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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 how to end our prayers
Text:LD 52 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2012
Added:2012-12-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 7
Psalm 141:1-3
Hymn 63:1,7,8
Hymn 1
Psalm 149

Scripture reading:  Matthew 4:1-11
Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 52
* 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,

Imagine for a moment a young man who goes off to a far country for some reason.  While there he meets a beautiful young lady who captures his heart.  Though he only speaks a little of her language at first, what he observes of her makes him really interested in her.  As he learns more of her language, he falls deeper in love.  As he falls deeper in love, he’s motivated to learn more of her language.  Before long, he can speak it fluently.  You see, there is nothing like quite love to make one motivated to learn a new language.

Learning how to pray is something like learning a new language.  Prayer is not something that comes naturally to us.  Like a foreign language, we have to be taught.  We have been deeply loved by God.  In his grace, our Father chose us before the foundation of the world.  In his mercy, Jesus our Saviour went to the cross with us on his heart.  In his kindness, the Holy Spirit has come to work faith in our hearts so that we trust in Christ alone for our salvation.  And one of the consequences of all this is that we in turn love the One who first so greatly loved us.  Love drives us to want to converse with our God, to speak with him daily.  Prayer is the language we use to do that.  Prayer is a language we each need to learn.  And if we’re motivated by love, we want to learn this language and we want to improve and speak it better. 

When you learn a language, you spend time learning the way to begin and end conversations.  You learn how to say hello and so on.  And you also learn how to end conversations, to say “good-bye.”  We also need to learn these same sorts of things when it comes to prayer.  As we’ve looked at the Lord’s Prayer over the last few weeks, we learned from Christ how to begin our conversation with God – we begin with childlike reverence and trust toward him.  We learned how to ask for everything we need for body and soul.  Now we come to the end of the conversation.  This afternoon we’re learning the language of prayer when it comes to a conclusion.  We’ll see how Christ teaches us to end our prayers with one last: 

1.      Call for help

2.      Confession

3.      Certitude

The earth is a dangerous place.  There are animals that eat people, for example.   We don’t have any around here, but you find them in other parts of the world.  One such place is Africa.  For example, in Tanzania people are still regularly attacked and killed by lions.  Some wildlife researchers recently looked into this.  They wanted to see if there were patterns in lion attacks on humans.  Were there more attacks at certain times than others?  They already knew that lions attack mostly at night, but were there times of the month where lions attacked more?  The research showed that most lion attacks on humans occur in the first week following a full moon.  This was important for two reasons.  First, it demonstrated that the full moon is a reliable indicator of impending danger for people living in close proximity to lions.  It partly explains why there are so many superstitions and customs in connection with a full moon.  But it also and more importantly allows people who live near to lions to take extra pre-cautions right after a full moon.  You don’t let your kids wander outside in the dark after a full moon, for instance.  People are getting educated about how lions behave and, knowing their tactics and typical behaviours, they’re better protected.  Lives will be saved.    

Now maybe you’re thinking, that’s interesting but what does that have to do with Lord’s Day 52 and the ending of our prayers?  Actually, a lot.  We have sworn enemies who do not stop attacking us.  One of those enemies is the devil.  We ought never to forget what 1 Peter 5:8 says about this enemy:  he “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  He sneaks around and he attempts to frighten us.  He wants to kill us, literally 1 Peter 5:8 says that he wants to drink us up.  He wants our blood.  He wants us dead.  And Scripture teaches us that he has tactics and typical behaviours.  Just like rural Tanzanians benefit from knowing the behaviour of the lions that threaten them, Christians benefit from researching and being aware of Satan’s ways.

Look at the ways in which he tempted our Saviour in Matthew 4.  Jesus was hungry after fasting for forty days.  Satan had a trick in his bag from way back.  Back in the garden already, he had used food to destroy God’s creature.  He thought that this might work again.  He appealed to the appetite of Jesus and urged him to abuse his divine powers to feed himself.  That tactic worked in the garden, but it failed in the wilderness.  His next temptation involved the use of the Word of God.  Here again this was a recycled tactic.  Satan had said to Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden.’”  Satan perverted God’s Word and turned it against God’s creature and against God himself.  That tactic worked in the garden, but it failed in the wilderness.  The third temptation involved power and the lies it often involves.  Once again, loved ones, we need to see that Satan is not really creative when it comes to his tactics.  He told our first parents that if they would listen, they would be like God.  In the wilderness, Satan attempts a similar lie with Jesus.  He told him that he could have power, he could have everything, if only he would bow the knee and worship Satan.  Again, that lie worked in Eden, but in the Judean desert, the Second Adam stood firm.  He was aware of the lion’s ways. 

This lion is still prowling around today and he still throws the same kinds of temptations at us.  He tells the same kinds of lies.  He knows all our weak spots.  He’s had thousands of years of practice at tempting and turning people against God.  We should not underestimate the deceitfulness of this enemy and his intent on getting his bloody paws on us to finish us off. 

Being aware of him and his ways is only one part of our survival plan here.  Jesus gives us the other part in the sixth petition, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  This is a cry for help.  We have strong enemies.  Satan is just one of them.  There’s also the world of unbelief.  There’s the remnants of our sinful nature, our flesh.  We have strong forces that are doing their utmost to draw us away from God.  Each of us is faced with constant temptation from this unholy trio. 

And who are we?  We are weak.  With our own resources, we can’t stand even for a moment against Satan or any of these enemies.  We’re like a little child in a Tanzanian village.  Our father has told us to stay inside because it’s just after a full moon.  But we wander out anyway.  The lions are prowling around and they’re looking for some human tenderloin.  A little child is helpless and weak against these lions.  But if he calls for the help of his father, his father will come running with a large calibre rifle and fend off the lions and save his child.  The child can do nothing but call for help.  The father will hear and answer, he’ll act. 

So it is with us, loved ones.  Surrounded by enemies bent on our destruction, we need to call to our Father God for help.  Without him, we would invariably go down to defeat.  But when we pray to him, he will hear and he will uphold and strengthen us by the power of his Holy Spirit.            

Brothers and sisters, Christ teaches us here to make it our practice to acknowledge our weakness and our need when we pray.  God wants to hear his children humbly admitting that they are children, weak and powerless of themselves.  He wants to hear his children praying and asking for the strength to go on to victory in Christ.  Every day when we pray, we should pray in this manner.  And I assure you, God will hear your prayer and he will give you the help you need.  Your Father will come to your aid and he will fend off the lions.  The Word of God guarantees and promises us this.

We have a great enemy in Satan, but we have a greater God.  That’s really the point with the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”  We begin our prayers by acknowledging God’s heavenly majesty and almighty power, and Jesus teaches us to end our prayers with the same kind of confession.

Now before we go further, let me address a point here about the original text of the Lord’s Prayer.  If you were to look at the Lord’s Prayer as found in Matthew 6 in the NIV, you would notice that the conclusion is missing.  It’s the same in the ESV.  There is a footnote and at the bottom of the page the translators tell us that “some late manuscripts” have the conclusion.  Unfortunately, this is not the full picture.  The full picture is that the conclusion or doxology is found in the vast majority of existing Greek manuscripts in all the different types of text families.  The full picture is that for several hundred years the church has recognized the voice of our Saviour in these words.  So, not surprisingly, our Catechism too affirms that these words are part of the prayer that Christ our Lord himself taught us.  Jesus taught us to end our prayers in this manner. 

Our Saviour teaches us to confess three things.  First, we’re taught to confess that as our King, God is sovereign.  He has power over all things.  Even the smallest and most mundane things in our lives and in the universe are under his control.  Absolutely nothing falls outside of his sovereignty, his omnipotence.  Even the Gentile king Nebuchadnezzar came to recognize this.  He said in Daniel 4:35, “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing.  He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.  No one can hold back his hand...”  His omnipotence, his almighty power, means that he is able to give us all good things we need for body and soul.

He is able.  But what if he wasn’t willing to give us those things?  Thankfully, we don’t need to doubt or question that.  Scripture is clear that God is not only able, but also willing.  Because of what Christ has done for us, because of the gospel, his heart is turned in love to his people and he gives generously to all who seek him in true faith.  Think of what Jesus says in Matthew 7.  He compares our good God to sinful, earthly fathers.  Sinful earthly fathers wouldn’t give stones to their children when they ask for bread.  Earthly fathers wouldn’t give poisonous snakes to their children if they asked for fish.  What earthly father wouldn’t give good gifts to his children?  Because Christ lived, died, and rose again for us, we have a heavenly Father who loves us far more than any earthly father loves his children.  This knowledge of God’s power and love gives us hope as we pray.  It gives us confidence in our hearts. 

The third thing our Lord Jesus teaches us to confess here is that God’s glory is our highest purpose.  God’s glory is the point of our lives and thus it’s also to be the point of the prayers we pray in our lives.  We have to be self-conscious of that point.  We’re Reformed folk and perhaps sometimes we can speak rather glibly about God’s glory.  We know that God’s glory is what we’re about, but it can become a sort of part of our religious jargon.  We say it, but we don’t really think about it and what it means.  It just becomes an empty phrase.  The way to avoid that is to be praying along the lines Jesus taught us and to do it with our minds and hearts fully engaged.  Mindless prayers referring to God’s glory are not giving God glory.    

That brings us to the last word of our prayers, that little Hebrew word that everybody knows and uses, “Amen.”  That little word is all about certitude, our certainty, our firm trust in God.  In fact, the Hebrew word “Amen,” can be used to describe a response of faith and trust to what someone says.  For example, in the Old Testament, the most famous example is that of Abram in Genesis 15.  After hearing the covenant promise for innumerable ancestors, Moses wrote in verse 6 that “Abram believed the LORD…”  Literally, Abram ‘amened’ Yahweh.  The verbal form of ‘amen’ is used in the original Hebrew.  It’s a word that speaks of faith.  It’s a word that denotes hopeful confidence. 

We have the desire in our hearts to be heard by God.  Of course.  Otherwise we would not really pray.  But the strength of that desire is not comparable to the strength of the certainty that God has heard us as we pray.  It is an objectively certain and true fact that God hears the prayers of his people as they call out to him in the name of Jesus Christ.  Because Christ is our Mediator in heaven, we can be sure that our prayers arrive at the address of our Father.  They arrive with his urgent appeal for those prayers to be heard.  And they arrive with the perfection of the Holy Spirit too.  Both the Son and the Spirit are working on our behalf to get our prayers heard and they will not be ignored and so we won’t either. 

What does it mean that our prayers are heard?  It means that our prayers have come to God’s attention.  He has not ignored us.  He is not indifferent to us.  Put in human terms, his ear is inclined to us.  Our Father cares to know what his children have to say to him. 

His hearing our prayers also means that he answers those prayers.  No, he doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want.  Sometimes he answers our prayers with a “No.”  He knows that what we are asking is not good for us or that it does not tend to his glory.  Sometimes he answers our prayers with a “Not yet.”  He has a perfect timing for everything that he has ordained.  We have to learn to content ourselves with his timing and this way in which he answers our prayers.  Still at other times, he answers our prayers with a “Yes,” and in exactly or almost exactly the way we’ve desired it.  But brothers and sisters, never forget that our Father in heaven ALWAYS hears our prayers and ALWAYS answers our prayers.  He always answers them in some way or other, even if it is not the way we would have liked.  Our calling is to see our Father’s answer, to be confident of his love, and to content ourselves with his answer. 

That attitude of contentment allows us to conclude our prayers with a confident and hopeful, “Amen.”  To help us in saying that word meaningfully and from the heart, it can sometimes be good to say the words of the Catechism right afterwards, “It is true and certain.  God has heard my prayer” or something to that effect.  Ending your prayer like that can help to drive home the confident attitude of hope that we’re taught by our Lord Jesus.

Sometimes we have a hard time ending our conversations.  I’m sure we’ve all had instances where we’re talking to someone and it ends awkwardly.  It’s uncomfortable and we walk away feeling uneasy.  If we learn the language of prayer like Jesus teaches us, then we never have to experience or feel this about our communications with God in heaven.  He teaches us everything we need to know, including how to bring it to an appropriate end.  Because we’re sinners, of course, our prayers will always be imperfect in themselves.  Even if we use the right words, the right attitude isn’t always there or the right motivations.  So we can be encouraged and thankful that we have the Holy Spirit to perfect our prayers.  Because we have Christ, our perfected prayers will be heard.  We can have confidence then as we pray each day. 

Loved ones, let me encourage you again to be diligent in prayer.  As the apostle teaches, pray continually.  Make prayer your habit and you’ll continue to grow as God’s child.  Make prayer a daily priority for you and God will be praised and glorified, and you’ll be blessed.  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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