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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Preached At:Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church
 London, Ontario
Title:A Humble Prayer to the Glorious Father
Text:LD 46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Glory of the Father

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 68:3,12                                                                                    

Reading – Psalm 103

Psalm 103:1,2,4,5,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 46

Hymn 72:1,2,3,4,5

Hymn 1

Hymn 83:1,2
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters, have you ever looked at a little child and wondered what was going on inside his or her head? “What is he thinking right now?” many a parent has been curious to know. Because a three year-old, a toddler, even an infant, can look at the world with such wide and somehow comprehending eyes. Just what do they think of all they see?

            It seems a young child takes a very straightforward view of the people and things around him. And all the more so when he look at his parents: he looks at them with a firm and unquestioning confidence. In the eyes of a little child, there’s not much that Mom and Dad can’t do. They’ll take care of things just fine. And that’s a healthy attitude to have. It’s part of the blessing of a secure home, and a stable family life—there’s this confidence in Mom and Dad, a confidence that allows a child to grow and develop like he’s supposed to.

            This same child-like attitude is the kind God wants us to have toward Him. We need to look at God through the eyes of a child, the eyes of a child who trusts fully, and who expects great things from the Father. This attitude of humility toward the Father is vital anytime, and particularly when we pray. See how the Catechism puts it: “Why has Christ commanded us to address God as our Father?” And the answer: “To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer that childlike reverence and trust toward God which should be basic to our prayer” (Q&A 120). That’s a good choice of words: “to awaken in us” that childlike attitude.

For sometimes we forget how close our Father is. Sometimes we take for granted his care and provision. And surely this attitude affects our prayers. Don’t we sometimes pray like we’re on autopilot: saying the same words and phrases every time, and wondering if our prayers make a difference? And after a while, we could become ignorant of what prayer actually is. There might even come times when we stop praying altogether.

This means we need to be awakened—again and again—to an amazing reality: God is Father! The living God has claimed you as his own child in Jesus Christ. The faithful God will always hear your voice. And this God wants you to be his humbly obedient son and daughter, in prayer and in all of life. That’s our theme from Lord’s Day 46,

            In humble prayer let us call upon our heavenly Father:

1)     His majesty is heavenly

2)     His care is fatherly

3)     Our expectations are great

1)     His majesty is heavenly: Probably very few of us have ever met our Queen. But if you have received the opportunity, you’ll know it’s not an event to be trifled with. Apparently there’s quite a protocol involved when meeting Queen Elizabeth II: there’s a bow or a curtsy that you have to do; you have to refer to her as “Your Majesty;” you must not talk to her unless she addresses you first. And whatever you do, don’t touch her!

            We might think all that pomp and protocol is a little over the top. And yet these rules serve a valuable purpose. They highlight her special character and emphasize her royal position. It’s impossible to be in her presence, and to forget that she is the Queen!

            That kind of reverence isn’t so different from the way we must approach our God in prayer. No, we don’t get hung up on outward ceremony when drawing near to the LORD. Ever since the finished sacrifice of Christ, we can approach God freely, “with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:22). And yet there’s a subtle danger here. One of the most dangerous things we can do as believers is to lower the LORD to our level, to make him a little more human, and a little less God.

Now, it’s hard to say when and how this happens exactly. But do we honestly stand in awe of who God is, as the Creator of heaven and earth, as the Triune God, as our Saviour and Lord? Do we have a sense of his holiness, the same holiness that Moses and Isaiah realized so long ago? Or do we like to think of God in our own terms? Do we think of God as little more than a super-powered friend? As someone akin to an all-knowing guidance counselor, or just a good-natured grandparent?

Such thinking dishonours our God. The LORD is fiercely jealous for his reputation, his well-deserved renown. If we lower him at all, we profane his Name! What’s more, we deprive ourselves of rich comfort. Put it this way: If God is nothing special, just a little better than a human, is He really so able to help? If He merely provides a service that others can, why shouldn’t we go somewhere else?

It’s with good reason that Christ commands us to address God—as our Father, yes—but as our Father in heaven. This is at once a powerful reminder of who God is, where He dwells, and the majesty He has. The God we pray to is a heavenly God!

            When we look at Scripture, this is something that comes across time and again. Earlier we read from Psalm 103. This is a psalm described by some as a “hymn of God’s love and compassion toward his people.” That’s certainly true, but there’s something else that must come first. Psalm 103 is firstly about God’s greatness in Himself; it’s about his greatness as Lord and Maker of all things. We read it in verse 19, “The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” David would have us look up, for that’s where God is, and that’s where God reigns: in heaven above.

That’s nothing new for those brought up with the Bible. If you ask a child about heaven, she’ll probably point up to the clouds: “Sure, that’s where God lives: in heaven.” We smile at the simplicity of children, yet we struggle to understand what this means. Part of the problem is defining what or where this “heaven” is. For it’s not the same as you can say for Queen Elizabeth II: “Her throne is in Buckingham Palace, London, England.” You could even find directions to her palace on Google Maps, and you could point, “That’s where Her Majesty lives.” But with God and his throne, there can be no such precision.

This is something that’s often been misunderstood about heaven. The story is told about the first man in space, a Russian cosmonaut back in the sixties. Once he got up into orbit, he reported back to earth, “Well, I don’t see any God up here.” He was in “heaven,” but he wondered why he didn’t see the Lord!          

To gain real insight into heaven, we have to turn to the Scriptures. It teaches us that

though God makes his dwelling “in heaven,” this doesn’t mean He’s limited to that certain locale, as if He can only be there, and not anywhere else. Think of what Solomon prayed to the LORD, “The heavens, and the heaven of heavens, cannot contain you” (1 Kgs 8:27). God is greater than even the highest heights of creation—greater than the farthest reaches of the universe—for it’s He who called everything into being. The LORD is above all things, He rules all things, and He has all things at his disposal.

That’s also the resounding conclusion at the end of Psalm 103. There David pulls out all the stops in his praise of the LORD. He calls on creation to bow before the majesty of God. And he begins with heaven, calling on those heavenly servants of the King, “Bless the LORD, you his angels, who excel in strength, who do his word, heeding the voice of his word” (v 20). David pictures the heavenly throne room: God, surrounded by those most powerful creatures. These are the mighty angels that worship him day and night. These are the heavenly hosts that faithfully carry out his will on the earth: bringing messages, defending his people, moving the nations and rulers of men.  

That God is in heaven then, speaks not of a precise location. Rather, it tells us how majestic and powerful our God really is. God is Father, yet He’s far greater than anything here on earth—He is heavenly in his ability and strength. From his throne, He rules all of creation. He speaks, and the sky pours down rain. He speaks, and the earth quakes. He issues his commands, and they’re done at once. This is why some people still cry out in times of trouble, “Heaven help us!” For there’s an understanding that “heaven” can help. There’s a faith that the One “up in heaven above” can really do all things.

And here some of that childlike simplicity can be good. For children just accept that heaven is there. Though they haven’t seen it, they knowit. They know what God in heaven can do, and they don’t doubt it for a second. And when we pray, we must do so in that same childlike way: just trusting. We pray, standing in awe of his glory. We pray, being confident that the unseen God in heaven is our Father indeed.

2) His care is fatherly: In many ways, the Lord’s Prayer echoes the petitions of the Old Testament saints. This is true, also when it comes to the address of the Prayer: Jesus teaches us to call on God as “Father.” For already in the Old Testament, God revealed himself as Father. God has long spoken to his people about his fatherly character, and about his fatherly deeds. For just as a human father has his part in producing the new life of a child, so God as Father has brought forth every living thing. Moses says to Israel in Deuteronomy 32:6, “Is [God] not your Father...? Has He not made you and established you?” The Israelites owed their very existence to the LORD. They were his family, his children!

Likewise, Isaiah confesses in 64:8, “Now, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you our potter, and we are all the work of your hand.” Because He made us, the Father is free to do with us what He pleases. He is free to mold us, to form us after his will.

And just like a strong and caring father, God will never refuse to help his little ones along. God’s people have always experienced this, that God is willing to carry us, even in all our weakness and our smallness. Beloved, sometimes we’re too tired to go further. Sometimes too scared to open our eyes. Sometimes we’re too confused to know which way to turn. But God the Father is there with his gentle and powerful hands.

Moses reminds the Israelites, “You saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place” (Deut 1:31). God carried the Israelites through the wilderness for forty years. Carried them to victory; carried them to safety; carried them home. And in the same way, the Father will always carry us, in love and power and mercy. That’s his promise.

Being a father isn’t all so heart-warming, of course. For children are wayward and sinful. Children need correction. But God’s people can know that even when He disciplines us, He’s doing it in love, He’s doing it to teach us and to shape us. “Do not despise the chastening of the LORD… for whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Prov 3:12). It’s because He cares so much, that God is willing to give us the hard rebuke, to administer the painful correction! So it has always been.

            And then there’s that beautiful text in Psalm 103, “As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him” (v 13). Strong-willed and stubborn, God’s people always want to go our own way. We make wrong choices and selfish decisions, even if it means terrible results. We reject the Father’s guidance, though it means hurting the one who cares the most. Yet God, our Father, relentlessly shows us compassion. He pities those who fear him! That verse in Psalm 103 comes as a climax to that long description of who God is and what He does. Who is God? God is our gracious Father, a Father “who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercies” (vv 3-4).

Doesn’t that begin to remind you of the parable Jesus told, about the prodigal son? Remember the gracious father who took back his wayward son, even after he’d scorned everything his father stood for, after he’d wasted his inheritance in wicked living? Even then, the father forgave his sins, redeemed his life, and crowned his son with love and compassion. Already the Old Testament saints knew this God, and knew him very well. For if God hadn’t been a Father to them, how lost they would’ve been. Orphans in the desert! Abandoned by the roadside! They knew that God was Father.

Yet we need to say more. For if you compare how seldom “Father” occurs as a name for God in the Old Testament, to how often it does in the New, you might be very surprised. In fact, throughout the Old Testament, God is addressed directly as Father just once or twice. The Israelites knew that the LORD was kind, and strong, and patient, and wise—even as a godly father would be—yet from their perspective, there remained a formidable distance, a distance between them and the heavenly God.

            And, in a sense, the Israelites were right. Even with their sins atoned for by those animal sacrifices, they needed to tremble before the LORD. But then came a marvelous change in Christ. Then, says the apostle Paul, “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his Son… to redeem those under law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5).

“God sent forth his Son.” Christ, the true Son of God, lived in full obedience to his Father. He was faithful, even unto death! And God was well-pleased with him—so pleased that for his sake the Father could welcome us back to himself, could embrace us, his long-lost prodigal sons and daughters. Now, as the Catechism puts it, “God has become our Father through Christ” (Q&A 120). As God was in the Old Testament, so He is today—and even so much more!

Jesus showed us what kind of heavenly Father we have. As God’s Son, He understood what the Father was capable of, He experienced how much love filled the Father’s heart. For this reason, Jesus loved his Father, and intensely trusted his Father. That’s why even as He suffered in the Garden, desperate in his longing for support and help, Jesus turned to the God He knew so well. There He prayed “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you” (Mk 14:36).

As you probably know, “Abba” is an Aramaic word for “father.” In fact, this was the word often spoken by young children of that time; it’s similar to how a child today might call their parents “Daddy” or “Mummy.” Full of respect and reverence, yet in full confidence, Jesus prayed to his “Abba,” his Father.

We said it would’ve been shocking for the Jews to address God as “Father” in prayer. But to call God “Abba” was unthinkable! It was simply too familiar, too ordinary, too near to the glorious and holy God. Yet Jesus, the Son of God, does this very thing—He calls on the Father He knows so well. And now we may call on God in the same way. “Teach us to pray,” the disciples asked. And Jesus did. He taught them, and He teaches us, to pray like this, “Our Father who is in heaven.” Jesus taught them, and He teaches us, to pray like this, “‘Abba, Father! Father, everything is possible for you.”

And when we pray like this, God will show us abundant mercy. He’ll show us mercy, because the Father understands just how frail and weak we are. Parents are often good at that. They know their kids so well, that they can see in an instant when they’re tired, when they’ve had a rough day, when they’re feeling sick, or out of sorts. And so parents will try to cut them a little slack. They’ll give that extra hug, that word of affirmation. They’ll try make things better. 

All the more so with God our Father. He sees our weakness from a mile away. He knows exactly where we’re from, precisely the things we’ve gone through. And He treats us with that fatherly care: “As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him, for He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Ps 103:13-14).

Isn’t it so good to know that when we pray? Isn’t it so good to know that, even when we’re not praying, but just going through every day? The Father knows our humble frame. The Father understands what we need, even better than we know it ourselves. He pities us. He cares for us. He wants to makes things better—and He will!

Beloved, what is our response to his fatherly care? It ought to be a deep and unrelenting thankfulness. That’s always a good attitude for children: to be grateful for what they receive. Because children don’t deserve anything. And they lack the means to pay all those things back: everything from housing to clothing to education to daily bread, to all those extras like vacations and birthday presents. None of it is merited, and all of it is given freely! So it’s fitting that children be humble, that they understand how dependent they are, that they respond to their parents with appreciation and thanks.

Why, there’s something very unpleasant about ungrateful children, those who don’t appreciate what they’ve been given. They act like they’re entitled to it, like they’ve earned it. And we’re not trying to pick on the little ones! For we ourselves are children, children of the Father, those given more than we ever deserved. Yet we struggle to be thankful, don’t we?

For even after being on the receiving end of the Father’s generosity, even after having our prayers answered, even after being promised a glorious inheritance in Christ, we’ll still complain about all the things we don’t have. Isn’t it true that we’re quickly done with our “gratitude,” and back onto the theme of our “needs”? So often, we act as if we’re entitled to all this and more. Instead, let us pray to the Father every day in a grateful humility. “Father, I thank you for everything that you have given. You are compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. So let me never tire of thanking you! Let me never tire of showing you my thanks!”

3) Our expectations are great: It’s been said before that some believers have a hard time looking to God as Father. It’s hard, precisely because of what their earthly fathers were like. No father is perfect, yet some have suffered much from an un-loving father, an un-godly father, even an abusive father. Scripture doesn’t hide the fact that even the holiest blundered badly in their role. Think of Noah, Abraham, and David. They set poor examples as fathers, they showed favoritism, they were lax in discipline, and they paid the price. Such failures are true of the godly men of Scripture, and certainly also of us.

How then, it’s wondered, can any of us look in childlike trust to God as Father? “God is Father?” some poor soul might ask. “That means He won’t greet me very often with kindness. That means He’ll only teach me his bad habits. That means this Father might even fail me when I need him the most.” Again, all of us could look at our earthly fathers, and point out many failings. But this cannot—this must not—make us think any less of God the Father. For then we have it backwards. Our earthly fathers are not examples of God the Father in heaven; God the Father must be an example for them! This is at once the high calling for every father in this church today: As God the Father is, so you must be!
And here also is the rich comfort of our faith in God. In the words of David in Psalm 27, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take care of me” (v 10). No matter what earthly securities of ours fall away, no matter what personal supports prove to be unreliable, no matter how alone we become, our heavenly Father will always take care of us: in love, in kindness, in perfect understanding.

            For if our heavenly God is so great and so caring, what is there that He won’t provide? It’s just a few words that Jesus teaches us to pray, yet they’re loaded with meaning: “These words teach us… to expect from his almighty power all things we need for body and soul” (Q&A 121). Those are great expectations!

It’s the expectation running through Psalm 103. David knows that it’s true: “The mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him” (v 17). For as long as we need it, even into eternity, the Father will love us as his very own! So as we lay our lives before Him, let us be awakened again and again to this reality: the almighty and heavenly God has become our Father in Jesus Christ!

Our Father has eyes to see us, ears to hear us, a mouth to teach us, and hands to help us. Our Father is very near, and He is strong to save. Our Father wants to hear our childlike prayers, however small or however simple they might be. And our Father will never ignore us when we call on his Name! Amen. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2011, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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