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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:How to begin our prayers
Text:LD 46 (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

Hymn 14:1-3,10
Psalm 29
Hymn 63:1
Hymn 1
Psalm 147:1,4,6

Scripture readings:  Jeremiah 31:1-9, Galatians 3:26-4:7
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 our Lord Jesus Christ,

Sometimes the hardest thing is starting something.  That can happen with your daily work, that can happen with an essay or paper you have to write for school, that can even happen with getting out of bed in the morning.  But once you get going and moving in the right direction, things usually start to fall into place.  But it’s starting that’s often a challenge. 

The same could happen with regard to prayer.  Prayer is difficult enough as it is, but if we don’t even know how to start, we’ll never get to the heart of the matter either.  Our Lord Jesus didn’t give just general instructions on prayer.  His teaching on prayer is not vague and nebulous.  No, he gives very concrete and helpful instruction.  We can be thankful that his teaching is clear.  And it’s that way also on the point of how to begin our prayers.  That’s what we’re considering this afternoon.  We’ll see how in the Lord’s Prayer, Christ teaches us to pray addressing God as: 

1.      Father

2.      Our Father

3.      Our Father in heaven

Some have said that the idea of God as Father is something found only in the New Testament.  They say that the Jews in the Old Testament did not know God as Father in any sense.  A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a Jewish synagogue.   In their book of prayers there were references to God as Father.  So today the Jews do sometimes refer to God as Father, even though obviously they do not believe in the Trinity. 

When we carefully consider the teaching of the Old Testament, this should come as no surprise.  In fact, the Old Testament has quite a number of references to God as Father.  One of those places is our reading from Jeremiah 31.  God says in verse 9 that he is the Father of Israel.  Another example is in Isaiah 63.  In verse 16, Isaiah is addressing God and he writes, “But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.”  So thinking of God as “Father,” and even addressing him as such, is something found throughout the Bible, both New Testament and Old Testament. 

Now it is really important to realize that this way of addressing God is not connected to the doctrine of the Trinity.  In the Old Testament, the word “Father” is not meant to have us think of the person of the Father in distinction from the person of the Son or that of the Holy Spirit.  It is a word that applies to God as one God.  The word “Father” is applied to Yahweh, the Triune God.  It is a word that is meant to distinguish between God and his creatures who call upon him.  To illustrate this, think of what Scripture says in Isaiah 9.  Isaiah 9 is where we find that famous passage, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…”  This is a prophecy referring to Christ.  And what does it say at the end of Isaiah 9:6?  “And he will be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  In this prophecy, the idea of God as Father is applied to the Messiah, to Christ.  That’s not meant to confuse the persons of God the Father and God the Son.  The doctrine of the Trinity is not in the picture here apart from the fact that the Messiah is divine.  He is God and as such he can be called Father, just as Yahweh is called Father elsewhere in the Old Testament.  Christ is the Father in as far as he is God, our Creator and Redeemer. 

This is the background to the Lord’s Prayer.  When Jesus teaches us to pray to the Father, he is not saying that we are going to be praying to the Father as one person of the Trinity.  Rather, we are praying to God as Father, to Yahweh who is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Yahweh is the Father to whom we are taught to pray in the Lord’s Prayer.  God as one God.  It is this one God who is in a special relationship with each of us through Jesus Christ.  As the Catechism puts it, “God has become our Father through Christ…”  Because of Christ’s work in our place, we are sons of God.  This is what we learn from Paul in Galatians 3 and 4.  Trusting in Christ, we can confident that we have a place in God’s family.  We are children in the house of a good and gracious Father.  We can be confident of God’s love for us.  We can be sure of God’s plans for us. 

There are many stories about Martin Luther and his children.  One day he was talking with his daughter Anastasia.  She was four years old at the time.  She started going on about Christ, angels, and heaven.  Her dad, Martin Luther, said, “My dear child, if only we could hold fast this faith.”  “Why, papa,” she said, “don’t you believe it?”  Luther replied: 

Christ has made the children our teachers.  I am chagrined that although I am ever so much a doctor, I still have to go to the same school with Hans and Magdalena [two of his older children], for who among men can understand the full meaning of this word of God, “Our Father who art in heaven”?  Anyone who genuinely believes these words will say, “I am the master of heaven and earth and all that is therein.  The Angel Gabriel is my servant, Raphael is my guardian, and the angels in my every need are ministering spirits.  My Father, who is in heaven, will give them charge over me lest I dash my foot against a stone.”  And while I am affirming this faith, my Father allows me to be thrown into prison, drowned, or beheaded.  Then faith falters and in weakness I cry, “Who knows whether it is true?”             

We portray him as a hero of the Reformation, as a man of great faith and courage, but the reality is that Luther knew about doubts and struggles.  He knew what it was to wrestle with God and the Devil.  “Who knows whether it is true?”  How do you answer that question when you’re faced with all kinds of tough stuff in your life?  God is my Father?  Why is all this stuff happening?  How can I even pray to him as Father? 

We have to look for the answers where God wants us to find the answers:  in his Word.  That’s where Martin Luther went for answers, that’s where we have to go too.  When we do that, we discover that God has promised that when we trust in Christ for salvation, he will be to us better than any earthly father.  Earthly fathers vary.  Some are good, some are excellent, some are indifferent, and some have been really bad.  But when we have Christ as our Saviour, God promises that he will take better care of us than any earthly father could.  A good earthly father will give good things to his children.  Our good heavenly Father will give even better things to those who ask in faith.  To us it may not be readily apparent how some of the things he gives in this life are for our good, but he promises that they are.  It is part of faith to trust his Word, to have that childlike reverence and trust.  To look up to heaven knowing that we have a Father who cares for us.

Loved ones, we also have his promise that since we are sons, we are also heirs.  Luther alluded to that when he said that he was a master of heaven and earth.  God has promised us that we shall reign with Christ over all things.  Galatians 4:6, “…and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”  We are in line for an inheritance.  The day is coming when all of us shall be kings and queens over the new created order.  Father, Abba, promises us this because of Christ. 

Therefore Christ teaches us to begin our prayers with a clear expression of who we understand God to be, and who we understand ourselves to be.  We call upon God as Father, knowing that he loves us because of Christ.  We call upon God as Father, knowing that we are his beloved children.  Christians are therefore taught to begin their prayers in faith.  We’re taught to begin our prayers with dependence on the love that God has for us.

At this point let me address a question that some might raise.  Someone might ask, “Are we only allowed to address God as Father in our prayers?  Do I have to say, “Our Father in heaven” every time I pray or can I use other words?”  The Bible itself uses a variety of expressions.  So, for example, when the Christians pray in Acts 4, they didn’t begin with, “Our Father in heaven.”  They began by saying, “Sovereign Lord…”  Were they sinning by doing that?  After all, some of them had heard Jesus’ teaching.  No, loved ones, the Bible clearly gives us freedom with our words when we pray.  The key thing is not the exact words, but the attitude with which we pray.  How do we pray?  And so far we’ve seen that our prayers have to begin with trust and dependence on God, the one who is our Father.      

Now Christ not only teaches us to look to God as Father, but also to regard him as our Father.  Jesus could have put it differently.  He could have started the Lord’s Prayer without any possessive pronoun.  He could have said, “Father in heaven…”  Or he could have used the first person possessive pronoun.  He could have said, “Pray like this, ‘My Father in heaven…”  But he didn’t.  Instead, he taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven.”  Why?  Why the word “our”?

There are at least two reasons.  The first has to do with confidence.  We can be sure that God will hear the prayers of his people as they bring their voices together in the unity of faith.  Think of the words of Christ in Matthew 18:19-20, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”  We often apply these words to public worship, but they can also be applied to prayer, as we come together through our prayers in Christ’s name.  When the body of believers is praying together to the Father in heaven in Christ’s Name, we can together be sure of his attention.

The second reason has to do with love, our love for one another.  Our Saviour doesn’t want us to be narcissists, people who are obsessed with themselves and turned in on themselves.  By ourselves, we’re all afflicted with a bad case of spiritual scoliosis.  Scoliosis is a disease where the spine is curved the wrong way.  Well, spiritual scoliosis is where we’re turned in on ourselves, obsessed with me and my problems.  It’s all about me.  When Jesus uses the word “our” at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer he’s addressing this problem of spiritual scoliosis.  He’s saying:  “it’s not just about you.  You are part of a body of believers.  You have brothers and sisters.  When you pray, don’t just be thinking about yourself and your needs, but also think about others in the family of God.  There are others beside you who have God as their Father and you’re called to love them and express your love for them by praying with and for them.”                  

So, brothers and sisters, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us not to be selfish and self-centered when we pray.  We are certainly given the freedom to pray about our own needs and concerns.  Absolutely.  But Jesus teaches us also to be thinking about the needs and concerns of others when we pray.  Really, the little word ‘our’ is all about the communion of saints.  That’s a relationship of fellowship that also carries over into our life of prayer.   

Then our Saviour adds two other important words:  in heaven.  “Our Father in heaven.”  What do those words teach us?  We’ve already been reminded of God’s mercy and compassion for his children.  We know that he has a heart of love for those who are his in Christ.   But that love and concern of our Father has to be set in the context of his heavenly majesty and almighty power. 

Loved ones, if we’re going to approach God with reverence in prayer, we need to have a good grasp of what the Bible teaches about his majesty.  One of the most powerful Psalms on that score is Psalm 29, which we sang before the sermon.  God is described in that Psalm as having glory and strength.  He is holy, set apart from sin and sinners.  When he speaks, his voice is powerful and majestic.  So powerful is his voice that it snaps giant cedar trees in two.  The voice of God twists the oaks and levels forests.  God is a great and mighty King.  After you read this Psalm, you can’t pray to God with anything other than awe and respect.  That’s where this Psalm is meant to lead you.  You have a Father in heaven, but he is majestic and glorious and don’t you ever forget it. 

There are more ways in which Scripture impresses on us the majesty of God.  Just think of God’s personal name, Yahweh.  That name and the associated words, “I am who I am” – that speaks to us of God who is absolute, who is eternal, who is an independent being.  God needs no one, he depends on no one for his existence.  That’s so unlike us.  Very impressive when you reflect.

Scripture also mentions several times where people had a glimpse of God.  For instance, God allowed Moses to see his back (Exodus 34).  He hid Moses in the cleft of the rock and then his glory passed by.  Yahweh came down in the cloud and proclaimed his Name to Moses: Yahweh.  Moses heard the words, “Yahweh, Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love and faithfulness to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  And when Moses came down from the mountain and his meeting with God, his face was shining – so much so in fact, that he put a veil over his face.  This account is meant to leave us in awe of God and his majesty. 

Think too of God’s attributes, the qualities that define him.  I’ve mentioned some of them already.  There’s his holiness.  His power.  His justice.  His wisdom.  His infinity.  His goodness.  When you think regularly on these things that make God God, you will have the right attitude of reverence for him when you pray to him.

And what about God’s works, his deeds?  There are so many of them recorded in Scripture.  The whole Bible is full of God’s deeds and his deeds reveal his greatness.  Think of what happened with King Nebuchadnezzar in the Old Testament.  He exalted himself in pride.  He was very proud of himself and what he had accomplished in the Babylonian empire.  He gave himself all the credit.  And what did God do to Nebuchadnezzar?  He put him out to pasture – literally.  He was out there alongside the cows eating grass.  God did that to this mighty king to teach him humility.  In the New Testament, we read of another king who fell into the same sin.  But this king didn’t get off so easy.  In Acts we read of how King Herod was praised as a god by the people – and Herod accepted this praise and revelled in it.  What did God do to him?  He sent him worms that ate him from the inside out and he died.  God does not accept competition.  God notices when anyone tries to take his place on the throne.  God is majestic and he reveals his majesty through his deeds, bringing judgment down on the wicked and unrepentant.  When we reflect on God’s deeds, then again we’re brought to humility and respect for him.  We’re brought to what the Bible calls the fear of God.  Not that we’re scared of him, but that we hold him in the highest regard.  The fear of God is the right attitude for prayer.

So our God is a king and he is majestic in glory.  But he is also powerful.  It’s enormously comforting to think about that.  Here on earth we have kings and queens, but they’re not always powerful.  Sometimes they’re just figure-heads.  Sometimes they just represent power.  But God is different.  He is truly powerful, he can do as he pleases with everything in his creation.  This is the God that we call upon in our prayers.  He loves us, but he can also do what we ask.  He has a heart of love and a hand of power.  As we begin our prayers, and as we carry on through our prayers, this should not only be in the background, but we should also acknowledge it with our words.  God wants to hear his children confessing him, recognizing that he is mighty, and then depending on his might to provide for them. 

Perhaps you have heard of the ACTS model for prayer.  ACTS is an acronym.  It stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  ACTS – it’s a good biblical model to remember what to pray for and about.  It’s also got the first priority straight, following the model of the Lord’s Prayer.  The beginning of the Lord’s Prayer is about faith and adoration.  When we pray, we can so quickly jump to our list of needs and supplications.  But Jesus teaches us to first focus on God and the fact that he is our Father in heaven, that he loves us and because he is Yahweh, he is worthy of our praise.  That kind of approach recognizes him in the right place – on the throne – and recognizes us in the right place – his dependent children here on earth.

Loved ones, when we follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus, beginning our prayers is not all that difficult.  He teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer and the Bible teaches us everywhere to approach God with trust and with reverence.  He wants to hear his children expressing their faith and adoring him – and he gives us every reason to do so in his Word.  So let me encourage you again this afternoon to be fervent in prayer, and in your prayers be vocal about your confidence in him and your awe for him.  AMEN.          

Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,

Your name, your being, your attributes, and your deeds impress us and lead us to adore you.  You are the great God of heaven and earth, the only God.  We look up 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 and power 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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