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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Our Master teaches us how to begin our prayers
Text:LD 46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2014
Added:2014-07-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 29

Hymn 14:1-3

Hymn 63:1

Hymn 1

Hymn 14:9-10

Scripture readings:  Habakkuk 3, Matthew 7:7-11

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 46

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

When you grow up in the Canadian Reformed Churches there are certain things you just don’t notice.  They’re part of our ecclesiastical or spiritual furniture and we don’t pay much attention to them.  But if you didn’t grow up Canadian Reformed and come to our churches later in life, you may notice some of these quirks we have.  These things are not necessarily bad or wrong, they just make us different.  One of those things is the way that many of us begin our prayers.  Have you ever noticed how many of us begin our prayers by telling God what time it is?  “We come at the noon hour of this day.”  “We come at the evening hour of this day.”  It’s a quirky little thing about our prayers and the way we often customarily begin.

What’s important to recognize is that there are different ways that you can begin your prayer.  There is no one set of precise words that we have to use every single time.  Yes, we have the Lord’s Prayer, but Christ didn’t give that to us as a prayer that we have to use every single time we pray.  The Lord’s Prayer is there for us as a model or a pattern to follow.  Certainly if we look at the broad scope of biblical examples of prayer, there is a wide variety in the exact words that believers use.  That’s true both in the Old Testament, before the Lord’s Prayer was given, and in the New Testament, after the Lord’s Prayer was given. 

In prayer, the important thing is not the precise words but the attitude with which we pray.  It’s how we approach God, how we regard him before, during, and after our prayers.  If these things are in line with what the Bible teaches, then we can be confident that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, our prayers will please God and be heard by him.

This afternoon, we’ll consider the beginning of our prayers.  Christ teaches us about our initial approach to God in prayer, the attitude with which we are to draw near to him.  We’ll see that our Master teaches us how to begin our prayers.

We’ll see that we’re taught to confess:

  1. The love of our Father
  2. The majesty of our King
  3. The power of our Almighty God

Having God as our Father is a basic Christian teaching.  We have a Father in heaven, because we have a Saviour who came to earth.  We have a Saviour who reconciled us to our Maker, and because of that reconciliation, we are in a relationship of fellowship with God.  That relationship is described in terms of a Father and his children.  God is our Father, and we are his children.  It’s a beautiful gospel reality.

Our Master teaches us to open our prayers with an eye on God as “our Father.”  Right away, we need to be clear about what that means.  There are those who say that Jesus is referring to the Father as one of the persons of the Trinity.  They say that we are then to pray only to the Father as that person of the Trinity.  The conclusion is that Jesus is teaching us only to pray to the Father, as distinct from the Son and from the Holy Spirit.  However, brothers and sisters, there is another way of looking at this, and it is a better way. 

When Jesus said, “Our Father in heaven,” he was not introducing something new to Jewish ears.  In the Old Testament, the word “Father” is found several times in reference to God.  When it’s found in the Old Testament, the word “Father” refers to Yahweh.  The word refers to God in himself, not as the person of the Father distinguished from the Son and the Holy Spirit.  A good example of this is in Malachi 1:6.  God is rebuking his people there.  He says, “A son honours his father, and a servant his master.  If then I am a father, where is my honour?...”  God is a Father to his people.  There, the word “Father” is being used in connection with Yahweh’s relationship to his people, not to the relationship between the persons of the Trinity.  This is the pattern of the Old Testament usage of the word “Father” for God.  It refers to Yahweh.

Our Master continues in that pattern with the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus is not speaking about God the Father as distinct from the Spirit and the Son, but God our Father as distinct from the creatures who call upon him.  This is not a reference to the Trinity, but to God as One.  Therefore, we cannot conclude that our Master is teaching us to address one particular person of the Trinity to the exclusion of the others.  That’s not in the picture here at all.  This is confirmed by other prayers that we see in the New Testament.  For example, when Stephen was being martyred in Acts 7, he prayed to Jesus, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Paul uses the prayer, “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus” and other examples could be added.  We have the freedom to do likewise.

With the opening of the Lord’s Prayer, Christ is simply teaching us to look up to Yahweh as our Father and call upon him with an attitude of childlike reverence and trust.  We need to trust that our God loves us and will take care of our needs.  This is laid out beautifully in Matthew 7, further in the Sermon on the Mount.  There too, Christ is speaking about our Father in heaven, Yahweh, as he relates to his children.  Jesus makes a comparison between earthly fathers and our heavenly Father.  Earthly fathers will normally take care of their children and provide for their needs.  A child who asks for bread is not going to get a stone from his dad.  Or even worse, if a child asks for some fish, his father is not going to throw him a cobra.  People are evil and yet they still give good things to their children.  But then there is God.  He is perfectly good.  So, what would make you think that he wouldn’t give good gifts to those who ask him?  So, the conclusion:  ask your Father in heaven for good things, and because he loves you, expect that he will follow through and provide you with what you need.  We have a Father in heaven who loves us and it’s to him that we need to pray expectantly. 

But that’s a lot easier to say than to do, isn’t it?  Trials and difficulties can easily muddy this teaching in our minds and even make it sound glib.  For example, one of the hardest things in life is to lose a baby.  My wife and I have gone through that and many of you have too.  You have hopes and dreams for that baby in your womb and then the Lord decides otherwise.  It’s hard to take.  Glenda Mathes is a sister from the United Reformed Churches and she has a helpful book on early infant loss.  It’s called Little One Lost.  I highly recommend it.  In the book she tells the story of Brad and Stephanie.  They were pregnant with their second child.  Caleb would be only fifteen months younger than their firstborn Joshua.  They had dreams of the two boys playing together and they planned to homeschool both.  Stephanie had an induction scheduled, and the day before they did an ultrasound and everything looked normal.  The next day they came in for the induction and there was no heartbeat.  They were devastated.  Later a medical examination revealed that there was no discernible reason why Caleb died before he was born.  Brad and Stephanie struggled with that.  “We had prayed for a healthy baby,” they said, “why had God chosen to answer us with a dead baby?”

That’s a tough question to answer.  In Matthew 7, Jesus says, “your Father in heaven will give good things to those who ask him.”  The Catechism paraphrases that in QA 120.  Isn’t a healthy baby a good thing?  Why would God withhold that from Brad and Stephanie or from any of us who have gone through this?  It’s easy to understand why tragedies like that would make you question our Father’s love.  Stephanie did that.  She says that, after losing Caleb, she questioned God and found prayer and Bible reading to be extremely hard.

Yet, in time, Brad and Stephanie came to peace with what God had done with Caleb.  Through this tragedy, they came to closer fellowship with the believers in their church.  Their brothers and sisters surrounded them with love and encouragement.  They came to see that their little baby boy was spared the heartbreak of sin.  Because of the covenant God has with believers and their children, Caleb is enjoying perfect blessedness.  Stephanie says, “There is peace in knowing that Caleb is safe, that God is taking infinitely better care of him than I ever could.  Though we never knew our baby, it is assuring to know that he was and is known by God.”  In time, this couple came to see that what happened was not inconsistent with what we confess about the love of our heavenly Father.  He does know what is best for each of us at any given moment.  It’s sometimes difficult to acknowledge that, but yet this is what the Scriptures teach.   

One of the keywords in QA 120 is “childlike.”  When it comes to prayer, we have to be like children, because we are, well….like children.  We are not the equal of our Father, nor are we anywhere close.  We don’t have the understanding of our Father.  We don’t have the comprehensive knowledge of our Father.  We don’t have his wisdom.  We are finite, he is infinite in every way.  Really, we are like little children before him.  He has the full picture and full plan of our lives in his mind.  He knows everything from its beginning to its end, and we know very, very little. We have ideas about what is good for us, but they don’t always line up with what he knows for certain to be good for us.

Loved ones, we need to trust what Scripture says about our Father.  We need to believe his promise that because of Christ, he loves us and will provide what we truly need.  If we struggle with that, we can and should pray about that too.  We can pray and be honest with God and say, “I’m having a hard time believing that you love me because of all these trials – please help me to trust your Word.”  Even that would be an expression of childlike reverence and trust, the kind of thing taught to us by our Master.

So, our Lord teaches us to pray with a view to God as our loving Father.  There’s a close relationship of fellowship implied in that.  But at the same time, we are addressing our Father in heaven.  That reminds us that we are also praying to One who is a majestic King.  As our Catechism puts it, we have to pray with regard for God’s heavenly majesty. 

What we’re considering here is God’s transcendence.  In terms of glory, he transcends absolutely everything in the universe.  Think of the most glorious thing imaginable in creation and God transcends it.  He is exalted beyond measure, a great God.  Words cannot really do full justice to his greatness.

When we pray, our Master teaches us to begin with this recognition, with the fear of God.  Godly believers throughout the Bible prayed in this way and left many examples for us.  One of those was the prophet Habakkuk in chapter 3 of his prophecy.  The book of Habakkuk has the prophet wrestling with God’s plans for the future of his people.  He knows that God has plans to chastise or discipline his nation.  Habakkuk wonders how God can justify using the wicked Chaldeans to chastise the Jews.  After all, the Chaldeans are even more wicked.  God graciously gives Habakkuk an answer in chapter 2.  The Chaldeans will be judged too.  God rules over them just as much as the people of Israel.  That evokes the prayer of Habakkuk in chapter 3. 

Notice the way that Habakkuk begins his prayer.  He doesn’t say, “Our Father in heaven,” yet his words are fully consistent with the teaching of Christ.  He has childlike reverence and trust for God, and yet he still has high regard for God’s heavenly majesty.  In verse 2, he says that he knows of God’s works and that brings him to fear.  He has heard what God is like and that brings him to his knees, so to speak.  Habakkuk acknowledges that God is merciful, but he also has a just wrath against sin.  He is a holy God – that’s clear not only at the beginning of chapter 3, but throughout.  Then look at verse 3:  “his splendour covered the heavens and the earth was full of his praise” and the beginning of verse 4, “His brightness was like the light.”  The God of Habakkuk is a transcendent and majestic God and he expresses that as he prays to this God. 

We are to have the highest estimation of God’s heavenly majesty, also as we pray to him.  According to the teaching of our Master Jesus, when we pray to God, we need to be impressed with God.  If we’re impressed with God, that will come through in our communication with him.

The problem is that we are so hard to impress.  Perhaps Isaiah was hard to impress too – we don’t know.  But we do know that he was impressed with God, blown away in fact.  He was impressed with God because he had a powerful vision of God and his majesty.  It’s in that well-known chapter of Isaiah 6.  Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon a throne and he saw all the angels calling to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory!”  That’s impressive!  If I saw that, I’d like to think that I would forever be deeply impressed with God’s heavenly majesty.  But in this age we don’t see God directly like that.  We have his Word and we have to learn to be more impressed with God from his Word.  That is the most important means through which God has revealed himself to us.  He’s also revealed himself and his majesty and glory through creation, and we can be impressed with God through that too.  But the most important, the first and foremost, is always Scripture.   

Brothers and sisters, the fact that we’re hard to impress sometimes means that this too needs to be a matter for prayer.  We are to approach God with an attitude of reverence and awe.  But if we find ourselves lacking in that regard, then we need to pray about that as well.  We can and should pray to our Father in heaven, “I can be so hard to impress.  Please impress me more with your majesty.  Give me eyes to see your glory from your Word and from this world you’ve made.   I want to think of your majesty in the highest way, but I need your help.”  And as we combine a prayer like that with the study of Scripture, the Holy Spirit will work and he will open our eyes more to the transcendent majesty of our heavenly King.

As we pray, part of praying along the lines Christ teaches us is that we pray expectantly.  As the Catechism puts it, we are to expect “from his almighty power all things we need for body and soul.”  Belief in God’s almighty power is a crucial part of the Christian doctrine of God and it has a huge bearing on how we pray. 

In theology, we speak about God’s omnipotence.  When we say that God is omnipotent, we mean that he is all powerful.  He can do anything he wants, anything that is consistent with his character.  In Genesis 18, God came to Abraham and Sarah and told them that they were going to have a baby, even though they were both senior citizens.  Imagine the Lord coming to the oldest couple at our local old age home and telling them that they are going to become parents in nine months’ time.  Old people with gray hair don’t have babies anymore.  That was Abraham and Sarah.  When Sarah heard it, do you remember her reaction?  She laughed.  It was ridiculous, as ridiculous as any senior lady at the old age home having a baby.  The LORD heard Sarah’s laughter.  Then he says to Abraham, in Genesis 18:13-14, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’  Is anything too hard for the LORD?  At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”  Did you hear what God said there?  “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”  It’s a rhetorical question.  The answer is obvious.  No, there is nothing too hard for the LORD, because he is omnipotent, all-powerful, capable of doing anything consistent with his character.

You see, by itself having God as our loving Father doesn’t offer the highest degree of comfort.  A father could be full of love for his kids, but he might not be able to help them.  A majestic royal figure too doesn’t offer the greatest comfort.  We have a majestic Queen over in England, but she’s not really able to help us when we have troubles in our lives.  Even if she wanted to, she can’t offer help to all of her subjects.  It’s simply impossible.  But we have a God who is a loving Father, a majestic King, and omnipotent, almighty God.  That’s the greatest degree of comfort you could ask for.  He loves us, he rules over us and everything, and he controls absolutely everything.  He is the sovereign God.  That means that he has it in his power to change things. 

For that reason, when we pray, we can pray expectantly.  We can pray expecting that things will change, things will move according to the exact plan of our loving Father and majestic King.  We can pray with faith that whatever happens in response to our prayer, it’s not an accident.  There’s nothing outside of his control.  He has a heart of love and a hand of power and that means we can trust that he will give us everything we need in our lives.  Brothers and sisters, we can and must pray in faith!  Confessing his almighty power, combined with everything else, leads us to that posture of trust. 

As we regularly approach God in prayer, we have to do so in a way informed by what’s revealed about God in his Word.  Included with that is the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father in heaven…”  We don’t have to use those exact words every time, though certainly they are good and beautiful words to use.  We do have to be conscientious about praying with that spirit of childlike trust and reverence towards God, praying in faith.  After all, we have a good God who loves to hear the voice of his children.  We have a good God who promises to be alert to our needs and respond to them.  AMEN.

Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,

We are your children through Christ and we are calling upon you again with childlike reverence and trust.  We know that your Word teaches that you will hear us and answer us because of your Fatherly love in Jesus.  We confess that sometimes we struggle with believing that.  When we have trials, we sometimes question and doubt.  Father, please take away all those questions and doubts and help us to trust your love.  We also want to respect your majesty at all times and in every way.  Please work with your Spirit and your revelation to impress us more with you, so that we would always call upon you with awe and reverence.  We thank you for assuring us this afternoon of your almighty power.  Nothing is too hard for you, and we’re glad that this truth works in our favour.  Please continue to guide our lives and answer our prayers in your sovereign way.  Help us to see your answers in the light of your Word and accept them, even when it’s difficult to do so.  We pray that we may grow as your children in our prayers and in our lives, so that we trust you more and give more of the glory that your great Name deserves.                                             




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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