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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Basics of Prayer
Text:LD 45 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-04-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 43:3,4                                                                                          

Hy 6:1,2  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Matthew 6:1-15; James 5:13-20

Ps 102:1,6,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 45

Hy 63:1,2,8

Ps 34:2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, my Oma used to have a little plaque hanging on her kitchen wall. It was a plain-looking thing, and written on it was just a handful of words. It asked a simple question: “Have you prayed about it?”

I always thought how that was a good question for my Oma. “Have you prayed about it?” For as she went about her day, preparing a meal, doing the dishes, writing letters, she had a lot of things on her mind. She was a widow. She had some health concerns. She often worried about her family, her children and grandchildren, and if they were walking with the Lord. She couldn’t do much about these things. But she knew that she could bring all these cares before her Father in heaven.

For any of us, that question is so good: “Have you prayed about it?” For through prayer, answers are found. Through prayer, anxieties dissolve. Through prayer, God gives us the courage and strength to carry on. For the Christian life, prayer is key.

As the Catechism teaches us in Q&A 116, “Prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness… God requires of us.” In trouble, in blessing, and in all the ordinary activities that fill each week, we often need to hear that simple question—“Have you prayed about it?”

Prayer is important, yet we don’t always know how to do it. In Matthew 6, Jesus mentions the danger of praying with a lot of words but no heart, the danger of praying because it’s expected and not because you want to draw closer to God your Father. We have much to learn here, so we have to go back to Scripture. Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, of course. But there are other powerful examples of prayer in Scripture, like the prayer of Solomon, or the prayer of Daniel, or Hezekiah’s prayer.

Some of these teachings are summarized with a short acronym. It’s called the “ACTS” of prayer. Each letter—A, C, T, S—stands for a different aspect of a God-pleasing prayer. The Catechism students might recall learning it last year. It’s simple, but as believers, don’t we so often have to return to the basics? Don’t we often have to return to the essentials of life in Christ? Time and again we discover something that we should’ve been doing all along, or something that we used to do, but we let slide. So let’s learn again about prayer on this theme from Lord’s Day 45:

Learn the ACTS of God-pleasing prayer:

  1. Adoration
  2. Confession
  3. Thanksgiving
  4. Supplication

 

1) we must pray with adoration: Whenever we begin to pray, it’s hard not to jump quickly to our list of running concerns: our sore back, the repair bill for the car, some nasty politics at the office, a family member who’s struggling, and more. As we said, those concerns are always there.

And we’re allowed to bring them to God. The Lord wants us to! Think of the beautiful words of Psalm 55:22, “Cast your cares on the LORD, and He shall sustain you.” We know that God wants to hear them, and that He’ll help us. So in what spirit do we bring them to God? We need to come before our God in humility and adoration.

Be in awe when you pray, in the remembrance of who you’re talking to. You’re talking to the living God, your Father in Christ. That’s even the most basic reason that we need to pray: not to deal with our problems, not to clear away our anxieties, but we pray so that we may enjoy the gift of communion with God, our Creator and Saviour!

Our prayers need a proper beginning then. We should start on the right note, or we’ll go off key. The first thing we should do—and the thing to return to often—is the adoration of our God. Adoration: in other words, we worship, we honour, we praise, we glorify, we exalt and acclaim our great LORD and King. This is how the Lord’s Prayer itself begins. Jesus taught us pray, “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

We begin, as Lord’s Day 46 says, with “childlike reverence and trust.” We begin, striving not to think “of God’s heavenly majesty in an earthly manner.” Whatever the earthly concern or daily situation we’re going to bring to him, we know that this God is above us. He is unlike us, and He is far superior to us in power and understanding. Which means that God doesn’t necessarily do things our way. He doesn’t look at things the same way we do. God’s answer to our prayers might be very different from what we had in mind.

So pray to this God, “Hallowed be your Name.” We say to God, “In our fellowship together in these moments of prayer, may you be praised. May all my life not be about me, but about you.” This is why the Bible says we should pray without ceasing, so that our God always receives the glory. For even if you were free from all worries and cares, if it was somehow possible to be utterly without concern or trouble, you would need to pray. You would need to, because your God lives and reigns and He sustains all, and because you want to give him the honour.

God knows how great He is, of course, and He doesn’t need to hear it from us. But He wants our praise! He wants to hear it from us, because He’s so deserving of that humble, awe-inspired worship. Jesus teaches us to pray to God in this spirit, “Father, may your Name be sanctified, glorified and praised! In this day, in this world, and in all my life, may your almighty power, your wisdom, your goodness and righteousness and mercy and truth shine forth in glory!”

So it’s worth reflecting: When we pray, how many of our words are about the LORD and who He is? Do we meditate on the greatness of the God we’re approaching? For not only is God worthy of this praise, this praise brings us encouragement! Praying in adoration is a powerful reminder that we’re not praying to some ordinary and limited God. But we come into the presence of the true God.

And that’s amazing! Because He’s so compassionate, He’ll take note of all our concerns. Because He’s so powerful, He’ll handle all our troubles. Because He’s so forgiving, He’ll pass over our sins. Praise is a sure reminder that we’re going to the right place. We’re reminded, as Jesus says, that “[our] Father knows the things you have need of before you ask him” (Matt 6:8).

Even so, a sense of awe is hard to cultivate, and adoration is hard to achieve. We find it hard to give other people meaningful praise and compliments, let alone to give praise to God. So how to let praise set the tone? We find a hint in Q&A 117, with the question about what belongs to a God-pleasing prayer. And the answer, “First, we must from the heart call upon the one true God only, who has revealed Himself in His Word.”

Notice how the Catechism points us to God’s Word. Scripture is where we see the attributes of the LORD, God showing himself to be eternal and unchangeable. Telling us that He’s infinite and almighty, perfectly wise, perfectly just and perfectly good. And this same God is our covenant God, so gracious that He enters into a lasting bond of fellowship with sinners.

What does the right knowledge of God have to do with adoring him in prayer? The more we know him, the more we’ll give him our praise. The more we see him at work, the more we’ll delight to give him our worship.

Beloved, find a way to begin your prayers on the right note. The Psalms give us the language of praise—so use the Psalms to adore the Lord. Or think about who God is, as Father, Son and Spirit, and praise him for his works. “Heavenly Father, I praise you for this fresh new day that you’ve given, and this entire world that you maintain. Lord Jesus, I praise you for daily grace, for your heavenly rule over all things for the good of your church. And Holy Spirit, I praise you for your presence with me again this day, for the faith and love and hope that you’re giving.” Before we do anything else, we adore him!

           

2) we must pray with confession: If you’ve hurt someone, sometimes you can get away without saying “I’m sorry.” If you wait long enough, the other person forgets. The person whom you hurt gets over it, and you carry on. Not saying that’s the right course of action, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

With God, though, we should not avoid our confession of sin. There’s no use, because whenever we sin against God, He takes note of it. Scripture speaks of “the books” that are in heaven, a comprehensive database and careful record of all that’s done by humans here on earth, whether good or bad.

Understand why the Lord does this. Not because He likes to hold grudges or wants to humiliate us. But because God is just. He’s a righteous judge, one who demands that his law be upheld. If God stopped caring about sin, He would stop being God!

So it won’t work to look the other way, or to hope God does the same. Our sin must be dealt with! And what’s the very first thing you can do with your sin? Acknowledge it, admit it to him. Just like with adoration, it’s not as if God needs our confession. He knows all the sins we’ve committed, and the goodness we’ve omitted, better than we know ourselves.

Yet this is what God says in Isaiah 66:2, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and he who trembles at my word.” Also for this second of the “ACTS” of prayer, we have to realize who we’re talking to. God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all. God is a consuming fire, and the wicked are like chaff before him. To this glorious God we make a humble confession of sin.

Confession: we admit, we acknowledge, we own up to, we express our regret for sin. This part of prayer is also what our Lord Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us our debts.” We pray, “Do not impute to us, wretched sinners, any of our transgression, nor the evil which still clings to us” (Q&A 126).

Let’s underline a critical point: if we don’t know our sins, we’ll have nothing to confess. If we don’t realize our helpless condition, we won’t seek the mercy of God. If we don’t test our life against the Scriptures, our prayers for forgiveness will be like the “vain repetitions” which are condemned by Jesus, for every day we repeat it, “Father, forgive my sins, for they are many.” If you don’t know your sin, that’s a vain repetition.

So we should be able to say what we’ve done wrong. The Catechism says it well, “We must… know our need and misery so that we may humble ourselves before [him]” (Q&A 117). Know it by examining yourself on a regular basis.

What are the ways in which I fail in my daily calling as a Christian? How do I neglect my task as a father, a mother, a husband, a wife? How do I measure up against the Ten Commandments? Is there something that I am valuing these days more than God: like approval, or success, or family, or pleasure? What kind of nasty or proud or judgemental words came out of my mouth today? What kind of thoughts populate my brain, from hour to hour? Is my life really marked by a humble trust in the Lord? Identify your sin, and then ask yourself the simple question, “Have you prayed about it?”

For as we confess our sins to God, we can do so in hope, not despair. The Catechism puts it this way, “Although we do not deserve it, God will certainly hear our prayer for the sake of Christ our Lord” (Q&A 117). In our prayers of confession, we rest in Jesus and in the shadow of his cross. We’re allowed to pray: “For the sake of Christ, do not charge us wretched sinners with any of our transgressions.”

In the misery brought on by sin, this is the only place to turn. But it’s a good place. For the sake of Jesus, God listens. And for the sake of Jesus, God answers. As James writes about the person who is praying, “If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (5:15). If we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive and He’ll make us whole again.

 

3) we must pray with thanksgiving: Think about a time when you’ve received the surprise of a wonderful gift, or an incredible act of kindness. What could you say? What could you give this person in return? Sometimes there’s nothing we can do. All we can do is say “thanks.” We say it once, and then we say it a dozen times. We shake the giver’s hand, or give a hug. We send a card. We bring it up later, so they don’t forget how thankful we are.

Beloved, we have been awed by God’s majesty. We have been brought low by our sins—bound for the fires of hell—but then lifted up by his grace in Jesus Christ and granted a place in heaven itself. For people like us, thanksgiving is the only fitting response.

Once more, let’s keep our thanksgiving in the right perspective. The LORD knows there’s nothing we can give him in return. Everything belongs to him, anyway! Yet God commands us to be thankful. In fact, He makes thankfulness the trademark of a Christian. If you’ve been forgiven, if you have received every spiritual blessing in Christ, then you have to be thankful to God. As the Catechism puts it, “God will give his grace and the Holy Spirit… to those who… ask Him for these gifts and thank him for them” (Q&A 116).

We say these things once, and then a thousand times. Every day we should be bringing it up in prayer: “Father, I give you thanks for your mercy in Jesus Christ, for what you did in him.” We shouldn’t get tired of saying it: “Thanks be to you, O God, for your indescribable gift!” If you have received a good gift today, if God has been gracious to you and your family, then ask yourself the simple question: “Have you prayed about it?” Have you thanked him?

And expressing gratitude isn’t just good table manners, like when you thank your little sister for passing the salt. Scripture teaches us that God despises ungrateful people. He doesn’t look kindly on those who presume upon his love. Instead, He desires that we honour him for his generosity, and say how we appreciate what He’s given. Make this thankfulness as constant as your breathing: “Father, thank you for everything.”

Before rushing into your prayer after breakfast, instead of melting into prayer at the same time as you melt into sleep, instead of launching into a dozen urgent petitions and requests, find a way to thank him for all his benefits. Begin with humility, praise and thanksgiving.

We said that the Catechism calls prayer the most important part of our thankfulness. It’s the most important part, but it’s not the only part. God commands us to pray in gratitude, because sincere prayer always leads to real acts of thanksgiving. After thanking God in word, we want to thank him in deed. Time with hands folded in humble prayer should lead to hands active in humble service. The Spirit teaches us that they go together inseparably, “Pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks” (1 Thess 5:17-18).

 

4) we must pray with supplication: Say you begin your prayer with a few paragraphs of adoration, maybe using a Psalm, or meditating on a few of God’s attributes, his wisdom or power or faithfulness. Then you follow that up with a thorough confession of your sins, and a plea for God’s mercy in Christ. Then you spend a few moments in genuine thanksgiving, and acknowledge God as the generous source of everything good that you have.

If you do all of that first—begin with A, C, T—you might find something surprising, that “the S” has grown just a bit smaller. Your concerns and anxieties seem a little less pressing, and your troubles have been put in perspective. You might find that somehow they don’t seem so impossible to carry anymore.

The “big-ness” of God—the greatness of his majesty and glory and sovereignty and love—the “big-ness” of God can make our troubles seem a whole lot smaller. We’ve adored him as having all power in heaven and on earth. We’ve thanked him for all the riches already ours in Christ.

And if we’ve done that, we might present our requests and petitions in a different spirit. We won’t complain about what we don’t have. We won’t begin, and end, and fill up the middle of our prayers, with what we want. Because we remember what we already have.

I’m not saying God doesn’t want our supplications. He does. He wants to hear our requests, our concerns, our worries and fears. He wants us to bring before him our needs, whether it’s the health of our children, or troubles at work, or uncertainty about our future. James writes, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” (5:13). God wants us to present to him our deepest struggles, the needs in our church, and the concerns of our country.

As the Catechism says, “[We can ask for] all the things we need for body and soul” (Q&A 118). And as we pray for all these things, we’re confident. We know this great God, and what He can do. And as we pray, “we… rest on this firm foundation that, although we do not deserve it, God will certainly hear our prayer for the sake of Christ our Lord, as He has promised in his Word” (Q&A 117). We know that for Christ’s sake, the Father won’t turn us away. We can keep praying in the firm expectation of how He can help and lead and provide.

Beloved, this has been the ACTS of prayer. In prayer, give daily adoration to your Triune God in heaven. In prayer, daily confess before him your sin and misery. In daily prayer, present to him your thanksgiving. And in prayer, bring him each day your petitions and requests.

It’s true, of course, that anyone can know what A-C-T-S stands for. Maybe you’ve learned it long ago, and you feel it’s all pretty basic—elementary Christianity. Besides, you already know the Lord’s Prayer, and the prayers of the Psalms, and over the years you’ve read few books about prayer.

But learning is one thing, and doing is another! Let’s be people who not only know prayer, but who do prayer. May our first reaction, our reflex, our constant inclination, be to call on the Name of God. Be busy every day asking, seeking, knocking—praying to your heavenly Father and expecting great things, for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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