One thing that I’ve noticed in my short tenure as Pastor at New Haven Church is there seems to be a common problem among God’s people. That is, many folks experience real struggle with the spiritual discipline of prayer. For these folks, when in prayer, all that comes out is a bunch of “uh’s,” Father this, and Father that’s, and sometimes, depending on how late in the day, some even end up catching a couple of Zzz’s. The struggle is real, as “they” say.
After spending some time thinking deeply on this problem, I think one of the reasons why we struggle is we’ve simply never been taught how to pray, or if we have, we haven’t been taught on how to do it well. I think another reason is we’ve simply lost historic ways of praying, as well, but I’m not going down that rabbit trail right now.
However, be that as it may, one thing that I have found to be very helpful in combating this issue apart from learning how to pray the Bible is to pray the Attributes of God.
Introduction To The Attributes
Now, what are the Attributes of God you may be asking? Don’t be intimidated. Though it sounds complicated, it’s not so hard to understand. The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s definition of God is an enumeration of His attributes:” God is Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”
So, to put it in a simple way, when we speak of God’s attributes, we are simply speaking of who He is (He is triune, He is love, He is eternal, etc.)
Now, God possesses what has been called communicable and incommunicable attributes. Again, don’t be intimidated by the wording. Communicable attributes simply mean that these are attributes that God possesses which are reflected in us through the Holy Spirit such as blessedness, love, goodness, patience, and mercifulness. Incommunicable attributes simply mean that there are attributes that God possesses which are not reflected in us that He alone possesses such as triunity, divine simplicity, eternality, omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence.
Why Should We Pray The Attributes?
Now you may be thinking, “that’s kind of weird. I was never taught to pray to God about who He is. Why would I do such a thing, and in what ways is there benefit?”
Well, before we dive into the benefit, let me speak to the fact that we’ve typically never been taught to pray to God about who He is. I’m afraid that this point, though common, really speaks to our shame that we would think this is somehow odd. I say this because we see this type of prayer modeled for us many times in Scripture, and therefore we shouldn’t find it to be odd. Let me demonstrate with the Lord’s Prayer.
This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil for yours is the kingdom, power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Jesus at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer starts off by saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Jesus begins by praising the Father by naming His attributes. By mentioning that Our Father is in Heaven, Jesus is saying that He is wholly other and that He is holy (that’s what hallowed means). Right after that, Jesus acknowledges the Father’s sovereignty and glory by praying that His kingdom would come on earth as in heaven. If God were not gloriously sovereign, He would have no kingdom. When Jesus asked for the Father to give us this day our daily bread, He is asking that God would be merciful in granting us another day of life and food to eat. The same about forgiving our debts and not being led into temptation. At the end of Jesus prayer, you will notice that it is shaped by the sovereignty, omnipotence, and glory of God. These again, are all attributes of God. Whenever you see that Jesus’ own prayers were built around that attributes of God, it really changes the way you view your own prayers.
I’m sure after viewing the Lord’s Prayer in this light, you can probably recall many other prayers in Scripture that are structured in similar ways. Now then, since we’ve seen that this practice is indeed biblical, let me speak to some of the reasons why we should pray this way.
The first is that it allows us to know God on a deeper and more intimate level. Whenever we pray God’s attributes, it helps us to understand in a greater way who He truly is. It helps to cultivate deeper communion between us and Him. Whenever we’re trying to get to know a person, we grow closer by learning about who that person is. The same is true with God.
A second thing is that it helps us in the fight against selfish prayers. One thing that we can tend to get caught up in is praying in a way that is selfish. This typically looks like constantly asking for stuff rather than glorying in and finding joy in who God is for us in Christ. Whenever we pray to God and glorify Him for who He is, the attention rightly shifts away from us to Him.
A third thing that it helps us with is that it gives us a systematic way to pray. Many times, we go into prayer without a plan. Learning to pray the attributes of God gives us a system that can keep us grounded, and systems are helpful in keeping at things.
The Attributes of God
So then, if we could gather together a list of the attributes, what would it consist of? I really like the list that Mark Jones uses in his book titled God Is: A Devotional Guide To The Attributes of God.
- God is Triune
- God is Simple
- God is Spirit
- God is Infinite
- God is Eternal
- God is Unchangeable
- God is Independent
- God is Omnipresent
- God is Omniscient
- God is Omnipotent
- God is Yahweh
- God is Blessed
- God is Glorious
- God is Majestic
- God is Sovereign
- God is Love
- God is Good
- God is Patient
- God is Merciful
- God is Wise
- God is Holy
- God is Faithful
- God is Gracious
- God is Just
- God is Angry
- God is Anthropomorphic
How To Pray The Attributes
This is my personal approach to praying the attributes. The thing that I really enjoy about the list that Jones has provided us with a list of both communicable and incommunicable attributes, and it nearly spans a month if you wanted to pick one attribute per day to pray through.
So then, if we were to start today to pray through this list of attributes, what would it look like practically? Here’s an example of what it would look like to pray to God about His Triune nature.
“God, I thank you that the Scriptures teach us about your Triunity. In learning this attribute, we can come to know you deeper, and for that we are thankful. And God, we thank you that among the Godhead, there is unbroken communion between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are thankful Father that you have loved the Son and sent Him to ransom us from our sins, and we thank you that you have sent the Spirit to indwell us and to live among us. Amen.”
Or perhaps, offer up a Triune prayer like this:
“God, I am thankful today for your Triune nature. Father, thank you for loving me and setting your sights on me from before the Foundations of the World. Jesus, thank you for taking on flesh, and bearing my sins upon the Cross at Calvary. Holy Spirit, thank you for indwelling me and leading me into all truth. Amen.”
Not too hard is it? We are just praying to God about who He is. That’s just a couple of ways that you can pray the incommunicable attribute of God’s Triunity. But, what about the communicable attributes? This is the way that I would approach it.
“Lord, I thank you that you have been merciful to me. You have mercifully sought me while I was yet a sinner, and not only did you seek me out, but you also bought me. So Lord, in light of that, would you help me to be merciful to others? Would you help me to imitate you in that way to the people you have put in my life? I pray this prayer in Jesus name. Amen.”
Here, we are praying about the Mercy of God. And, also, notice how I shaped the prayer to glorify God for His Mercy, and then asked that He would make us merciful. Why did I do that with this prayer and not the others? Again, this has to do with some attributes being communicable and incommunicable. We cannot become Triune, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can become merciful.
That’s all for now. I pray that this is helpful and feel free to leave any feedback in the comment section below!