I love to take pictures, and the recent Solar Eclipse in the USA was an unparalleled opportunity.
I purchased a solar filter for my camera, went outside at the beginning of our partial (80%) eclipse, and started shooting. The filter blocked out 99.99 percent of the sun’s light.
Even with all but 1/100 of 1 percent of the power of the sun filtered out, the early pictures looked a lot like this. There was still way too much light coming through the camera.
So I changed the settings on the camera itself to allow even less light through. I reduced the exposure settings, at times by 4 whole stops. Each stop reduces by half the amount of light entering the camera. This was less light than I had ever attempted to take a picture with. Even then, with only .01 percent coming through the solar filter, and a huge portion of that remaining light taken out by the camera settings, enough light remained to take the pictures below . . . If I’m doing my math correctly, less than .001% of the light of the midday sun came through, but was still strong enough to produce these images. . . .
If I had taken off the solar filter and tried to shoot direct pictures of the sun, I would have likely fried my lens and camera and rendered them forever useless, in seconds. I took the pictures with the camera lens pointing toward the sun, but me looking down toward the ground at the moveable flip screen on my Canon DSLR.
Prior to the eclipse we heard endless warnings against looking at the sunlight without protective eyewear. But when the actual eclipse came and I was outside under the midday glare, there was no absolutely no temptation whatsoever to look directly into the sun. It was just too unthinkably bright. Even at the height of the eclipse (with–in our region–80% of the sun blocked by the moon), the piercing light was too intense to even attempt to view.
Our sun is unspeakably powerful . . .
The brightness of our sun gives us a picture of the white hot holiness of God. God is infinite in power, perfection incarnate, indescribable in purity. He is beyond our comprehension, all-knowing, almighty, endless, eternal, unchanging, and above everything we now know or will ever discover.
Yet our sun is entirely too small to serve as a true parallel to the awesomeness of God. It’s only one star. It’s not a particularly bright star, and not a particularly large star. It’s the focal point of one solar system. One of billions of solar systems in our galaxy. Which is one of hundreds of billions of entire galaxies in our universe. (more on this concept in my blog post here). God isn’t just more powerful than all of those trillions of stars combined; He created them–from nothing–and effortlessly oversees and maintains them all.
What are we going to do to impress a God with that kind of holiness, infinite scope and power? How are we going to earn His favor? How impressed will He be with our accomplishments. How will we work hard enough to merit His attention and love?
God is higher above us in intellect and capability than we are above a paramecium. By far. He’s not impressed with our efforts, vanity, or arrogant self-righteousness. Our best works on our best days with our best motives fall endlessly short of His immeasurable standard of perfection.
We can’t try hard enough to impress the God of that magnitude and power. We can’t do enough good, we can’t rely on our morality or accomplishments or money or the accolades and opinions of others. And we certainly can’t ignore Him and pretend we are never going to have to deal with issues of eternity. They are coming. We need someone to save us from our situation. We can’t do it ourselves.
I hated and feared that message when I first heard it many years ago (because I knew it would in a very real way cost me control of the direction of my own life). But I eventually concluded that it was the only one that truly made sense, and gave my life to Christ.
This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. (I John 1:5)
Light–by it’s very nature–dispels darkness. If you turn on a light in a dark room, the light eliminates the darkness. It’s nothing personal; it’s just what happens. . .
Someday we will stand before God in the unfiltered light of God’s purity, holiness, goodness, and power, which will be incalculably brighter than that of our sun. And there will be no protection for us other than the unmerited favor Jesus offers to us.
22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. 23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. (Romans 3:22-25)
Christ did everything needed to make it possible for us to enter a real relationship with God through faith.
We can respond in belief, gratefulness, service, worship, and love, but we dare not take it for granted.
So what does all of this have to do with prayer?
It’s terrifying to come to a more accurate realization of the limitless scope and power of the God we are addressing. The God that created all of those trillions of stars is the God that we are praying to. That’s intimidating. And in one sense it should be. But in another sense it’s truly freeing.
If we take God for granted, or even worse (as I have done so many times), present a shopping list to God–especially a God of this all-encompassing magnitude–we can expect our prayers to feel like they are bouncing back off the ceiling.
But if we start our prayer with a proper perspective–with an awareness of how incredibly undeserving we are, and how infinite and preeminent God is–a very strange thing happens. God sees us on our faces before His feet, then reaches down, picks us up and allows us to interact with Him in a way that feels more like a face to face conversation. He makes us feel like friends instead of subjects cowering before an unapproachable king. I believe that was always the plan . . .
God is lofty enough to warrant treatment as an unapproachable King. But the name he chose for Himself over and over again in the New Testament was Father.
3 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (I John 3:1a)
When Jesus Himself taught the Lord’s prayer, he began with this:
Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy (Matt 6:9, HCSB).
Remember God as Father. . . in heaven, and make sure you realize that God is to be honored and esteemed as holy above everyone and everything else in the universe He created. But start with the concept of Father . . . Remember that from the very first . . . That’s what Jesus seems to be communicating here.
All of this brings us back to a realization that God never hears us because of how great we are, but because of how great He is. He never hears us because of our goodness, but His goodness. Having entered a relationship with God by grace, we don’t have to now earn and keep His ear by works. (This never means that God doesn’t value good works, but simply that they don’t earn us a right relationship with Him). God’s initiative frees us to come before Him confidently and eagerly as dearly loved children. And that knowledge can revoluntionize how you pray.