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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:We begin our prayers by expressing a proper way of looking at God
Text:LD 46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2009
Added:2010-09-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 146:1,2,3
Psalm 103:1,4,5
Hymn 28:1,2,3,4
Hymn 1A
Psalm 146:4,5

Readings:  Psalm 145, Matthew 7
Text:  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,

With many things in our lives, it’s important to make a good start.  In many instances, a good start is necessary in order to see a good result.  Take just the example of math.  If you have a math equation and you make a mistake at the beginning, usually your final answer will also be wrong.  That can seriously damage your math mark, but if your daily work depends on doing math equations properly, there can be more costly consequences.  Think back a few years ago when NASA lost a space probe because NASA engineers were using the imperial system of measurements while the engineers who designed and programmed the space probe had used the metric system.  Making a good start is critical in these kinds of situations! 

It’s the same with prayer.  We learned a couple of weeks ago that prayer is the most important part of our thankfulness.  So, it’s to be expected then that beginning the most important part of our thankfulness should receive careful attention.  In fact, if we don’t begin our prayers properly, it may indicate a problem in our relationship with God.  It’s very important, then, that we listen to the teaching of the Lord Jesus about the beginning of our prayer.  He teaches us to begin our prayers with a proper way of looking at God.  So, that’s the theme for this afternoon’s sermon:

We begin our prayers by expressing a proper way of looking at God

We’ll see a comparison between:

  1. Earthly fathers and a heavenly Father
  2. Earthly majesty and heavenly majesty.

1.  A comparison between earthly fathers and a heavenly Father

A proper way of looking at God begins with an understanding of who he is in relation to us.  On the one hand, he is far exalted above us as a holy God.  On the other hand, he is also near to us as a loving Father.  It’s that second thing that we focus on first when the Lord Jesus taught us to address God as “Our Father.” 

The notion of God being the Father of his people receives special emphasis in the New Testament.  In fact, God is called “Father” 189 times in the Gospels alone.  However, this notion is also found in the Old Testament.  God first introduced himself explicitly as a Father in Exodus 4.  In verse 22, the Lord tells Moses to speak to Pharaoh and say, “This is what the LORD says:  Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.”  We find this concept of God as Father repeated several times elsewhere in the Old Testament.  But it’s in the New Testament that this idea of God being Father really blooms, because it’s there that the Son of God appears on earth.  And in his teaching, God is repeatedly referred to, not only as his Father, but also our Father.

One of the most powerful passages in that connection is what we read from Matthew 7.  In fact, the second half of Answer 120 of the Catechism is essentially a paraphrase of Matthew 7:9-11.  A comparison is made there between earthly fathers and heavenly fathers.  The Lord Jesus used a special kind of argument to make a point.  The argument is from something lesser to something greater.  In this case, it’s about human fathers who are evil giving good gifts to their children.   If they would do such a thing, why wouldn’t our good Father in heaven also give good gifts to those who are his children in Christ?  We only need to approach him in prayer believing that he not only has the power, but also the will to give us what we ask.  So, our prayers begin with faith in our heavenly Father, someone far greater than any earthly father. 

We could extend this comparison of the Lord Jesus to help us see more clearly who our Father in heaven is and what he’s like.  Extending the comparison will help us to develop a deeper childlike reverence and trust – the thing which should be basic to our prayers, according to the Catechism.  So, let’s compare a few points in which we can see the greatness of our heavenly Father. 

The lives of earthly fathers are filled with many sins and weaknesses.  Earthly fathers can sometimes neglect their children.  Life gets very busy and the children are ignored.  For various reasons, earthly fathers can be physically or emotionally unavailable for their kids.  But our heavenly Father is entirely different.  Consider what Moses says about him in Deuteronomy 31:8, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  We have a heavenly Father who never neglects us and is never unavailable! 

Then think of what we learn about him in Psalm 103:8, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”  How unlike human fathers!  Human fathers are sometimes physically or verbally abusive.  A few human fathers have even been abusive in other terrible ways.  But our heavenly Father is never like that.  He will never abuse us.  This can be tough to accept if we have had earthly fathers who’ve hurt us.  If that’s the case, then we need all the more to focus our hearts on those Scripture passages which reveal God’s love and compassion as a true Father. 

Sometimes earthly fathers impose certain conditions on their children.  They can become legalistic or performance oriented.  They might not say it with their words, but their expectations clearly say things like “I’ll love you if…” or “I’ll love you when…” or “I’ll love you because…”  God’s relationship with his people is so refreshingly different.   It’s all about grace.  Listen to what he says in Hosea 14:4, “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely…”  In Jeremiah 31:3, we read these beautiful words, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”

Love also compels our heavenly Father to discipline us.  Sometimes earthly fathers fail in this respect too.  Sometimes earthly fathers become overly permissive.  They allow their children to get away with far too much, thinking that this is loving.  Our heavenly Father is again completely different.  Proverbs 3:12 says, “…the LORD disciplines those he loves…”  This passage gets repeated in the New Testament at least twice.  The LORD cares for his children and so he keeps them straight with discipline – and not just for a few years like earthly fathers with their children, but for the whole course of their lives.

Many more comparisons and contrasts could be made.  But I think it should be clear:  God represents the epitome of Fatherhood.  Everything that Fatherhood can and should be is bound up in him and his relationship to his people.  All through Christ, all because of the gospel.  Through Christ, we are received in grace.  Through Christ we know the Father in all these wonderful ways.  And as we look into God’s Word, we see his perfections and we’re drawn into a proper frame of mind for prayer.  As we look at the way he relates to us in our daily lives, we’re drawn into “that childlike reverence and trust toward God which should be basic to our prayer.” 

So, the Lord teaches us to pray “Our Father.”  Does that mean that we’re not allowed to use any other form of address for God?  If we insisted on that, we would miss a couple of important points.  First of all, the Lord’s Prayer is a model.  It teaches us some basic principles about prayer.  The principle we derive from the Lord teaching us to start with “Our Father” is that we have to begin with the right attitude towards God – the attitude of faith, of childlike reverence and trust.  That attitude can be expressed with other forms of address at the beginning of our prayers.  And that bring us to the second thing, namely, that the Scriptures themselves give us many examples of prayers where believers do not address God as Father – though their attitude definitely reflects the childlike reverence and trust taught by the Lord Jesus.   Take just one example, from Acts 4:24.  There we have the people of God praying after Peter and John had been released from prison.  They began their prayer in this way, “Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.”  So, we also have the freedom to address God in a variety of ways – so long as the basic principle, the basic attitude is in place.  Christ is not concerned first of all with you using the exact words of the Lord’s Prayer.  He wants you to have the right attitude, the outlook of faith which is basic to thankfulness and therefore also basic to prayer.  That attitude looks to God as our Father, but also our heavenly Father.  Let’s look at that more closely in our second point…

2. A comparison between earthly majesty and heavenly majesty

So, the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer first of all teaches us to see God as the one who is in a Father-child relationship with us.  Theologically, we could say that this teaches us to see God’s immanence – that’s immanence with an ‘a’ after the two ‘m’s,  not imminence.  Immanence is the Bible teaching that God is near and involved with our lives.  So, there’s immanence, but there’s also the Bible teaching of God’s transcendence.  Transcendence means that God is highly exalted above us.  When we say that God is transcendent we mean that he has heavenly glory and majesty which transcends or goes beyond our creatureliness.  The Lord Jesus teaches us to see God’s transcendence when he adds the words “who is in heaven.” 

The Catechism explains these words to mean that we should not think of God’s heavenly majesty in an earthly way.  This works with the idea that we do have earthly majesty.  There are earthly kings and other authorities who have a form of majesty, but this is something entirely different from the majesty that God has. 

I think this becomes clear when we take a look at Psalm 145.  The key thing here is to remember who wrote this psalm.  The title tells us that it was David and we have no reason to doubt it.   Now remember that David was the king of Israel.  So what we have here in Psalm 145 is an earthly king praising the heavenly King.  Earthly majesty bowing before heavenly majesty. 

The first verse of Psalm 145 immediately draws praise to God the King.  Verse 3 goes on to explain that this king is worthy of praise and then the verses that follow explain why.  It’s clear that this heavenly King is unlike any other king.  David points to seven things which set him apart as completely different.  We can reflect on these things too and it can help to put us in a proper frame of mind for approaching our Father.  To make this more meaningful, it would be good to have Psalm 145 open in front of you while we look at this. 

The first thing that sets the heavenly King apart is the character and quantity of his actions.  We find those things mentioned in verse 4 and following.  Verse 4 says that one generation will commend his works to another.  They will tell of your mighty acts.  In verse 5, David says that he will meditate on God’s wonderful works.  Verse 6 has him speaking about about God’s awesome works and his great deeds.  Later, in verse 12, it’s God’s mighty acts.  Notice the variety of adjectives that are attached to God’s works:  mighty, wonderful, awesome, great.  No earthly majesty can compare!  David doesn’t actually mention what those works are, but with the full revelation of God before us, we don’t need them mentioned.  We know about the exodus from Egypt, we know about how God defeated the enemies of his people also in David’s time.  And looking further ahead, we know about God’s mighty deeds in the redemptive work of Christ!  There is no majesty like the heavenly majesty of our Father.

The second thing is God’s greatness.  Verse 3, “Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise, his greatness no one can fathom.”  God is great like no one else, in fact you could plumb the depths of God’s greatness, think about it forever, and you would never reach an end.  The greatness of earthly kings pales in comparison with the heavenly King.

Next is his goodness.  Verse 7, “They will celebrate your abundant goodness.”  Earthly kings get moody and fickle and are inconsistent in their goodness.  Earthly kings are not overflowing with goodness towards their subjects.  But the king of heaven is different and that’s reason for celebration!

So, we have his actions, his greatness, and his goodness.  The fourth thing that David draws our attention to is God’s righteousness.  That’s also in verse 7, “they will…joyfully sing of your righteousness.”  It’s also later in the Psalm, in verse 17, “The LORD is righteous in all his ways.”  God’s righteousness refers to his covenant loyalty, his faithfulness to those with whom he’s in a relationship.  He never lets them down.  He never fails to keep his promises.  Kings and queens can be capricious, they’ll change their minds and may even betray those who trust them.  The heavenly king will never do any such thing.  You can depend on him and put yourself in his hands, trusting him completely. 

Fifth of all, we have God’s eternal rule.  Verse 13 says, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.”  David’s kingdom came to an end.  The rule of Queen Elizabeth will some day come to an end.  But the rule of our Father in heaven will never end.  It has always been there and always will be there. 

Next, there’s God’s sovereign power.  Throughout this Psalm we read of a God who is in control of everything.  He does mighty acts.  He is able to provide for those in need.  Verse 19 says that “He fulfills the desires of those who fear him.”  Earthly kings might have good intentions, but they don’t always have the power or means at their disposal to carry out their good intentions.  God is completely different.

That ties into the last thing where we see a great difference between earthly majesty and heavenly majesty.   It’s his intimate care for those he rules, for those who look up to him for his compassion.  I just mentioned verse 19, but there’s also verse 18, “the LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”  What earthly monarch is like that?  If you’re having a rough time in your life, you’re not going to be getting a card from Queen Elizabeth.  She doesn’t care if you’ve lost a loved one.  She’s not going to be there for you when you’re depressed.  If you’re struggling with an addiction, she won’t be alongside you to encourage you.   She’ll never hear about it if you lose your job.  God is so different!  We have a king who is highly exalted but at the same time intimately involved with our lives!  Brothers and sisters, this is good news for all of us! 

The realization of this good news can do a lot for our prayer life.  When we begin to pray with the realization that we have a King who is also a Father to us, that teaches us to depend on him in richer and deeper ways.  He has the power, but he also has the love for us.   He has a hand of power and a heart of love.  We can truly expect from “his almighty power all things we need for body and soul.”  

And again, we don’t have to have these exact words in every prayer we pray.  The important thing is that the principle or attitude is there in our lives.  This realization of God as our Father in heaven has to be the blood flowing through the body of our prayers.  It’s fatal for you not to have blood flowing through your body – so it is with prayer.  We need the realization flowing through our spiritual life that God is our Father in heaven; he is the highly exalted one who is yet intimately involved with and concerned about every aspect and detail of our lives.  Even the most mundane things in our existence get his attention.  His care extends to every little corner of our being. 

By now it should be clear that the teachings we find in Lord’s Day 46 are practical and relevant to daily life as a Christian.   After all, prayer is a central part of our lives.  And for prayer to be authentic and meaningful, we need to be reminded of who it is that we’re praying to.  When we remember that he is our Father in heaven, then we’re reminded of how rich we are in Christ.  Through Christ we have become adopted sons of the almighty Creator.  What a God!  What a blessing that we can call him our Father in heaven!  AMEN.      





* 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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