On Being a Mirror: The Image of God, the Longing for Significance, and the Meaning of Prayer

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John Piper, preaching in 1985, said, “I believe all of you somewhere within your heart want to be the instruments of God’s power, and therefore, even if you don’t feel like it now, there is buried somewhere in your subconscious the longing to be a man or a woman of fervent and effective prayer.”

He explains how he knows this:

The reason I am confident of this is that every one of you is created in God’s image. Each one of you was created to be a conscious mirror of God’s image. You were created to consciously reflect his glory like a mirror of God’s image. Before sin entered the world, I think Adam and Eve had an overwhelming longing to be used by God to image-forth his power and wisdom and love in the world. They wanted to be mirrors of his glory.

And that longing is deep within every person today, but it has been distorted by sin. In a sense, the distortion is only slight; but it is the difference between day and night. It is the difference between wanting to reflect his face and wanting to take his place.

Piper explains the glory and function of a mirror, starting in the Garden:

The glory of a mirror is to put its face to the light and to let that light shine. This is what mirrors are made for. This is the deep longing of the heart. But then sin entered the world and its first manifestation was Adam and Eve’s discontent with being mirrors. They began to want to be their own source of light. They began to feel that mirrors are just glass with a thin black coating of tin and mercury.

They suddenly became conscious of the fact that to be a good mirror you have to turn whichever way the light moves. You can’t be your own master. So they chose to be their own source of light; they turned their brilliant mirror-faces away from God, and now all they can do is block his light and cast a shadow across the world.

But I want you to see that the longing of Adam and Eve to be the light is a distortion of a legitimate longing, namely, to reflect the light. The Bible teaches that everyone since the fall of Adam and Eve is born with these same distorted longings. We come into the world longing to be God. We want the world to revolve around our interests.

We want to decide for ourselves which way to turn our faces. We want people to esteem us and admire us and compliment us. We don’t like the thought of being a mirror which has no beauty except in the thing it reflects. We don’t like the idea of having to turn our face wherever the light wants to go. We want to be our own light. We want to be God.

This comes with our fallen humanity. It is the very essence of sin. If you are honest, you will admit that you have felt this way. But this universal experience of sin is Satan’s distortion of something wonderful. And the wonderful thing is the pure and righteous longing to be used by God to reflect his glory in the world.

It’s not wrong to want to be significant. It’s wrong to want your significance to reside in yourself instead of in the one you reflect. It’s not wrong to want to be important. It’s wrong to want your importance to be in yourself instead of the one you reflect. It’s not wrong to boast, but “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord!”

Concealed deep beneath our pride and our craving for esteem and our love of power and influence is a good thing that has been distorted, namely, the longing to be a mirror of God. To be a mirror of God is the highest honor to which a creature can aspire. And the most ludicrous sight in the world is a created mirror turning away from the light of God and then trying on its own to make a little spark to brighten the shadow it casts on the world.

Piper goes on to apply this to prayer, which is a way we mirror God:

A mirror faces away from itself to its source of light so that it might have some use in the world, and prayer faces away from itself toward God so that it might be of some use in the world.

A mirror is designed to receive light and channel it for the good of others, and prayer is designed to receive grace and channel it for the good of others.

The value of a mirror is not in itself, but in its potential to let something else be seen. And the value of prayer is not in itself, but in its potential to let the power and beauty of God be seen.

A mirror is utterly dependent on the source of light from outside itself, and prayer is the posture of the childlike, utterly dependent on the resources and kindness of the heavenly Father.

So praying is the way we mirror God. And if I am right that each of you, in the image of God, has a deep desire to be a mirror of God, then it is also true that, even if you don’t feel like it now, there is buried somewhere in your subconscious the longing to be a man or a woman of fervent and effective prayer.

You can read the whole sermon here.

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