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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:Getting a Grip on Prayer
Text:LD 45 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2012
Added:2012-12-25
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 47
Psalm 145:1-3
Psalm 145:4-5
Hymn 1
Psalm 24:1-3

Scripture reading:  James 5
Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 45
* 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,

In our church we have the good practice of home visits.  At some time or other your ward elder will come to visit with you in your home for your annual spiritual check-up.  Just like you might go to the doctor to have your physical health checked, we have our elders to check up on our spiritual health.  When the elders come to visit, they usually have some questions for you to get the discussion going.  They’ll often speak about the gospel and the comfort it gives you.  They’ll want to hear about your faith in Christ and the hope you find only in him.  But then they’ll likely also want to speak with you about the fruits of your faith.  How does your faith impact the way you live?  That’s also an important question. 

That has to do with thankfulness – being thankful for the work of Christ, because we have salvation through grace alone.  Now imagine if the elders were to ask you:  what’s the most important way to show your gratitude for what Christ has done?  Now we just read Lord’s Day 45, so you know what the answer should be.  But what if you hadn’t read Lord’s Day 45 recently?  I suspect that many of us wouldn’t give the answer of Lord’s Day 45.  We’d probably jump right away to obeying God’s commandments.  That has been so ingrained in us that it’s our instinctive answer.  We show our thankfulness by keeping the Ten Commandments.  It’s true:  we do that.  Our thankfulness is demonstrated with our desire to follow God’s will.  But is that the most important way of showing our gratitude? 

Not according to what we confess from the Scriptures in Lord’s Day 45.  QA 116 puts it right at the front, “…prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us.”  The most important part.  More important than keeping the Ten Commandments.  The life of a Christian really begins and ends with prayer.  You can’t be a Christian and not pray.

Yet prayer is something so foreign to us, so challenging.  We have enough problems trying to communicate with other human beings, let alone trying to communicate with God.  Sin has put all kinds of barriers in the way of communication with our Creator, Redeemer, and Renewer.  We don’t naturally communicate well with him.  Think of how that works in your personal prayers.  For one thing, it can be difficult to establish a habit of praying regularly.  Once you have established that habit, it’s so easy for prayer to become rote and meaningless.  You’re saying the words, but your thoughts are somewhere else.  Prayer is the most important part of our thankfulness, but it’s not easy.  That’s why we need regular instruction from the Scriptures about prayer.  We can be thankful that we have a guide to such instruction in our Catechism.  Today we’ll begin the section on prayer and we’ll work at getting a grip on the Bible’s teaching about prayer in general.  We’ll consider: 

1.      Why we need to pray

2.      How we are to pray

3.      What we ought to pray for            

We can all agree quite easily that prayer is something we need to be taught.  But there’s another question we need to consider:  do we even need to pray and do we need to pray regularly?  After all, we all have busy lives.  There’s a lot going on, and prayer can end up being just another thing on the list of things we need to do.  Some might then look at prayer as being optional.  Prayer is something you do if things go wrong in your life, but otherwise it’s not all that important.  In this way of looking at it, prayer is sort of like a spiritual 911.  You use it only in emergencies. 

But loved ones, the Bible doesn’t permit that low view of prayer.  According to what the Bible teaches, we constantly have to be in communication with God.  Think of what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5, “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Pray continually.  This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Not just at the beginning or end of your day.  Not just around the supper table.  Pray continually.  You can pray as you do your daily work, or even while you’re driving.  Turn off the radio or turn off the music and you can pray at that moment.  Listen, if you can talk on your phone while you’re driving (even though it’s illegal), then certainly you can talk to your Father in heaven – and that’s not illegal.  We can and should pray at all sorts of times.

And that not only means asking for things of one sort or another.  We should also be praying with thanksgiving on our hearts.  Thank him when you receive something good from his hand.  Thank him when you get your paycheque.  Thank him at the grocery checkout.  Thank him for the sun shining in the sky.  Thank him for the rain falling on the land.  Thank him for the stars and planets sparkling in the heavens.  Thank him when you see and hear the birds in your neighbourhood.  Who made the bright red cardinal anyway?  Well, thank him!  “Give thanks in all circumstances” says Scripture.  Look for the good and beautiful in your daily life and thank the Lord in prayer.

Now that gets us closer to the reason why we have to pray, why it’s necessary for us.  It’s necessary because we are dependent creatures.  God wants us to recognize that we are dependent on him for absolutely everything.  Scripture says that it is in him that we live and move and have our being.  Every breath we draw is owing to God.  Every single thing that happens in our lives is under his sovereign power and control.  Prayer recognizes that – prayer brings us to humility before God, acknowledging that we are weak and he is strong.  We need to pray because prayer is the expression of our understanding of who God is and who we are in relation to him.  We need God and therefore we need to pray.  Just like people need oxygen for their bodies to survive, Christians need prayer for the life of faith to flourish.

Brothers and sisters, we are dependent on God for everything.  That includes our ability to thank God with following his will.  You can’t attain grateful obedience to God apart from prayer.  The Catechism rightly says that we need to constantly pray to God with heartfelt longing for the gifts of his grace and the Holy Spirit.   No matter how good our intentions are (or how good we think they are), we can’t lift a finger in God’s service without the Holy Spirit.  That too illustrates the need for prayer.  You see, the only way we can serve God properly is by first asking him for the strength to serve.  You do that through prayer.  Prayer made continually to God in the name of Christ.  The Bible promises that God will answer such prayers.  Notice that the Catechism says, “God will give his grace and the Holy Spirit...”  That promise is found in Luke 11:13, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”  That’s a promise you can depend on.  You need the Holy Spirit.  You can’t do without him.  So, ask your Father in heaven for his Spirit, ask him constantly and with heartfelt longing, and he will always come through.  He will give his Spirit and his Spirit will work in us so that we grow in faith and obedience.

Now what about how we pray?  Sometimes you’ll hear people say that you can come to God just as you are.  God will accept you no matter what.  And in a certain sense, this is true.  God will accept all sinners who come to him.  But there is a condition attached to that:  all sinners have to come before God in humility, with sorrow for sin, and with faith in Jesus Christ.  When you pray to God in that way, he will accept you, he will hear you, he will answer you. 

But we can’t come to God with pride and boasting.  We can’t come to God in prayer with disrespect.  We can’t come with cursing or bitterness.  No, loved ones, the Bible is quite clear that those who would come before the holy God have to do that with the right attitude.

The right attitude is one of humility.  Look at the words of the Catechism in answer 117, “We must thoroughly know our need and misery, so that we may humble ourselves before God.”  In other words, we need to have an accurate self-assessment.  That involves knowing our need and misery -- thoroughly. 

In the big picture, what is it exactly that we need?  We need a right relationship with our Creator.  We need to be saved from his wrath against our sins.  So we need Christ, we need the gospel, we need forgiveness of our sins through the cross, we need righteousness, holiness, and redemption.  We need to “thoroughly” know these things about ourselves.

What is our misery?  Our misery is our alienation from God, our estranged relationship with him because of sin.  Our misery is that the way of the wicked is hard, as Proverbs teaches.  Our misery is that we don’t hate our sin enough or maybe even at all.  The very thing that will destroy us is the thing that we love.  We take comfort in that which will lead to our eternal death.  Misery is the brokenness of this world and ourselves under the influence of sin.  We need to thoroughly know these truths too.

We have to know that we are sinners.  Even as people redeemed in Christ, even as those who are a new creation, we are still poor sinners as we live in this age on this earth.  That recognition makes us humble before God and gives us the right attitude as we come before him in prayer.  We know ourselves for who we truly are.

Yet we also know who our God is.  That also humbles us.  Think of what Hebrews 12 says about worship – of which prayer is a part:  “…let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  God is holy and just.  Communicating with him is not a light matter.  Scripture says that he is an exalted King, he is the Mighty One, the Most High, the God of glory, the LORD who thunders.  Yes, he is our Father through Christ and our Shepherd and all these wonderful things that speak of his nearness and love.  But at the same time we must never lose our sense of awe at God.  Also in our prayers, we must be reverent always.  Though you can pray anywhere at any time, you cannot be casual or cavalier with the God who is a consuming fire.   

So we pray with humility – we also pray with faith, which is closely connected.  We are to call on God trusting that he will hear us because Christ is our Saviour.  We have to have a high view of the effectiveness of prayer, because we trust that God is there and he listens.  This is the point being made at the end of James 5.  When we pray, whether it’s for sick people or whatever else, prayer should be offered in faith.  Those who pray should trust that God will hear them and answer.  James says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  In other words, those who are in Christ through faith (and therefore righteous before God and living lives of integrity on earth), their prayers make a difference.  In his sovereignty, God chooses to work with and through the prayers of his people.  The example that James gives is that of Elijah.  He prayed that it would not rain in the days of Ahab, and God kept the rain from falling.  When he prayed for the rain to come again, the rain came.  God heard his prayers.  He prayed in faith, believing in God’s power to do what was asked.  Now you might say, well that was Elijah, he was a prophet, and we’re not Elijah.  But look at what James says in verse 17, “Elijah was a man just like us.”  He anticipated that objection and he answers it.  Yes, Elijah was a prophet, but he was still a human being.  The point is not that we start praying for droughts and so on, but whenever we pray we ought to do so with the attitude of faith.  We ought to trust that God will hear us and answer as he sees fit. 

He has promised us that when we pray in faith he will hear us.  Now the fact that he makes that promise doesn’t mean that we will always get what we want.  Sometimes what we want doesn’t line up with his will.  Moreover, God knows better than we do what’s best for us – and it takes humility to see that too.  He will hear us and he will give what is best because he is the overflowing fountain of all good, and he loves us because of Christ.  We have to trust his fatherly love, even when what he’s doing in our lives isn’t obviously good to our understanding.  So when we pray, we must pray believing that our Father listens and that he will take the right action in response.  That’s another way in which prayer teaches us to grow in dependence on God. 

Last of all this afternoon, we want to briefly consider what we ought to pray for.  Simply, we ought to pray for the things that we need.  There’s sometimes a difference between what we need and what we want.  What do we really need?  What are the things that we don’t need, but just want?  Prayer is to focus on needs, not the things that are just wants. 

We need to pray for the things we need for our body.  We need food, for instance.  Therefore, we pray for daily bread.  We pray regarding our jobs that God would provide the financial resources to be able to put food on the table, clothes on our backs, and a roof over our heads.  When it comes to bodily needs, we also pray for health and strength for each day.  We pray for continued peace in our country and in our communities.  We pray for protection from harm in our homes, in our neighbourhoods, and as we travel.  These are just some of the ways in which pray regarding the needs of our bodies.

But then are also the needs of our souls.  There is a physical, material aspect to our being, but there is also a spiritual and immaterial aspect to who we are.  We speak of that as the soul.  What do our souls need?  We need the heavenly bread and drink that Jesus came to offer.  When we die, our souls will separate from our bodies and live separately from our bodies until the day of the resurrection.  Our souls will need a good place to go.  Without Christ and apart from the good news, our souls will go to hell.  But when we trust in Christ in this life, we can be sure that our souls will immediately go to the presence of God after we die.  What our souls need most is eternal life in Christ, our salvation.  That too has to be a matter of prayer – both for ourselves and, if we’re parents, for our children. 

Our souls can be tossed and turned with doubts in this life.  We might sometimes be lacking in assurance.  For various reasons perhaps we are not at peace in our souls.  All these things too are things to bring before the LORD in prayer.  We have to ask him to take away the doubts that cripple our faith.  To give us the assurance that we are his children through Christ.  To give us the peace that passes all understanding, knowing that we are safe and secure in our Father’s arms.  We need these things in our souls, and prayer is the way God wants us to reach out for them.              

The Lord’s Prayer is there for us as a model to teach us all the things we need to pray for body and soul.  Our Lord Jesus gave it as a teaching tool, though certainly we have the freedom to use it as a free-standing prayer as well.  But the main reason he gave it was to show us the ropes about prayer.  It is a beautiful and perfect example of how to pray about all the things we need.  Certainly there are many other places in the Bible that teach us about prayer too.  Think of the Psalms.  In the Psalms we find many instances of David and other Psalmists addressing God in prayer, and in so doing, teaching us how to do the same.  But the Lord’s Prayer brings all of those teachings into one concise prayer that we can meditate on and learn from.  So in the coming weeks, we’ll follow the Catechism through the Lord’s Prayer and learn again from our Saviour how to pray for all we need for body and soul. 

For some of you, this is going to be your regular review, a review you’ve maybe gone through many times already in life.  For others, especially our young people and children, perhaps this will be the first time that you’ve really paid attention.  But all of us need this instruction, myself included.  Because prayer isn’t natural after the fall into sin.  Even after regeneration, we struggle with prayer because of the remnants of our sinful nature.  We’re all weak vessels, jars of clay that easily break.  We need the Word, and we need the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and apply the Word we hear.  He will teach us what we need to know and to know our need.  So, in the coming weeks, let’s again pray for his guidance as he teaches us to pray.  AMEN. 

Prayer: 

Yahweh, our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

We call upon you, the one true God who reveals himself in his Word.  We call upon you our faithful Father who created us.  We acknowledge you as the one who continues to support us day in and day out.  We call upon you our wonderful Saviour, Jesus Christ, thanking you for the salvation you came to bring.  We adore you for calling us friends and brothers and for entering into our world, and taking on our flesh.  We call upon you, O Holy Spirit, and thank you for the gift of faith.  We seek your continued renewal in our lives.  As part of that, please continue to teach us to pray.  O Yahweh, our God in heaven, teach us to know our need and misery – impress us with your holiness and help us to know ourselves rightly so that we would always humble ourselves before you and seek our help outside of ourselves in Christ.  Please give us more grace so that would always rest on the firm foundation of your grace in Christ, that you will always hear us because of him.  Indeed, Father, we do not deserve it but we ask that you would hear our prayer because of him and all that he has done for us.

 

    




* 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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