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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:Christ teaches us to begin our prayers with our eyes on God
Text:LD 46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2011
Added:2011-06-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 7
Psalm 99
Hymn 63:1
Hymn 1
Psalm 146

Readings:  2 Kings 19, Romans 8:1-17
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 the Lord Jesus,

When it comes to prayer, one of the most important things is to have a clear understanding of who God is.  What is he like?  A few years ago, an American sociologist wrote a book on the religious beliefs of teenagers.  Christian Smith’s Soul Searching has become a well-known commentary on the state of spirituality, not only in the United States but also in Canada.  Moreover, Smith’s study not only speaks about teenagers, but also about the churches they attend and their parents, pastors, and teachers.

What did Smith conclude?  He summarized his study with the term “moralistic therapeutic deism.”  “Moralistic” means that most teenagers he studied believed that religion was about dos and don’ts.  Christianity is not first about what someone has done for you, but about what you must do for someone else.  It’s all about ethics.  Moralistic therapeutic deism. 

“Therapeutic” means that religion is about making you feel better.  It’s about therapy.  It’s about giving you greater self-esteem, about giving you purpose in life.  Religion is supposed to be like a massage or a spa treatment.  In this view, worship is about providing an experience that boosts your feelings, provides a buzz, and lifts your emotions.  Moralistic therapeutic deism.  

“Deism” is an old idea about God.  It’s been around for a long time but became especially popular during the Enlightenment in Europe in the 1700s and early 1800s.  Deism is often explained with the illustration of the clockmaker.  The clockmaker makes a clock.  He winds it up and then he moves away and moves on.  The clock runs and the clockmaker goes about his business.  According to deism, that’s what God has done.  God made the universe, but now he stands at a distance and lets it run by itself.  He doesn’t get involved.  In today’s idea of deism, God only gets involved when you have an emergency.  He is the great rescuer.  Prayer is the 911 line through which you can contact him and call him in if you really need him.  But otherwise, God stays at a distance.  In extreme forms of this view, there is no such thing as providence.  Stuff happens.  Period.  So, moralistic therapeutic deism.

Obviously that view of God does not fit with what the Bible teaches.  When we pray we have to call upon the one true God only.  For our prayers to please God and to be heard by him, we need to have a right understanding of God from his Word.  In the Lord’s Prayer, our Lord Jesus provides that right understanding at the very beginning.  He teaches us to address God as “Our Father who is in heaven.”  We’re to begin, not with ourselves and our needs or wants, but with God.  We’ll see this afternoon that we need to keep two things firmly fixed in our hearts and minds:

1.      God is our Father (Immanence)

2.      He is in heaven (Transcendence)

We have the great privilege of addressing God as our Father.  In the Old Testament, we read of God being the Father of his people only on a few occasions.  But in the New Testament, after the coming of Christ, that all changes.  Christ speaks regularly of God as his Father, and he teaches his disciples that they should think of God as their Father.  This shift has everything to do with the gospel.  It has everything to do with what Christ has done for us. 

Indeed, as the Catechism says, “God has become our Father through Christ...”  That truth is what we call “adoption.”  God has taken us for his children through the work of Christ.  As Paul says in Romans 8, we have received the Spirit of adoption – the Spirit who brings the work of Christ to us so that we can be sons of God.  As sons of God, we are those destined to receive his inheritance. 

That’s something that lays ahead in the future.  But there are present benefits from this adoption too.  Paul speaks of that in verse 15 of Romans 8.  He says, “And by him [the Holy Spirit] we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”  Abba is the Aramaic word for “Father.”  It’s the word that children in the days of Paul and Jesus would have used to address their dads.  It’s a word of familiarity and intimacy.  What it means is that because of Christ and the gospel, we can and we should address God in ways that reflect our understanding of how he has come near to us. 

In theological terms we speak here of God’s immanence.  Immanence means that God is intimately involved with our lives.  Deists don’t believe in God’s immanence.  Neither do Muslims.  For deists and Muslims, God is only far off, highly exalted.  But in the biblical understanding of who God is, we have something different.  We have God who cares deeply about the children who belong to him through Christ, and who’s there in their lives. 

Thus in our prayers, we ought to express this understanding.  Why?  First, it’s because God wants us to pray in this way.  Our Lord Jesus taught us to speak recognizing God’s nearness.  But second, praying in this way also reinforces our faith and shapes us into people who live with the knowledge of God’s nearness.  Think about that for a moment.  If your predominant understanding of God is that of deism, if you think that God is far off, how do you think that will affect your life?  Most likely somewhere in your mind, you’ll be thinking, “God doesn’t care.  He doesn’t care about the choices I make in my life.”  But loved ones, he does care.  He is a God near at hand. 

Psalm 139 finds David expressing these truths already in the Old Testament, although he doesn’t refer to God as Father there.  But he does speak of God’s immanence.  He says that there’s nowhere he can go to flee from God’s presence.  Every place, even hell, finds God near.  And in that psalm, David takes comfort from these truths. 

So we can also take comfort from the fact that we can and should address God as our Father.  There is comfort in knowing that we have a God who loves us deeply in Christ and who has drawn near to us.  We have a God who has drawn us into his family.  We’re not orphans – we belong to someone.  That gives us confidence too.  Normally, earthly fathers would give us the things we need.  Of course, we acknowledge that there are abnormal and abusive human fathers.  There are fathers who’ve done horrible things to their children.  But normally, typically, earthly fathers have a heart of love for their offspring.  As our Saviour says, no earthly father would give scorpions or poisonous snakes to his child who asking for food.  Well, your heavenly Father is like that, only far better.  He’ll never turn on you in an evil way.  He’s always there for your good.  You can be absolutely confident of that as you turn to him in prayer. 

So we have comfort and confidence coming from knowing God is our Father through Christ.  But there’s also one other element:  childlike reverence and trust.  God is close to us, he cares deeply about us, but our calling him Father doesn’t diminish our respect for him.  Rather, it enhances our respect for him.  We look up to him, just as children should properly (normally) look up to their earthly fathers.  Not only that, we also trust him.  That means we’re sure that being his child is a good thing.  Trusting him means knowing that our lives are always going in a good direction, even when the appearances are otherwise.  It means resting from our worries because our Father is there to catch us.

When I was in seminary, I remember one of my fellow students doing a chapel or a sermon in which he gave a great illustration of this.  He told of how he was at someone’s house on a warm summer’s day.  Everybody was outside enjoying themselves.  The kids were playing in the backyard.  There were trees and the kids were climbing like monkeys.  One of the younger kids climbed a bit too high and became frightened.  She couldn’t climb back down.  She was paralyzed with fear.  The other kids tried to coax her down, but she wouldn’t budge.  She kept screaming.  Her brother ran to find their dad.  He came over and reached out his arms to his daughter and told her to jump.  She stopped screaming and jumped into her father’s arms.  She trusted her father.  She knew that he was strong enough to catch her.  Brothers and sisters, so it is with our Father in heaven.  He’s always got us in his arms and can always be trusted to do right by us.  As you look to him in Christ, you never need fear the opposite.  And your prayers can and should reflect this childlike trust.  God’s my Father and he’ll never let go.  This is a good place to be.  I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

And here you can think of God’s promises to you in your baptism.    In his grace God has taken the initiative with all of us – both in our baptism and throughout our lives.  When you were baptized, God was proclaiming the gospel to you:  you are my child.  I am your Father.  You belong to me.  Now believe me, he says.  Trust my Word.  Because of Christ, I will never leave you or forsake you.  You can count on it. 

So we’re taught to look to God in his nearness, his immanence with the words “Our Father.”  Then our Lord Jesus the next moment also reminds us of God’s transcendence.  “Transcendence” means that God is far beyond us.  “Transcendence” highlights the fact that there is a great difference between God and us, between the Creator and the creature.  God is majestic.  He is not only to be thought of as our Father, but also as a king seated on his high throne.  Psalm 99 captures that quite vividly.  It portrays God as the king before whom nations are to tremble.  He is great in Zion, exalted over the nations.  He has a name that is great and awesome.  There is no one like our God in heaven above or earth below.

In 2 Kings 19, we see an earthly king magnifying the heavenly King.  King Hezekiah was faced with the Assyrian armies and the mockery of Sennacherib.  Things were looking grim for God’s people.  It looked like the sword was about to fall.  What did Hezekiah do?  He went to God in prayer.  He prays to the King higher than himself, higher and greater than Sennacherib too.  He prays to the one enthroned between the cherubim, God over all the kingdoms of the earth.  He asks God to see and hear what Sennacherib has been saying and to act on it.  Hezekiah prays in faith and then God sends his prophet Isaiah to announce that the prayer has been heard.  Sennacherib will fall in a spectacular way.  And then later in the chapter that’s exactly what happens.  God reveals himself to be the great and highly exalted King.  Sennacherib and his armies were all killed and God delivered his people.  An amazing answer to prayer!  To think that Hezekiah’s God is also ours – he is the same one to whom we pray.  And he has not changed at all. 

Scripture teaches that we should never think of God’s heavenly majesty in an earthly manner.  We should never think of God in earthly terms.  What this boils down to is the fear of God.  What is the “fear of God”?  It means always having the utmost respect and reverence for him.  It means having an acute awareness that if it were not for Christ, we would be eternally condemned by God since he is holy and just and we are not.  The fear of God means being careful around him, careful in our worship, careful in our prayers, careful in our lives.

God has heavenly majesty and glory.  He is not your buddy and certainly not your boyfriend or girlfriend.  Whenever we pray, we are to do so self-conscious of the fact that we are speaking with a being who is transcendent.  The one who has created us and who sustains not only us, but everything in creation from day to day.  There’s no room for being flippant or cavalier with him.

But it is one thing to be majestic and glorious, it’s quite another to be powerful.  Think of our Queen, Queen Elizabeth II.  She is properly referred to as “Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.”  She is a majestic monarch, she possesses dignity, not only because of her personality and upbringing, but also because of her office and all the associated traditions of British royalty.  But as far as Canada is concerned, is she really that powerful?  She stands for political power, but when the rubber hits the road real political power in Canada is found in Ottawa.  So majesty and power are not necessarily the same thing. 

But in God they are.  He is majestically transcendent, but he also possess almighty power.  He is the sovereign God who controls everything from the movement of the planets to the orbits of electrons.  Every wave that washes up on a beach, from a tiny ripple to a tsunami, all of them are obeying his command.  And every breath you take, every thump of a ventricle in your heart, every firing of a neuron in your brain – it all happens at God’s direction.  God is not the absentee monarch, but the ruler intimately involved with every detail of the government of the universe and of your life. 

So, as we pray to him, we are to do so expecting that this highly exalted God has the power to take care of everything we need for body and soul.  He can take care of our material needs, the food our bodies need, the shelter we need from the cold, the rain, the snow.  He can take care of our spiritual needs, our need for redemption from sin and its consequences.  He meets that need in Christ whom he sent into this world to live and die for us.  Our need for renewal and restoration.  He meets that need through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.  Everything for body and soul is given from the hand of our almighty God.  He not only can do these things, he has promised to do so.  In other words, he not only has the ability, he also has the will.  As one hymn puts it, he has a hand of power and a heart of love.

By adding the words “in heaven,” Christ wants us to look upwards in faith as we pray.  We need not doubt that there is a king who loves us, who loves you.  You need never doubt that there is a king who has you engraved on the palms of his hands (Is. 49:16).  You need not doubt, and you should not doubt.  There is no reason to.  Through Christ, God’s promises these things to you, and in Christ all of God’s promises are “yes,” and “amen.” 

Loved ones, our Saviour teaches us to pray in a balanced way.  Don’t go to the extreme of seeing God as distant and uninvolved, only getting involved when absolutely necessary.  That would be the extreme of deism.  Don’t go to the other extreme either, the extreme of losing all sense of the fear of God or the understanding of his power and majesty.  “Our Father in heaven,” teaches us to hold both God’s transcendence and his immanence together, not only in our prayers, but also in our lives.  As we pray in true faith, our lives will invariably be shaped by the words we express.  Through that, God will be thanked, he will be loved, he will be honoured.  AMEN. 

Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,

We look to you as children.  We revere you and we do trust you.  You have given us every reason to do so.  You have promised that we can depend on you.  Your Word is enough for us.  We thank you that you have become our Father through Christ.  We’re glad that we know that you will always hear us when we call to you.  You will never deny us what we ask of you in faith.  Help us to do that very thing – to approach always in faith, never doubting or wavering.  Also, Father we pray that you would help us always to think of your majesty as we should.  We want to fear you and honour you.  And we also want to look to you always and expect from you everything we need for body and soul.  Please continue working in us with your Spirit so that we always call out “Abba, Father.”  And we pray that these prayers, offered in faith, would be instruments of your Spirit to lead us forward in our sanctification for your glory. 

 

                                                     




* 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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