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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Preached At:Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church
 London, Ontario
 www.londoncanrc.org
 
Title:A Good Ending to Prayer
Text:LD 52 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2011
Added:2013-08-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 106:1,23                                                                                              

Reading – Psalm 41; Psalm 147

Psalm 41:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 52, Q&A 128-129

Psalm 147:1,4,6

Hymn 8 [after Apostles’ Creed]

Hymn 78:1,3,5
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, back in Lord’s Day 46 we considered the beginning of our prayers. And at that time, we spoke of the need to begin our prayers well, to begin any conversation with God in the right attitude of spirit. We call on him as Father, as heavenly Father, because this “[awakens] in us at the very beginning… that childlike reverence and trust toward God which should be basic to our prayer.” Like those first, opening notes of a song, the address sets the whole tone for our prayer. The opening says a lot about where we’re going in this conversation with the LORD.

But what about the ending? “How do you conclude your prayer?” (Q&A 128). Are we perhaps losing our focus by the end, getting tired of this conversation, wanting to get on with whatever’s next in our busy day? Are we maybe even falling asleep as we conclude our prayer? It seems that it’s so easy to end our prayers by just tailing off, tacking on some empty phrases, and getting to that last word “Amen.” You could say that many prayers end with a whimper, and not a bang.

So is it important, the conclusion of our dialogue with the Father? Is this something we need to be concerned with, that we offer weighty and meaningful words to God, right from beginning, even to the very end of our prayer? Well, to ask the question is to answer it. Is the ending of our prayers important? Of course it is! Because we know that every wordenters the heavenly throne room. For the sake of Jesus Christ, every word is heard, and every word is considered.

The ending says a lot—even as much as the beginning. And so at the end of our prayer, it’s only fitting that we offer yet more praise for the heavenly God. At the end, it’s only proper that we express one more time our confidence in the faithful Father. In this good spirit, with these final notes lingering in our minds, we can leave this particular prayer aside, and we can carry on with other things for a time. That’s the lesson of the doxology and “Amen” of the Lord’s Prayer, summarized in Lord’s Day 52,

            Let’s end our prayers to the Father with praise and confidence:

1)     “Praise the LORD!”

2)     “Amen and Amen!”
 

1) “Praise the LORD”: Each one of us, I’m sure, has heard many times that the chief purpose of our lives here on earth is to glorify the Triune God. That’s a “given,” that we must bring God praise and honour by the way we think, and the words we speak, and how we behave each and every day. Well, perhaps it’s obvious, but this purpose means that also our daily prayers must glorify the Lord.

You could say it this way: We’re called to pray in the same way that we live, in humble adoration of our God in heaven. Remember, that’s how we were taught to begin our prayers, with the petition: “Hallowed be your Name.” That is, we pray every day, “Father, be glorified in and through me, your little child. Be glorified in my life—in my family, in my church, in my office and calling, in all my thoughts, words and deeds.”

And indeed, that’s how we’re also taught to end our prayers, with that beautiful statement called the doxology: “For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.” The “two bookends” of the perfect prayer are praise and worship.

We finish with a doxology. A doxology, you might know, is a brief formula (or statement) of praise. Maybe the most well-known doxology is that of our Hymn 8, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow/ Praise Him, all creatures here below/ Praise Him above, ye heavenly host/ Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” But doxologies aren’t unique to the hymnbooks of the New Testament church. For centuries God’s covenant people have been offering up these short but sublime declarations of his greatness. Look at the one right at the end of Psalm 41, “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting” (v 13). That’s a marvelous doxology!

There’s also one that brackets Psalm 147, placed at the beginning and at the end, a simple cry of worship: “Praise the LORD!” Some older English translations just include what’s literally written there in Hebrew: “Hallelujah.” That’s a one-word doxology, recognizable the whole world over, in almost every language. Why, even at the end of ages, they’ll still be singing “Hallelujah,” like those heavenly multitudes we hear in Revelation: “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!” (19:6).
            Psalm 147 is actually from a majestic five-part doxology, located at the conclusion of the book of Psalms. For every Psalm from 146 to 150 is marked by those opening and closing cries of “Praise the Lord.” It’s a grand finale of praise, a crescendo of devotion. And what a perfect way to finish! The Psalms are very diverse, speaking of so many different circumstances in the lives of God’s children. In the Psalms, there is great joy. There is deep thankfulness. There is quiet trust. But there is also sorrow, and fear, and guilt.

By the time you get to Psalm 150, you’ve covered a lot of ground indeed. Yet there’s one thing that’s been the same throughout. And that is the LORD: his faithfulness, his power, his love, his justice, his steadfast mercy. In every Psalm, it always comes back to him. For God’s people, He’s always that rock of refuge, that tower of strength, those sheltering wings. So what better thing to do at the very end, than to offer up five separate Psalms that are jam-packed with praise for his Name?

Like the Psalmist instructs us in verse 1 of Psalm 147, “It is good to sing praises to our God” (v 1). So also as we conclude our prayers from day to day, it’s fitting that we stand back for a moment, and that we let all the attention fall on God. May He be sincerely praised! May He be joyfully adored! May He be profusely thanked! May our God be recognized for who He is—the one who delights in the worship of his people. 

This is so good to do, also because we can easily get side-tracked or unfocused when in the presence of God. While praying, our minds are inclined to wander here and there and everywhere. For example, we might start dwelling on those sins we’ve just confessed. We might start admiring those things we’ve given thanks for: our nice possessions, our position in life, our promising future. Or as we pray, we might start getting worked up again over all those things that burden our hearts.

Why, this is probably the greatest danger for our personal prayers, that they become self-centred, and directed inward. The danger is that a time of private prayer simply becomes a time of random thinking about various things. But Scripture reminds us that true prayer is communing with God himself; true prayer is calling upon our covenant LORD. So we have to keep re-setting the mood, re-pointing our prayers in the proper direction. We have to keep the spotlight shining on the right person. It’s not about us—it’s about the LORD God. And the doxology is wonderful way to do that; we say “For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.”

Let’s take notice of that connecting word “for.” It’s a small word, but it’s very telling. It tells us we’re not just tacking on a compliment because we have to. Praise isn’t an after-thought. Rather, the doxology comes as an unbreakable link in the chain of prayer. The adoration we bring has everything to do with all those matters we’ve just brought before the Lord.

The Catechism explains the doxology in this way, “All this we ask of you because, as our King, [you have] power over all things” (Q&A 128). This is what we should confess whenever we talk with the Lord: we acknowledge his majesty and dominion! We humbly say it with Psalm 147, “He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; his understanding is infinite” (vv 4-5).

            But that’s something we need to see, again and again: God’s greatness, and our smallness. We might feel we’re in control of things, even when we pray. We might think we already have all the needed strength and ability for this day’s work and struggle—we’re just praying for a bit of added insurance. But then we’ve forgotten just how perfect is his strength.

            Just look at everything that He does in Psalm 147. “He sends out His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly. He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes; He casts out His hail like morsels… He sends out His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow, and the waters flow” (vv 15-18). He’s the God of all creation, in charge of every season, director of every event and every circumstance and every moment.

            So is it really surprising that we can’t do anything without Him? Should it come as a shock that we’re helpless without his help? Even if we won’t acknowledge it as we should, we depend completely on his daily blessing. We need his ever-present power. And the amazing thing is that He promises these very things! For this is his promise in Jesus Christ, “The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy” (v 11). God takes thought for us, his little children. The heavenly Father makes use of his perfect ability and authority; He brings these things to bear in our lives, in order “to give us all that is good” (Q&A 128).

The doxology reminds us again that God is so much greater than anything here on earth: He is greater than all our troubles, He is bigger than all our obstacles, He is stronger than all our foes and fears. So we can go to Him, and never be disappointed! “All this we ask of you because, as our King, [you have] power over all things.” This is the great mercy of our God, that we’ve been given the privilege of having direct access to Him through the never-failing channel of prayer. This is our immense privilege, to have a covenant with the LORD God through his Son.

What then must fill our prayers? What must be the abiding tone and the recurring theme? It must be praise and worship for God! Whenever we draw near to God, this must be our holy habit, that we offer up to Him a ceaseless doxology, “For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful” (v 1).

So make use of the Psalms when you pray, beloved; use their inspired words for your own doxologies to the Father and to the Son. Have open eyes for what God has done and is doing, each and every day of your life—and then bring it before Him in thanksgiving. Let your every reading from Scripture inspire a new chorus of praise: glorify God for all his words and works, from the ancient days unto today. Echo the words of Psalm 147, “Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!” (v 12).

2) “Amen and Amen”: Sometimes, it’s true, we forget to praise God with our prayers. Yet I’m sure that very few of us ever forget that final word: “Amen.” That’s the first word many little children learn when they start praying at mealtime: “Amen.” Unless we doze off before we pray it, “Amen” is rarely missing.

Which would be great, if “Amen” was a magic word, a special word that suddenly gave our prayers their power and punch. But it’s not. In a sense, “amen” is just a word. And as with any word, we can say it all we want—like “sorry” or “thanks”—but if we don’t really mean it, it’s not worth much at all.

So when Jesus taught us to end with “Amen,” He was teaching us more than a way to announce that we’re done. For it’s a word that describes constancy and dependability. In prayer, it expresses our confidence in God: “Amen,” we say, “It is true and certain” (Q&A 129). What Jesus teaches us is an attitude, that we pray to the Father in full assurance.

That is, whenever we offer up our petitions, we can do so in the confidence that God will hear us—even that our God will answer! Now, that’s nothing new; it’s something we’ve all heard before. But it has consequences, beloved. It means we shouldn’t pray, just because that’s what’s expected. We shouldn’t pray, just because that’s what we’ve always done. We shouldn’t pray, if we don’t really believe our prayers will ascend into the throne-room of God.

Rather, when we pray, we have to do it, believing in the God who hears our prayers. We must do it, believing that “God has much more certainly heard my prayer than I feel in my heart” (Q&A 129). Think of what James says of the righteous man’s prayer: “Let him ask in faith, with no doubting” (1:6). Not doubting God, but firmly believing him—that’s the only way to pray. And when we do pray in faith, that “Amen” is more than just a word. In a beautiful way, it expresses our confidence in God. We say it with force, with conviction, with meaning: “Amen. It is true and certain!”

This is the way that Psalm 41 ends. Actually, it first has that nice doxology—“Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting!—which is followed with that double declaration of confidence: “Amen and Amen” (v 13). It’s interesting that what we see in this verse is one the “seams” or “joints” of the Psalter. It’s probable that at some point in Israel’s past, an editor came long and compiled all the Psalms together: those of David, those of Asaph, those of the sons of Korah, and so on. And this scribe put the Psalms into five separate books, probably meant to correspond to the five books of Moses. Psalms 1 to 41 is considered one book, 42 to 72 is another, 73 to 89 another, 90 to 106 a fourth book, and 107 to 150 the last.

And except for the last, each of the five books ends in this way (like Psalm 41), with a statement of confidence in God, “Amen and Amen.” It’s like each book of the Psalter ends with the worshiper wanting to underline everything that’s been said in the preceding of Psalms: “It is true and certain.” “Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise”—Amen to that! “Splendour and majesty go before him”—Amen to that! “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; his love endures forever”—Amen to that! At the end of each section of the Psalms, all the praise gets turned up, echoed and amplified with a double-affirmation: “Amen and Amen.”

Maybe you’ve heard about those churches in the southern U.S. where this kind of thing happens. The preacher will be telling his congregation about the love and the wonders of God, and from time to time they’ll break out with spontaneous “Amens” and even some “Hallelujahs!” It’s a way of declaring their agreement, their confidence, their faith in what’s been said.

Now, maybe that’s not our style when we pray or when we worship. Yet we shouldn’t overlook the example of the people of Israel when they assembled for worship, like it’s recorded in Nehemiah. Hearing about their God; remembering his great deeds; being assured of his constant grace—the people answered with an “Amen and Amen!” and they praised the Lord. “These things are true and certain!” they declared, “This God is our God!”

And the application for us is clear. Having seen our God’s glory in the creation and in the Word and in our own lives; having learned of his faithfulness; having experienced his daily grace in Jesus Christ, we simply cannot be half-hearted when we pray! Our prayers shouldn’t ever feeble or indifferent or insincere.

Yet we know that this happens. Even Christians who firmly believe in the power of prayer, sometimes give up praying too quickly. Say there’s a need in the congregation, or there’s a concern about what’s going on in this world. If we truly pray with confidence, we shouldn’t just mention something once in prayer, and then no more—no, we should continually bring it before the LORD, believing that He hears us. Or if there’s an especially broken situation in the church, sometimes we pray, but not with a lot of hope or expectation. “Too bad it won’t make any difference at all,” we say. “It’s an impossible situation. I’ll pray, but I’d be really surprised if anything changes.”

Beloved, let’s remember—and apply it—that we offer our prayers to the God who hears and who answers. When we recognize the greatness of God in the Word and in the world, then we’ll be confident when we pray. Confident: He can heal the sick! Confident: He can forgive our sins! Confident: He can provide for our needs! Confident: He can increase the church! Confident: He can save the lost, and bring back those who stray!

Perhaps God will make us wait. Perhaps his answer will be much different than we expect. Yet we’re confident that our God will never ignore us, and never put us off! Hearing our prayers, God is moved with love, moved with compassion—moved to action. With our “Amen,” and with every word of our prayer, we can speak to our God from the heart. And we do it, says Lord’s Day 45, “[resting] on this firm foundation that, although we do not deserve it, God will certainly hear our prayer for the sake of Christ our Lord.” There’s the key to prayer; there’s the power of prayer. Our Father is able and willing to hear and to answer, because of Jesus Christ.

By ourselves, we’re nothing. By themselves, our words are only letters churned out by our mind. Even propelled by our faith, our prayers would flounder and sink, because our faith is so weak. But God hears us for the sake of Christ. Paul even calls Jesus the “Amen” to our prayers. In 2 Corinthian 1:20 he writes, “All the promises of God in [Jesus Christ] are Yes, and in him [they are] Amen, to the glory of God through us.” That is to say, whatever God has promised to us, He will also grant it because of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Has He promised a knowledge of his will? Yes. Has He promised the complete forgiveness of all your sins? Yes. Has He promised to provide for all your material needs? Yes. Has He promised the sufficient grace for purity, for faith, for service? Yes. Has He promised a place in God’s eternal kingdom? Yes. So ask for it. Ask without doubting. Ask without ceasing.

“No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” This gives our prayers great strength of purpose. This makes our prayers not vain wishes for tomorrow. This makes our prayers not private conversations between “me, myself and I,” with God included every once in a while. But this confidence turns our prayers into holy messages that are sent straight to the throne-room of God.

Beloved, because of Christ, we have no reason to stop praying. We have no reason to neglect prayer. We have no reason to hurry through our prayers, whether at the beginning or the middle or the end of a day. Rather, we have every reason to ask boldly for countless blessings. We have every reason to persistently and confidently petition the Lord—for God has promised us great things in Jesus Christ!

As we end our prayers then, we do so in joyful praise and firm confidence. It is true and certain: This is our God! This is our Saviour! And his love toward us will remain forever. Yes, we say it with David, “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and 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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