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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:How to pray so God is pleased and hears us
Text:LD 45 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-04-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 47

Psalm 145:1-3

Psalm 145:4-5

Hymn 1

Hymn 8

Scripture reading: 1 Kings 8:22-53

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,

Why is it so hard for us to pray?  It’s happened to me and I’m sure it’s happened to you too.  You’re praying, speaking with the Holy God, and then suddenly your mind drifts and you start thinking about something else.  Maybe you even fall asleep.  Or you forget to pray.  Or your prayers are superficial and start to sound the same. 

Well, you can take comfort because we’re not the first ones to struggle with prayer.  Believers throughout the centuries have faced this.  Take Martin Luther, for example.  We’re told Martin Luther had a puppy.  His puppy’s name was Tolpel.  One day Tolpel was at the dinner table looking for scraps from his master, watching with open mouth and fixed, motionless eyes.  Luther said, “Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat!  All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat.  Otherwise he has no thought, wish, or hope.” 

All the problems we have with prayer tell us prayer isn’t something natural for us.  We’re not born as people who automatically and easily speak with their Creator.  Instead, we have to be taught how to pray.  That’s why our Catechism devotes this last section to this vital subject.  We confess that prayer is the most important part of our thankfulness – it’s where our thankfulness starts.  When we realize how great a salvation we have in Jesus Christ, from our hearts we desire to please God and live in a healthy family relationship with our Father.  We desire more grace and richer measures of his Holy Spirit.  All that begins with prayer that pleases God and is heard by him.  Today we’ll consider how to pray in that way.  We’ll learn how our prayers need a:

  1. Proper address
  2. Proper self-assessment
  3. Proper faith

A moment ago we read Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8.  Before we look at some of the content of that prayer, we should also consider what we read about that prayer in the following chapter.  In 1 Kings 9, God tells Solomon that he heard his prayer and answered him.  In other words, God put his stamp of approval on what Solomon prayed – this was a prayer which pleased God and was heard by him.  It’s a prayer we can learn from. 

Now notice the way Solomon begins this God-pleasing prayer.  He says, “O LORD, God of Israel.”  Literally, he says, “O Yahweh, God of Israel.”  LORD in all capital letters is God’s special name Yahweh.  The word ‘God’ in Hebrew is “Elohim” or “El” and it could equally be used for false gods such as Molech or Baal.  The same isn’t true for Yahweh.  There was no other god who had that personal name.  Yahweh was Yahweh.  And he was also the God of Israel.  It’s true that at various times, Israel did serve false gods, but only Yahweh was truly the God of Israel, the God who’d made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Solomon refers to this covenant promise at the end of verse 23 and then also the covenant with David in verse 24.   

Solomon also acknowledges that Yahweh is entirely unique when he says in verse 23, “…there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath.”  With these words, Solomon confesses that no one compares with Yahweh.  We find similar thoughts expressed in other prayers and songs in Scripture.  In Psalm 77, Asaph says, “Your way, O God is holy.  What god is great like our God?”  And there’s Micah (whose name means “Who is like Yahweh?).  In Micah 7:18, we read, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?”  There’s only one true God, only one God who saves sinners.

And the Bible teaches that it is this one true God whom we’re to call upon in prayer.  When we pray, we don’t call upon some generic vanilla God.  He must be the one true God only, the one who has revealed himself in his Word.  The true God who has revealed himself as the three-in-one.  He is the Father our Creator, the one who sustains the universe and everything in it by his mighty hand.  We must call upon the true God, call upon Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.  Don’t ever forget that the one true God is the God of the gospel, the God of good news.  And then we must also call upon the Holy Spirit as our renewer and sanctifier, the one who transforms our lives.  We must call upon the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

I think we can all agree with that, but then someone might raise the question:  are we then allowed to address all three persons of the Trinity?  After all, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray to the Father.  So, does that mean we shouldn’t pray to our Lord Jesus or to the Holy Spirit?  Those are good questions. 

To answer that, we need to consider several things.  First of all, the Lord’s Prayer is a model, a pattern.  It was intended to be a guide for prayer.  We can see this in the fact that elsewhere in the New Testament, our Master Jesus taught his disciples to pray in his Name.  But when he gives the Lord’s Prayer, he doesn’t include that at all.  This indicates that there’s freedom when it comes to prayer.  Though the Lord’s Prayer gives us valuable instruction, we’re not strictly bound to its words or formulations.

Another point we need to consider is that there’s variety in the prayers recorded in the New Testament.  When the apostles prayed in the book of Acts, we don’t hear them praying the Lord’s Prayer or even using any of its words or formulations, though the thoughts are certainly there.  More to the point, the apostles and early church themselves prayed directly to Christ on some occasions.  We see an example of that with Stephen at the end of Acts 7.  As he was being stoned, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  You could also think of Paul’s “Maranatha” prayer at the end of 1 Corinthians.

Third, we need to consider the words of Jesus in John 14:14, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”  Our Lord Jesus gives us permission to ask him for anything in his name.  He gives us the freedom to speak with him in prayer. 

Last of all, when Christ taught his disciples to pray to the Father, he wasn’t teaching them to pray to the first person of the Trinity.  He was teaching them to pray to God, to Yahweh, as Father.  You have to remember that he was teaching disciples who didn’t yet have a well-developed understanding of the Trinity.  But they did understand from the Old Testament that God could be referred to as “Father.”  Our Lord Jesus was simply continuing that Old Testament practice.        

The fact that the model prayer of the Lord Jesus teaches us to call on God as our Father suggests that addressing the Holy Spirit and the Son in prayer might not be our regular practice.  But the fact that the early church did call on the Son in prayer tells us the freedom is there.  That’s confirmed by Jesus himself in John 14:14.  And if the freedom is there to call on the Son in prayer, then why not also the Holy Spirit?  So, as we pray, we have to pray to the one true God only, but we have the freedom to address each of the three persons of the Trinity as well.  You can pray to the Holy Spirit and you can pray to Jesus.    

We might address our Lord Jesus in our prayers when we consider how great a Saviour he is and we stand in awe of him.  How could you not address him with words of praise?  When our bodies are breaking down and we’re suffering, we might call to him as the one who understands, the one who’s lived a human existence on this earth.  Hebrews 2:11 tells us that Jesus is the one who is not ashamed to call us brothers.  Think about that:  King of kings and Lord of lords, our brother!  And Hebrews 2:18 says “Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  So, loved ones, call out to your Saviour when you’re tempted and when you suffer.  He knows, he hears, he understands and he will act for you. 

We might address the Holy Spirit directly in our prayers when we earnestly desire his work to further our sanctification, our growth in holiness.  We need to remember that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force.  The Holy Spirit is not an “it.”  The Holy Spirit is a person, a person with whom we can communicate, a person to whom we can pray.  We can call out to him.  We can praise him for the faith he has created in our hearts.  We can ask him to fill us more and more and lead us with the Word.  We can pray to the Holy Spirit and ask him to put more light on our way through the Holy Scriptures.  When we don’t know what to pray and what to say, or when we cannot pray because of old age or declining health, we can also look to the Holy Spirit and call out for his help.  Romans 8:26-27 says that the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  When we don’t know what to pray for, he intercedes for us “with groanings too deep for words.”        

So, when we pray, we must ensure we have the proper address, that we call upon the only true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  For our prayers to please God, we also need the Holy Spirit to lead us to a proper assessment of ourselves.

Our Catechism says “we must thoroughly know our need and misery, so that we may humble ourselves before God.”  Sometimes I wonder if we really believe that.  You might feel uncomfortable about that.  But don’t trust your feelings.  Luther had a little ditty, “Feelings come and feelings go and feelings are deceiving, my warrant is the Word of God, nothing else is worth believing.”  In other words, don’t build your life before God on the basis of your feelings.  Go to Scripture and see what God says. 

So, what does the Bible teach about this?  We could start with Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8.  Need and misery feature prominently in this prayer.  Notice what Solomon says in verse 46.  He acknowledges that there’s no one who doesn’t sin before God.  That means all people have a need for forgiveness.  All people are in a miserable state because God is holy and by themselves they aren’t.  But Solomon doesn’t stop there.  He says that when the people know their need and misery and confess it before God, he asks God to hear and to forgive.  He fully expects God to do that.  What’s clear is that knowing one’s need and misery is meant to lead one to humility before God, the proper posture for prayer. 

Here too think of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18.  Two men went up to the temple to pray.  The one, a Pharisee, extolled his own virtues in a loud prayer intended to be heard by all those around him.  This Pharisee was not a sinner!  He was the righteous man, at least in his own eyes.  Then there was the tax collector, the scum of the earth in the society of his day.  He stood in a corner of the temple and beat his breast, saying “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  What did Jesus say at the conclusion of the parable?  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

Knowing our need and misery is also the reason why our Lord Jesus taught us to pray for the forgiveness of our sins.  We’re going to hear more about that when we get to the fifth petition, but for now just note that it’s there.  Why is it there?  It’s there to remind us of our need for a Saviour, to keep us turning to the cross of Jesus Christ every day.

Let’s just look at a couple more passages.  In Isaiah 6, Isaiah is brought into the throne room of God.  Here was a faithful Israelite prophet.  But what is his posture before God at this moment?  Verse 5 tells us that he said, “Woe is me!  For I am lost;  for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  Now when we pray, we don’t come into God’s presence the way Isaiah did, nevertheless his posture is the right one:  humility and acknowledgement of one’s status apart from grace. 

Then at the end of Isaiah, in the last chapter, chapter 66, we read these words from God in verse 2, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”  Forget about self-esteem.  Do you want to be the object of God’s esteem? Then you have to thoroughly know your need and misery and humble yourself before him.   

So, how do we do that?  There are two parts to knowing our need and misery and they belong together.  The first part is to reflect carefully on and study diligently who your God is.  If you’re to know your need and misery, you have to know your God.  You have to be impressed with him, be impressed with his holiness.  That happens as you spend time hearing God’s Word, but also reading and studying the Scriptures for yourself.  And as you come to know your God and his holiness, you’ll know what your problem is.  Your problem is God and the difference that exists between him and you.  God is holy and you aren’t.  Besides viciously attacking it and punishing it, God won’t have anything to do with sin and you have everything to do with sin. 

Perhaps you’ve heard of the church father Augustine of Hippo.  Augustine lived during the fourth and fifth century after Christ.  At a certain point, Augustine decided to liven the monastic life.  He’d hoped that life as a monk would help him deal with the sin in his life, especially sexual lusts.  However, he was disappointed to find out that while he could now spend weeks without seeing a woman, he continued to struggle in his dreams at night.  Not only that, but he either became more aware of other sins or other sins took hold of him.  He noticed his greed.  He noticed his pride.  He became argumentative and angry.  And so on.  He thought living as a monk would put sin to death in him, but it simply awoke him to the sinfulness remaining in his heart.  He couldn’t escape.  Isn’t he a lot like you and me? 

God is holy.  That’s the first thing we have to recognize and it has to penetrate our understanding so it’s not a bland theological statement, but a truth that grips us and even terrifies us.  The second thing we have to recognize is connected and it’s the fact that we’re sinners.  As much as we may grow in grace and knowledge, we’ll always be sinners so long as we live on this earth.  We have to keep repeating it to ourselves until Christ’s return makes it no longer true: “I am a sinner.”  But then also look to God again.  The Holy One has a holy justice and a holy righteousness, but he also has a holy love, he has a holy grace in Jesus Christ.  His love and grace are unlike anyone else’s.  Here is a God who in love predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.  Here is a God who gives us the opposite of what we deserve. 

Yes, we need to look at ourselves carefully and thoroughly know our need and misery.  As painful as it is, become more and more thoroughly convicted of your need for salvation.  But at the same time, the Bible doesn’t teach us to fix our eyes on our need and misery.  The Scriptures teach us to fix our eyes on Jesus, to focus on him, just as the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent in the wilderness and were healed.  They couldn’t pretend there was nothing wrong with them and go to their tents – they had to really know their need and if they didn’t they were fooling themselves and they’d die.  But knowing their need and misery led them to life by looking to the bronze serpent, which was a type of Christ.  For us, we need to fix our eyes on him.  There is an old saying and it’s a biblical one:  for every one look we take at ourselves, we need to take ten looks to Christ.  But we need that one careful look.  Know your need and misery so you can humble yourself before God and flee to the cross for your salvation.  Know your need and misery so you can have the proper posture before God in prayer, the posture of humility. 

When we recognize these things and have a proper self-assessment, we can pray in a way that pleases God, in a way that will be heard by him.  Finally, we need to briefly learn about the proper faith for a God-pleasing prayer. 

Here again, our focus has to be on Jesus Christ.  We have God’s promises in his Word that he will surely hear us because of him.  Think of what our Lord Jesus says in John 14:13-14, “…I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”  And in John 16:23 he says “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”

Many of us have a good practice of ending our prayers with “for Jesus’ sake” or something like that.  I wonder how many of us actually think about what that means.  We teach it to our children as well, but what does the word “sake” mean?  It’s not a common English word.  It comes from Old English and it means something like “Out of consideration for” or “because of.”  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using the word, but let’s be sure we know what it means so we don’t run the danger of using vain repetitions in our prayers, just saying words because that’s what we’ve always said.  In fact, I’d urge you to use variety in the endings of your prayers that make it explicit that your faith is that God will hear this prayer because Christ is your Saviour and he intercedes for you. 

Note well how our Catechism says this is the firm foundation upon which we must rest.  Faith in Christ is the way to God’s ear and his heart.  God doesn’t care about how long your prayer is.  He doesn’t care how eloquent your prayer is.  He doesn’t pay attention to the number of your prayers or how well-thought out they are.  The thing that matters in God-pleasing prayer is a sincere faith in Jesus Christ.  God calls you to rest on the firm foundation that you have access to his ear and heart through Christ your Saviour.  Believe in him and know that God will always hear you and give you everything he commands us to pray for, everything we need for body and soul. 

So, over the next few Sundays, we’ll again be in the Holy Spirit’s school of prayer.  We’ll again sit at the feet of our master Jesus Christ and have him teach us the ABCs of prayer.  Brothers and sisters, let’s each be humble and teachable students in this school.  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 we would always humble ourselves before you and seek our help outside of ourselves in Christ.  Please give us more grace so that we 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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