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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:Prayer is necessary to keep the lines of communication open between God and us
Text:Matthew 6:5-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2008-04-18
Added:2008-06-04
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Announcements

Pre-service song: Augment

Votum and Salutation;

Sing: Psalm 138: 2

Confession: Hymn 1B

Prayer

Read: Matthew 6: 5-18; James 1: 1 - 8.

Sing: Psalm 42: 1, 5, 7

Text: Lord’s Day 45

Sermon: Prayer is necessary to keep the lines of communication open between God and us

The lines are to be kept open

1. for God’s glory

2. for man’s eternal well-being

Sing: Hymn 7: 1, 9

Prayer

Offertory

Sing: Hymn 57: 1, 2

Matthew 6:5-18 (NIV)
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray: ”‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,
18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

James 1:1-8 (NIV)
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord;
8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Brothers and sisters,

 

            We are now at the last section of the Heidelberg Catechism. And it deals with prayer. Why is prayer at the very end of the catechism? Isn’t it, as it says in the catechism itself, the most important part of our thankfulness? If it is the most important part of our thankfulness, why did the authors put at the very end? You would think that whatever is most important would be put at the very beginning. For normally you first deal with the important stuff, and then the rest falls into place. But now it appears that prayer is being dealt with as if it is some afterthought.

            Often, that is also how prayer functions in the life of man. If all else fails, then you can still pray. That may be the only thing you can do at that point. But at least there is still that one thing left that you can do.

            Is that also the reasoning of the Catechism?

            The reality, however, is that prayer is actually dealt with already at the very beginning of the Heidelberg Catechism, in the very first section. For in Lord’s day three we are told about the creation of man, and what it was like before man fell into sin. There we are told that God created man so that he might rightly know God his creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify him. Brothers and sisters, that is what prayer is all about. We were created to praise and glorify God.

            For what is prayer? Prayer is communication with God. It is speaking with him. It is praising and glorifying him. It is letting your needs and your wants to be known, and it is praising him for all that he has done.

            Well, that is what Adam and Eve did all the time before they fell into sin. Sin, however, put an end to that. Communication between God and man became totally broken. The only way that it could be restored would be through God himself.

            And that is what is described in the second section of the Heidelberg Catechism. There we are told how we have been delivered from our sins. In other words, there we are told that the lines of communication have been restored through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

            And so, it is no wonder that prayer is now dealt with at the very end, at the last part of the third section. The final thing that the Lord Jesus did was to open up the doors of heaven. The catechism reminds us that the lines of communication have been restored, and that now all is well. And therefore we must also make use of those lines of communication. We must show our thanks to the Lord our God and praise his name.

            We can relate to that in our everyday lives. Think about what happens when because of war or natural disaster a whole area of the land, or a whole country is devastated. The most important thing that needs to be done after such devastations is that the lines of communication be restored. The power lines have to be repaired, and the phone lines. The radio and TV stations have to be sending out their signals again. Only once they have been restored things can get back to normal, to the way it used to be. 

            That is the way it is with our prayer. When we pray we show that lines of communication between God and us are restored. Prayer is essential to the life of a Christian. Indeed, no one can call himself Christian who does not know how to pray. And that is what the Catechism will teach us to do this afternoon. Let us listen to God’s word as I have summarized it under the following theme:

            Prayer is necessary to keep the lines of communication open between God and us

            The lines are to be kept open

            1. for God’s glory;

            2. for man’s eternal well-being.

            What does it mean that man lives to the glory of God? It means that he must live in total harmony with him, doing God’s will in every aspect of his life. As you know, that no longer happens. Man rebelled against God in Paradise, and has been doing that ever since. Now instead of harmony, there is disharmony. Instead of peace there is strife. That is also what God said in Genesis 3. He said that now there is enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. In other words it is war. Parties that are at war with each other do not communicate with each other. Instead they are out to destroy each other. For their interests completely conflict. They want absolutely nothing to do with one another.

            That’s also what we see when there’s a war between nations. The warring parties will do everything in their power to bring down the lines of communication. They will bomb the radio and TV stations so that no propaganda no information and no help can go out to the people. And any people that they capture they will keep from communicating with their own side. They want them to be totally cut off from any contact from the enemy. They will only feed them information that will demoralize them. For they also do not want to give them any hope. By cutting off all contact they also prevent any help from coming to them. If you want to be successful in war, then you have to make sure that the enemy is not able to have contact amongst themselves and with others. They need to be totally cut off.

            Well, brothers and sisters, boys and girls, that is also the tactic of Satan. He does not want you to be in communication with God, and he will do everything in his power to keep you from fellowship with him. He does not want you to have contact with him. He does not want you to have any help from him. He does not want you to have any hope at all. He wants you to think that God is no longer around. For Satan is out to destroy you. He is out to demoralize you. If he does give you any information, it will be false information.

            And so, it is so important that you are always in constant communion with God. Without communion with God, you perish eternally. What does God want you to know? Well, he wants you to know first of all that Satan has already lost the battle. Oh sure, there is still lots of little wars going on here and there. But the main battle has been won. Satan is in retreat. And you need to be reminded of that time and again.

            Already the Old Testament believer had to know that. He had to know that in spite of the battles that are going on in this world, and the sin and the evil, that ultimately Satan cannot touch those who belong to God. For what did the Lord God do? He promised the coming of a Redeemer, of a Saviour. He promised that already in Paradise. For he promised that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent, Satan.

            He made that promise because the Lord God hates war and strife. And he wants the lines of communication to be restored and to be open. For only he can help you in your battle against Satan. And so, through his Son Jesus Christ he also opened the doors of communication. While he was still on earth the Lord Jesus said that he is the door through which his sheep may enter the sheepfold. He is the door of the sheep. No one can come to the Father but by him. And when Christ ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God, he made that access for his children a certainty. For he lay down his life for the sheep so that this could come about.

            Do you know who those sheep are? Well, take careful note of the way question 116 is phrased. It asks, “Why is prayer necessary for Christians?” It uses the word “Christians”. We were taught in Lord’s Day 12 why we are called Christians. It says there that we are called Christians because we are members of Christ by faith. We belong to him because of our faith. When you believe in the Lord Jesus then you believe that he has won the victory. Then you believe that he is seated at the right hand of God right now to intercede for you. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 8:34-36, "Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Satan is always trying to engage us in some kind of battle. He wants us to rebel against God. He wants us to do whatever it is that keeps us from having full fellowship with God. And so Paul says further, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

            And so, we must believe. We must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Such faith, however, must be an active faith. Faith is not only a total trusting in the Lord, it is also a doing of something. Someone who has faith does not just sit back and do nothing. No, he acts in accordance with that faith.

            And if you believe that your Father in heaven truly exists, and that he deeply cares for you and loves you, and provides you with all your needs, and fights all the battles for you, then you’ll also want to talk to him.

            It is not so that Christ has done all and that now his children are left passive. No, on the contrary, Christ also showed his children how they are to keep the lines of communication with God open. That is through prayer. Prayer is a very necessary and integral part of our relationship with God. 

            And for that reason the Lord Jesus also gave to his disciples and to all of us the Lord’s prayer. He gave them that prayer because he wanted them to pray. It is a command.

            However, there is a problem. Because of sin we have lost the ability to speak to God. And so we must be taught how to pray. There is a lot of praying that goes on in this world. People pray for this and that and for everything else. Much if it, however, is worthless. James says in chapter 4 of his letter, “you ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly.” That is sometimes a problem for us as well. We do not always pray for the right things, or in the right manner. 

            Prayer must be based on an intimate knowledge of who God is. Answer 117 tells us that we must from the heart call upon the one true God only, who has revealed himself in his Word.

            There are those who have difficulty with prayer, especially public prayer. They do not know what to say, and so they would rather leave it up to somebody else, someone who has a better speaking ability. There are even some parents who are not able to pray out loud with their family. And there are men in the congregation who will not pray in public. Sometimes that is because of nerves. And that is understandable. But, why would you be nervous? Are you comparing yourself to those who are smooth of tongue, and who seem to come with all the right phrases? Well, praying to God is not to offer up some empty, well-worn phrases. Those who pray like that do not have an intimate relationship with their maker.

            What is prayer? Prayer, brothers and sisters, boys and girls, is the expression of your covenant relationship. And if you know what it means to live within that covenant relationship, then you will also know how to pray. Then you will not be at a loss for words. For then you know that the Lord God understands even if all you do is sigh. He understands your struggles. He knows how Satan is out to destroy you. Speak to the Lord God about the struggles that you have in your life. He’ll hear you. He will answer you. He will encourage you and comfort you.

            And if you have a covenant relationship with the Lord your God then you will also know when to pray. There are some Christian traditions who maintain rigorous schedules of prayer. They pray at very definite periods of time during the day. Most of us do not have a rigorous schedule. Outside of our established custom of prayer at meal times and when we retire for the night, we do not have other set rules. Prayer can be done at any place and anytime, we say. Experience teaches us, however, that things that can be done at anytime tend to be done at no time. Praying should be as natural to the Christian as breathing. For that reason Paul urges his readers in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to pray continually. Paul says, you should be praying all the time. We should be giving God thanks in all circumstances, Paul says in verse 18. That means you should be praying to him during times when there is much rejoicing, and also during times of adversity and difficulties. The Lord will give you whatever you need.

            But listen to what the Catechism says further. It says that prayer is necessary because he will only give to those who ask. You may wonder, is that really true? In the first place doesn’t God already know what I need? That’s also what it says in Psalm 139:4 “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.” Why then should we ask? 

            Furthermore isn’t it true that the people that do not pray receive the same things as we do? They also receive their bread and their drink and their shelter and clothing. And sometimes even more. And they also are able to overcome the various battles of life, such as their addictions and problems with other people.

            Such a statement, however, is not made in faith. Such a statement is not made by someone who knows the ways of the Lord. For in the first place, God requires that we ask him for his gifts. It is a matter of obedience.

            Oh sure, it does happen that those who do not pray for it will also receive. But they are disobedient. Whatever they receive, therefore, they receive to their condemnation. Indeed God gives to all man. But he gives only so that the recipients may acknowledge him as the supplier of all those good things. God gives us so that man may have a foretaste of what heaven is like.

            Prayer, beloved, is an expression of faith. If you truly believe that God exists, that he created all things, and that he provides every single thing in your life, then you cannot help but speak to him about it and thank him for these gifts. Then, when you see the sun rise, and when you see the grass grow, and the animals being looked after in the field and in the forests and in the air, and when you receive food on your table, then you cannot help but speak to your heavenly Father about it, that he supplies his creatures with all those things. Then you’ll want to pour out your heart to him, and give thanks to him.

            Someone who has studied God’s word realizes full well that whatever he receives, he receives out of grace alone. Because of sin we deserve eternal damnation. And it is only through God’s grace that we are the recipients of so many wonderful things.

            Someone who truly knows the Lord, also knows deep in his heart that whatever he receives, he receives for his own good. For, there are times when God does withhold certain things from us. We ask him for them, but we do not receive them. We think that we really, really need to receive what we are asking for. And we could not imagine why God would withhold it. And yet he does. If you know the ways of the Lord, then you submit yourself to his will. For do you think that your Father in heaven who gave his own Son to shed his blood for you, would wish any harm upon you? As the Lord Jesus says in the sermon of the Mount, in Matthew 7, what earthly father would gives his own son a serpent instead of a fish, or a stone instead of a piece of bread?

            If that is how it is with your earthly father, just imagine what it is with your heavenly Father. The Lord God will never give you anything in order to harm you. Whatever he sends your way, he sends for your good. It may seem at times that he is giving something evil, but God doesn't do that. For God will use whatever comes to us in this life for our own good. And when we pray to the Lord our God then we acknowledge him as a faithful and a loving Father. As we read from the letter of the James, God gives to all men generously. But he must ask in faith. He must not doubt. For he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. No, the Lord your God is concerned about you, he is concerned about your eternal well-being. We come to the second point.

2.         As we saw, prayer is only for Christians. It is for those who know the will of the Lord, and who also want to do the will of the Lord. If you know God, then you also know that you are to fight against your sins with all you might. Those who lie and cheat habitually without remorse and who then lift up their hands in prayer God, will, as it says in Isaiah 1:15, not to be able to see God’s face, for it will be hidden to them. And those who refuse to forgive others their sins, cannot expect God to forgive them either, even though they pray for it. And those who do not want to put up a good fight when Satan tempts them, will not receive help benefit from prayer. And it does not make sense either to ask for riches of the God who tells us in Matthew 19: 24, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.  It is pray and work: Ora et labora. The one does not come without the other. You will not receive from God what you are not willing to fight for yourself.

            Even children know that there are certain things that parents will not give them. “No use asking him,” they say of their father, “because he will not give it to us anyway”. And in the same way we ought to know our heavenly Father. We ought to know what we can and cannot ask for. We ought to know what is a legitimate request and what is not. As Paul says in Ephesians 5: 17, “do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

            The Lord Jesus said in the sermon on the Mount, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). That does not mean that you do not have to tell him, but it means that you cannot lead him astray. 

            At one time some people brought a paralytic to Jesus, a person who could not get up for his most natural needs and wants. When he was lying there, at the feet of the Lord Jesus, his real needs were evident to everyone, you would think. That man needed to be healed! But what did the Lord Jesus say? He said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Christ identified and provided for the man’s deepest need.

            We must know what is good for us. That is why in answer 116 the two most important items that we need are mentioned. It speaks there about God’s grace and his Holy Spirit. There is nothing more important than those two. 

            Why do we need first of all God’s grace so desperately? We need it because of our fall into sin. Without God’s grace we would perish internally. For God’s grace refers to his mercy. It refers to his compassion. An old Hebrew word connects its with the womb of a mother. A good mother has great compassion for the child that is in her womb. A real mother would not want any harm to come to her baby. Well, that is also how it is with God and his children. But we need to pray for God’s grace. The Lord wants us to realize that we do need him, and that we cannot live without him.

            And for that reason we also have to pray for the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit will dwell in our hearts, if we are truly desirous to live close to our God. For what does the Holy Spirit do? The Holy Spirit sanctifies us. That is his major activity in us as God’s creatures. That means that he makes us holy, pure, righteous, and acceptable in the sight of God. The Holy Spirit does that by burning away our impurities.

            The Holy Spirit also guides us. He reminds us time and again of the law of God, and what it takes in order to show our thankfulness to God for all that he has done. The Holy Spirit reminds us of the will of God.

            And above all the Holy Spirit reminds us that our obedience ultimately depends on the obedience of Christ alone. And so it is only through the Holy Spirit that we can be children of God.

            Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, we are at war. But in that war God is at our side. And so, time and again we had better call him to our side. It is only through him that we can win the battle. It is only through him that the lines of communication can be restored. Keep those lines open. Pray continually.

            Amen




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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