in his image. As humanistic students of religion, we’ve reversed the cause and effect, as though we were the beginning and God’s feelings were our invention. But finding similarity between the human and the divine isn’t as idolatrous as we often make it out to be. In the Bible, God makes the connection himself.

God’s creativity springs out of this truth. As a sentient, emotional being,...

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