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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Why Pray?
Text:LD 45 Q/A 116 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Added:2022-03-28
Updated:2022-03-28
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Call to Worship: Isaiah 43:1-2,4a

 

Reading: Hebrews 4:14-16

Lesson: Lords Day 45 (Q/A 116)

 

WHY PRAY?

  1. We Must Know Our God

  2. We Must Know Ourselves

 

  1. Psalm 9: 1, 4, 5

  2. Hymn 42: 1, 4, 6

  3. Hymn 38:1-4

  4. Hymn 1

  5. Psalm 116: 1, 4, 7

  6. Psalm 91: 1, 5

 

Words to Listen For: warrior, opt, trapped, gem, linen

 

Questions For Understanding:

  1. What’s worse than praying wrongly?

  2. What is good about the acronym ACTS?  What is its weakness?

  3. How is prayer not like a monologue?

  4. What are the 2 truths about ourselves that are held in tension?

  5. What are the 3 blessings found in prayer?

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


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

Brothers and sisters,

 

If it’s big enough to worry about, it’s big enough to pray about.

If it’s big enough to worry about, it’s big enough to pray about.

 

This simple little saying is one that can transform our understanding and our practice of prayer.

 

Because how often do we worry?

  • We worry what the weather is going to be like

  • We worry that we’re getting gray hair or that we’re losing our hair

  • We worry that we’re getting fat

  • We worry about disease

  • We worry about truth and freedom

  • We worry about unity

  • We worry about a lack of love that the other side is showing

 

But so often we put these worries into a different category than our prayer requests.

 

"Oh, this is just me being silly."

"Oh, God doesn’t care about little things like this.  He’s busy causing the earth to rotate and revolve."

"He has the mountains and seas in His hand, He’s dealing with warlords in Africa, and dictators in China.  Why would He care about my life?"

 

BUT HE DOES!  He cares about your life!  You are not just some faceless Christian in the great multitude.  Because God doesn’t love CATEGORIES of people.  God doesn’t save CATEGORIES of people, but He knows and loves and saves individuals.

Remember the words that called us into worship this afternoon?

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

    I have called you by name, you are mine.

You are precious in my eyes,

    and honored, and I love you

Your God knows you.  He knows you more than your best friend, more than your spouse, more than you know yourself.

How many of us know what we really need, day to day?  We THINK we know what we need, but really, we don’t know.  How many times has your life taken an unexpected twist, and weeks, months, or years later, we thank God for it, because He gave us what we NEEDED instead of what we WANTED.

Our God knows us.  He knows our secrets, He knows our worries, He knows our doubts in the middle of the night.  He already knows, and He just wants you to ask.  He doesn’t need to be INFORMED...He already knows.  

He doesn’t want an update email, but He wants you to go to Him and talk to Him like your friend.  Talk to Him like your Father.

Over the next several Lord's Days, the catechism examines how exactly we should speak in our prayer, the proper respect, the proper attitude...and we’ll get there.  But praying WRONGLY, praying with our prayers tainted with sin...it’s better than not praying at all.  Even the most experienced, well-studied, powerful prayer warrior prays imperfectly.  The Holy Spirit has to sanctify every prayer.  That’s just the reality of our sinful lives here.  But never let that stop you from praying.

So, as we begin this new section of our catechism, let’s start by asking the simple question:

WHY PRAY?  We pray because

  1. We Must Know Our God, and because

  2. We Must Know Ourselves

 

Why Pray?  Because We Must Know Our God.

Our relationship with God has to be understood the most important relationship we have.  The relationship we have with God is the most intimate, longest-lasting, and most significant relationship we will ever have.  But far too often, we do not treat it this way.

Husbands, wives, compare the time you spend talking to your spouse with the time you spend talking to your God.  Who do you speak to more often?  Who do you speak to more emotionally?  Who do you speak to first?

And we think that it’s different...we think that prayer is off in its own little category, but really, prayer is talking with the person that you should love the most.  The person you should be closest with.  The person who definitely loves YOU the most, by far.

Our relationship with God is the most important relationship that we have, but we don’t treat it this way.  We don’t talk to God as though we are talking to someone we know, but instead, so often, despite our best intentions, we see God as a glorified vending machine.  You put in the right payment, and you get what you ask for.

Even the acronym ACTS that we will sometimes use for prayer...for all its usefulness, it can lead us astray.

 

If you haven’t heard of it before, the acronym ACTS goes like this:

A - Adoration

C - Confession

T - Thanksgiving

S - Supplication

And do not misunderstand me, I do think that there is a lot of good that can come out of this acronym.  All four of these are important aspects of prayer.  We should adore God for who He is.  We should confess our sins to Him.  We should thank Him for His blessings.  We should present our needs to Him.

But when the template takes precedence over the heart...when we have simply a plug and play, or plug and pray, perhaps, then we have lost something desperately important.  Prayer becomes stale, and we learn nothing.  Or, even worse, we learn the wrong thing.

We begin by adoring God...but only do it as payment for His forgiveness.

God, you are so great, you are so loving - please forgive me.

Payment in, product out.

 

We give thanks to God...but only do it as a payment for our needs.

God, you have been so faithful and so good to me - please help me again.

 

There is nothing wrong with these words.  You can pray these exact words with a sincere heart of faith and love, and God will hear your prayer, and be pleased by it.

But that is the point - it is about a sincere heart of faith and love.  We must love our God - this is the foundational and most basic truth of Christianity.  We are to love our God and we are to love Him in the way that He requires.

Obedience, they say, is God’s love language.  And this is not only the idea of certain pastors and commentators, but the clear teaching of Scripture - John 14:15 - If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  The words of Christ.

And when we hear this statement, we typically think of the 10 commandments.  If you love me, you will obey my commandments...but as we just heard in our last sermon series, there are a multitude of other commandments that we as Christians must be aware of, and must obey.  And one of these commandments is the commandment to pray.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 - Pray without ceasing

Matthew 7:7 - Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you

Philippians 4:6 - Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God

Our catechism, faithfully summarizing this teaching of Scripture, applies this category of commandment to prayer, in both our question and answer this afternoon.

 

Why is prayer NECESSARY for Christians?

Prayer. is. necessary.  It is not optional.  It is not one of those things that Christians may opt in or out of, but to be a Christian means that you are a prayerful person.

The answer also speaks to this

Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness which God REQUIRES of us.

Prayer. is. required.  It is not optional.  Being a Christian means that you are a thankful person and a prayerful person.

Obedience is God’s love language, and even more basically, prayer is God’s love language.  If you love someone, you will communicate with that person.  There is nothing more basic than that.

Even when husband and wife are separated by distance, they pick up the phone, or write a letter.

Those who cannot speak communicate in other ways.

Those with loved ones who cannot hear learn sign language.

All of this, out of love.

 

So how can we think that prayer is any different?

 

Now, one of you might argue that prayer isn’t really communication, but rather, a monologue - one person talking, but this simply isn’t true.

God has communicated with us, through His world, and through His Word.  Every sunrise is so much more than a simple rotation of the earth.  Every sunrise is the heavens declaring the glory of God.  Every winter changing into spring and then summer is so much more than the revolution of the earth.  Every change of season is a reminder of God’s promise to Noah that He would never again destroy all the people of the earth.

And every single page of the Bible, every single word...is God speaking to you.  Over 750 000 words.  So prayer is part of a conversation between you and God.  Your words to Him can never be separated from His Words to you.

But it goes beyond this.  Even though this World and this Word are so much more than what we deserve, so much more than “enough” God’s communication happens outside of them as well.

And here we must tread carefully, though we must not be afraid to take any steps at all...

God’s voice still speaks.  God’s voice still speaks, though there is no new revelation...Scripture is complete, and those who say otherwise are incorrect and even dangerous...but God still speaks.  And how does He do so?  God still speaks by His Holy Spirit in application and in comfort.

He speaks words of comfort, directly to our hearts, reminding us that we are children of God - Galatians 4.

He intercedes on our behalf with the Father, helping us in our prayers, facilitating and sanctifying that communication - Romans 8.

But He does more than comfort.  He really and truly interacts with us in our Christian living by applying Scripture directly to our hearts in a still small voice.

We are taught the Spirit, helping us interpret and apply the spiritual truths in Scripture - 1 Corinthians 2.

We live our lives, walking by the Spirit - in the strength He provides, and following His guidance -  Galatians 5.

 

The Christian life is not a one way street, but it is really and truly a relationship.  Our God is not simply the one who created all of this.  Our God is not simply the author of Scripture.  He is not trapped in the past, or relegated simply to a book.  But He is real.  He is living and acting and loving, even now.

And we are not stuck simply saying words that bounce off the ceiling.  But we are, really and truly, interacting with the most powerful, most loving, most glorious being to have ever existed.  

He wants us to speak to Him, and to speak to Him boldly and directly.  Let us not see this as a heavy burden, but rather, as a holy blessing.  It is a blessing that speak to us and teaches us, not only about Our God, but about Ourselves.  Our second point.

Prayer, beloved, prayer is primarily for us.  It is ABOUT God, but it is FOR us.  Let me explain.

Prayer is ABOUT God

  • He is the one we address in prayer - Our Father in Heaven

  • He is the one we glorify - Hallowed be your name

  • He is the one whose kingdom we want to bring about - Your Kingdom come

And the list goes on.  Prayer is clearly about God.  But it is FOR us.

God chooses to work through prayer, but we have no such choice.  Prayer is a necessity for Christians - it has been described as the breathing of the soul.  If, as a Christian, you are not praying...you are dying.

God chooses to work through prayer - He could work directly (and He sometimes does), through the Apostle Paul’s Damascus road conversion, through Martin Luther’s thunderstorm experience...but usually and regularly, God works through prayer.  The ordinary prayers of ordinary Christians.

And prayer is for us...because we don’t pray to tell God what is going on...He already knows.  He knows everything.  We don’t pray to inform God...but exactly the opposite.  We pray to teach ourselves.  To inform ourselves of our NEED and our humble position before the throne, as well as our PRIVILEGE and our bold position before the throne.

These two truths about ourselves are held in tension, but not contradiction.

We are sinners…but we are saints.

We are slaves...but we are sons.

This is shown so very clearly in Hebrews 4, our reading for this afternoon.

Hebrews 4, starting at verse 14 - Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This is a well-beloved text.  A sparkling gem of encouragement in Scripture, and it is worth examining more closely.  As I say so often...this is a great text to have on your whiteboard, tacked to your fridge, but only when we truly understand it.

This is a text that shows us, at once, our humble position, and our privileged position.

We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.

This double negative - “do NOT have”, “UNable” - is used to draw attention to the point the author is making here - we DO have a High Priest who IS ABLE to sympathize with our weaknesses.  And what exactly are these weaknesses?

Well, we are living in a world that is groaning under the weight of sin.  It is there, all around us, pressing in on every side.  Pain, stress, anxiety.  Being tired...all the time.  Experiencing sadness, hunger, rejection.

This is the human experience, for Christians and non-Christians alike.  This is the human experience in the fallen world.  Or, at least, a big part of it.

And on first glance, this teaching that our High Priest can sympathize with us, though wonderfully comforting, isn’t too much of a surprise.  Especially for the original Hebrew audience of this letter.

For every High Priest, in the history of the office has been able to sympathize with the weaknesses of those under his care.  Aaron could sympathize with the Israelites in the desert, because he too was sinful.

But this is the point that the author to the Hebrews is making - even though Jesu Christ is true God, even though He has gone through the heaven, even though He is far and away the best High Priest ever to have walked this earth...this does not mean that He cannot sympathize with us, poor and wretched sinners.

The gospel is not meant to SHAME us by revealing our weaknesses compared with God’s strength...our sin compared with His holiness…

Prayer is not meant to make us grovel in the dirt before a God who is so far above us...but rather...the gospel and prayer are both meant for us to open our eyes and truly see.  To truly see our need...but to go beyond that and see how our need was fulfilled.

Our hopeless state was invaded by Jesus Christ!  Our darkness was invaded by His light, as we heard a bit of this morning.  And He did so by becoming like one of us, taking on human nature, and all the messiness that came along with it - knowing weakness, tears, and pain.  He came down in order to bring us up.  He became like one us, so that we could be like Him, remade in His image.

Our position is one of weakness, helplessness, and sin, and this is what we acknowledge when we bow our knees in prayer.

Every prayer should, have at its core, the prayer of the Tax Collector: God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  Every bended knee is an acknowledgement that we can’t do it on our own.

God - please help!

This is our need.  This is our humble position - we come with empty hands.

But that need has been fulfilled, and we have been granted a privileged position in the throneroom of God!  Like Queen Esther, the sceptre has been extended to us, and we may approach our King.  What an honour!  What a privilege!!

Hebrews 4:16 - Let us then, with confidence, draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This “drawing near” is a privilege that, for thousands of years, only one man had, and this privilege, he had only once a year.  Only the High Priest of Israel, and only on the Day of Atonement, could enter the Most Holy Place.  The place where God was enthroned on the Ark of the Covenant, between the two cherubim.

Only once a year, and the High Priest would go, having been cleansed with special water, having been dressed in special garments, he would go, with fear and trembling, knowing that if his holiness was not acceptable, he could very well be struck down.

But now...because of the one time offering of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross...we, regular human believers, not High Priests, tracing our lineage back to Aaron, not washed with the special water, not wearing special linen garments...but we can draw near the throne of grace - and we can do so boldly...expecting rest, expecting help, expecting mercy and grace...and not judgement or death.

We can draw near the throne of grace with confidence, and speak to the Almighty Creator of the Universe as though He is our Father.  We can come to Him, respectfully, but not fearfully, reverently, but not trembling...and pour out our heart.

We can tell Him all of our worries, all of our fears, confess all our weaknesses and our sins...and acknowledging all the blessings He has given us, acknowledging our new position as His sons and daughters, adopted into His family by means of the cross of Christ...we can glorify His holy name.

This is one of the most generous gifts we have ever been given, prayer.  These three blessings all wrapped up in the simple act of bending the knee, closing the eyes, and folding the hands:

  • Approaching the God of the Universe like a friend

  • Receiving mercy - mercy for our past failures, mercy for our sins, that, at the throne, are condemned and then pardoned.  They are judged as needing payment, and then that payment of the blood of Christ is applied to them, and they are washed away

  • Finding grace - that free gift of kindness, given to those who have no claim to it...this grace is what holds us secure in our present and future work in this world of sin.  By the grace of Jesus Christ, He sent us His Spirit - the One who dries our tears when the sorrows of this world are too much.  The One who strengthens our weak hands and shaking knees when we think we cannot do any more of the Lord’s service.  He is the one who quickens our spirit and grants rest when we cry no more.  He allows us to walk one more step.  He allows us to keep going when all we see in front of us is darkness.

This is the reality of the Christian life, a reality brought into stark clarity by the gift of prayer.  And that is truly what it is - a gift.  Prayer is not a burden, but a blessing.

Each and every one of us has a direct line to God.  We do not have to go through a priest in a confessional booth, or the High Priest through sacrifices and offerings, but each one of us can speak to God whenever we want.

When you are joyful...pray about it.

When you are fearful…pray about it.

When you are tired and depressed...pray about it.

When you are struggling with prayer...pray about it.

What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!  Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear...all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.  Jesus knows our every weakness...so take it to the Lord in prayer.

For He is our Great High Priest, presenting our prayers to God as sweet incense rising.

So please...see the blessing that prayer truly is, and use that blessing...for your good, and for God’s glory.

AMEN.




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

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