O God the Father of heaven, have mercy upon us miserable sinners.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy upon us miserable sinners.
O God the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, have mercy upon us miserable sinners.
O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three persons and one God, have mercy upon us miserable sinners.
Romans 8: 14–17, 26–30
Adoption creates reality.
This truth hit me in a new way a few years ago. I had just wrapped up teaching a class on systematic theology for a seminary in Uganda and had a few days to kill before the college ministry from my church would be joining me for their short-term mission trip. So I texted Richard. I’ve known Richard since we were teenagers. We’ve traversed the four corners of Uganda doing ministry together. We’ve spent hours upon hours on busses. We’ve gotten stuck in the mud. We’ve stayed in palatial homes with more rooms than you can count on both hands and homes that consist of just one room with a dirt floor. We’ve faced rainstorms of biblical proportions. More importantly, we’ve had deep conversations about family, ministry, and vocation together. In fact, Richard was there when I first fell in love with the woman who would become my wife! It’s safe to say that we are good friends.
As soon as Richard picked me up that morning we started to catch up—it felt like the conversation picked up right from where we left of the last time I was in Uganda. We had lunch near Entebbe airport, visited a museum, and even went to the Zoo. It was the first time he had ever gone! After a long day of fun—and sitting in Kampala’s horrendous traffic—Richard drove me back to his home for dinner. I was excited to see his family. I was also present when Richard fell in love with the woman who would become his wife! (I guess there’s just something about short term mission trips!) As I walked into his house he announced: “Hey girls! Uncle Chris is here!” My eyes grew wide. “Uncle Chris?” When did I become an uncle?
You see, Richard was adopted when he was a teenager. He was on his own at a young age so a mentor of mine “adopted” him; helping him pay for school, living costs, and making sure that he was receiving the care he needed to flourish on his own. Because his adopted father was my mentor, he saw me as family. That meant that when he had kids I became their family too. Once on his own, Richard now had a “father,” a “mother, “siblings,” even “cousins.” His ever-growing family was a new reality for him. Being adopted created a new reality for him.
Being adopted into God’s family creates a new reality for us too. But what was the old reality we once lived in? What is this new reality we are called into? And what does any of this have to do with prayer?
The Bible tells us that we were once God’s enemies (Rom 5:10, Col 1:21), alienated from him (Col 1:21) and following the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph 2:2). In other words, we were sinners.
Our situation, to say the least, was quite miserable. The tradition that I find myself in has had some colorful things to say about this miserable state. For example, it doesn’t shy away from calling us “worms.” John Calvin extols the value of remembering our worm-iness by citing Job 25:6: “Man is far from being justified before God, man who is rottenness and a worm.” Isaac Watts has us singing, “Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” Jonathan Edwards just flat out says we are “vile and loathsome worms of the dust.” We should never forget that we are made in image of God, given common grace to flourish. We should remember that God’s creation—including us—is good because it is God. But, it’s also appropriate to remember the dire straits we were in apart from his salvation. Paul reminds us of this, saying “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
The good news though is that we have been reconciled to God! We have been justified by Christ’s blood and saved from God’s wrath (Rom 5:9, 11). Of course, being reconciled to God doesn’t mean that mean that we do not feel the weight of our ongoing sin. We are at once sinners and justified! On some days we feel the joy of our justification. What a glorious thing to know that we are right with God! But on other days—I’m sure you can think of a few—the weight of your sin feels heavy. It drags you down. It consumes you. It makes you wonder how you could even call yourself a Christian. The words of the Litany ring true: I’m a miserable sinner.
But you are more than a miserable sinner. You are an adopted child of God.
Millard Erickson writes that “Through adoption we are restored to the relationship with God that humans once had but lost.” Adoption changes the reality of your status before God. You go from sinner to son. It also changes how you see yourself before God. As a child of God you are the object of God’s fatherly care. Remembering this new reality can change your self-perception.
Adoption isn’t simply a gift of God in some generic sort of way though. Adoption is specifically a gift from the Triune God. In Ephesians Paul says that the Father chose us to be adopted according to his pleasure and will (Eph 1:5). It was through the Son’s life and death that we are brought into sonship, sharing in his own Sonship (Eph 1:6, 7). Finally, our adoption is sealed, and our inheritance is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13,14).
But what does the reality of adoption have to do with prayer? Adoption, which is a gift from the Trinity, is also the foundation of our prayers. How so? Each person of the Trinity is involved in our prayers.
God the Father hears our prayers. If our Father who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the fields cares for these things, how much more does he care for you, a child of God made in his image? You are the recipient of the Father’s care. The Father of heaven can “meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).
God the Son is your advocate. Thomas Boston wrote that our sin has “set us at a distance from God, and has bolted the door of our access to him.” Because of our sin “there is no immediate access to God.” How miserable we would be if that were the end of the story! Thankfully it’s not the end. As adopted children we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. (Rom 8:17) In Christ we have an advocate who mediates on our behalf. Christ sits at the right hand of God interceding for us. As a child of God, every prayer you have ever prayed for has gone through the Son to the Father. As Boston said, “There is never a petition but what is presented by him.” Christ, the Redeemer of the World, gives you access to God the Father.
The Holy Spirit, is intimately involved in your prayers. The Spirit testifies with your spirit that you are God’s child and an heir of Christ. The Spirit empowers you to cry out to your Father in prayer. When you do not feel like praying, he works in you to draw your heart towards the Father. When you do not know what to pray, the Spirit teaches you what to pray for. The Spirit brings to mind the needs of others. The Spirit brings to mind Scriptures to pray through. When your heart doesn’t feel like it is in the right place, when you are consumed by the feeling of being a miserable sinner, the Spirit gives you the faith, the fervency, and humility to cry out “Abba, Father,” in confidence. The Spirit, says Boston, “teaches and quickens, puts us in a praying frame, and draws our petition, as it were, which the Mediator presents.”
Even though we might be—and feel—like miserable sinners this truth remains: God the Father of heaven hears our prayers. God the Son, redeemer of the world, is our advocate in prayer. God, the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, teaches, empowers, and gives us confidence to pray. The holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity hears our prayers because we have been adopted.
God has promised us grace, not just for the beginning or the major moments of our Christian life but for every ordinary part of it. God doesn’t just offer to give us grace when we pray. Prayer itself is a gift of grace of the Triune God. The very fact that at any moment—whether stuck on the freeway, sitting at our kids’ soccer practice, or sitting next to a loved one on their hospital bed—we can pray to the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit as sons and sinners is evidence of God’s grace to us in the mundane.