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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:How Then Shall We Pray?
Text:LD 45 Q/A 117-119 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Added:2022-03-28
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Readings: James 4:1-10; Mark 10:46-52

Lesson: Lord’s Day 45 (Q/A 117-119)

 

HOW THEN SHALL WE PRAY?

  1. In Total Sincerity

  2. From Total Vulnerability

  3. With Total Assurance

 

  1. Psalm 62: 1, 4, 7

  2. Psalm 56: 1-3

  3. Hymn 46: 1-4

  4. Hymn 2

  5. Hymn 63: 1

  6. Psalm 56: 4-5

 

Words to Listen For: blow, Baal, bad, buddy, beauty

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What does sincerity mean today?  What did it used to mean?

  2. How might be be like the Roman Catholics or the Muslims in how we pray?

  3. What are the two ultimate truths about God?

  4. How is prayer like the gospel?

  5. What are God’s three answers to 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 in Christ our Lord,

 

In the last few decades, the desire for SINCERITY has risen greatly.

Having a friend who is sincere is more important than having a friend who is cool.

Having a spouse who is sincere is more important than having a spouse who is rich.

A sincere politician is more important than a wise politician.  I think you get the idea.

We value sincerity because we are tired of being lied to.  Lied to by the news media, by our friends, by our leaders.  We want what we hear to be quote-unquote legitimate.  We want consistency between the internal thoughts of the person, and the words they speak.

Sincerity has become the “gold standard” of value.  And on first glance, this isn’t such a bad thing.  Consistency and truth are important.  But here is the problem…sincerity isn’t just another word for TRUTH.  I might believe something SO SINCERELY…and I might still be mistaken about it - I can be sincere…but I can be sincerely wrong.

This is what the word has come to mean.  But traditionally…traditionally sincerity meant something different.  The real definition of sincerity has nothing to do with feelings.  But rather, to be sincere meant that something was honest, clean, pure, or sound.

Those who delve deeper into the word say that it comes from two Latin words: sine and cere, literally meaning “without wax.”  And though this is highly contested, with a lot of skepticism around this history, there is something we can learn from it.  2 aspects actually.

Without wax - This was something that ancient beekeepers would say about their honey.  Their honey was PURE HONEY, without wax.  No beeswax.  Wax isn’t honey, only honey is honey.  Not a mixture, but pure.  Sincere honey.

And…without wax - This was something that ancient sculptors said about their statues.  The statue was solid stone.  Solid marble, solid alabaster.  There was no flaw in the stone that needed to be covered up with wax.  No crack, no discoloration that had to be hidden.  A sincere statue.

And so, if we are sincere, we should not be mixing what is good with what is inferior - honey with wax.  If we are sincere, we should not be lying about the quality of something, covering up imperfections - wax over stone.

If you are sincere, it means that you are honest, and uncorrupted.  And this is one of the most important elements of the Christian life - sincerity.  It is one of the most important elements of how a Christian acts, and how a Christian speaks - to fellow Christians, to the world, and, most importantly, to God.

And so, this afternoon, let us together examine the question:

HOW THEN SHALL WE PRAY?

  1. In Total Sincerity,

  2. From Total Vulnerability, and

  3. With Total Assurance

 

We Must Pray in Total Sincerity

Even though we value sincerity in others, it is one of the hardest things to bring about in ourselves.  It’s just EASIER to be insincere.  It’s EASIER to “wax over” our flaws and our struggles, it’s EASIER to present a picture to the world that we are “all put together,” that our lives are “amazing.”  This is why we frantically rush around the house before company arrives.  This is why we put a filter on the pictures that we take, this is why we have gotten used to using words and phrases like “I’m doing OKAY” when, really, we mean the opposite.  We say “it is what it is” when we want to show our frustration that things AREN’T what we want them to be.

We use these terms to soften the blow, we use these words to be polite and proper in society, because having an honest conversation has become too difficult.  We spread this wax over ourselves and our lives, hiding the very real flaws, insecurities, and frustrations, ultimately helping nobody at all.

And even though how we interact with each other, how we live in this society, is a very worthy topic of discussion, this isn’t our focus this afternoon.

Our focus this afternoon is how we interact, not horizontally with each other, but vertically- between us and God.  And this is the problem…we have allowed how we interact with each other to colour how we interact with Him.  We end up hiding our true self from God, and praying prayers that are sanitized.  Praying prayers that wax over our true needs.

We pray for Grandpa, the poor, the sick, the needy.  We ask God to forgive all our sins “because we know they are many” and this is where we leave it.  We don’t mention specific sins, specific struggles.  We don’t REALLY talk to God.  We never REALLY talk to Him.

Instead, we say all the “right things,” and then we say “amen.”

But these prayers aren’t prayers that please God.  These prayers are, as our Lord put it in Matthew 6, “heaping up empty phrases like the Gentiles do.”  Using the same phrases again and again without true meaning.  And, despite our protests, our prayers start to look a lot like the Roman Catholics with their Hail Mary’s:

Hail Mary,

Full of Grace,

The Lord is with thee.

Blessed art thou among women,

and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary,

Mother of God,

pray for us sinners now,

and at the hour of our death.

Or the Muslims as they pray 5 times a day: Allahu Akbar  - God is Great.  Again and again.

Our WORDS are different, but our prayers can be JUST AS SCRIPTED.  So, let us not heap up our empty phrases.  Let us not turn the Lord’s Prayer into this either.  And we will see this in the sermons to come…the Lord’s prayer is not meant to be a script for us to speak in prayer.

The disciples asked HOW to pray, not WHAT to pray, and the Lord’s Prayer was Jesus’ answer.

But when we pray, we must be sincere.

What belongs to a prayer which pleases God and is heard by Him?

 

First, we must, from the heart, call upon the one true God only.

We must call upon our Lord from the heart.

We must be sincere - without the wax cover.

 

And we must be sincere - without corruption.  Without the wax mixed in.

 

What belongs to a prayer which pleases God and is heard by Him?

First, we must, from the heart, call upon the one true God only.

 

We must pray honestly, and we must pray truthfully.

Although this part of the catechism can be read as a warning not to pray to other gods - don’t pray to the Canaanite god Baal, the Greek god Zeus, or the New Age goddess Oprah - this typically isn’t our challenge.  This isn’t really our struggle.  Our struggle, instead, is praying to the One true God who has revealed Himself in His Word.

What we do instead, is we typically pray to a god of our own imagining.  This god is INFLUENCED by what we learn about Him in the Bible, but is usually slightly altered.  Slightly transformed by our own experiences.

God is a Conservative - to Conservatives.  Of course God is pro-life and pro-family…but is He really a political Conservative?

God is a Liberal - to Liberals.  Of course God cares about the poor…but is He really a political Liberal?

And God is Dutch - to Dutchmen.  Of course God values hard work, of course God isn’t easily swayed and doesn’t change His mind…but is He really Dutch?

Let us pray to God, not as we imagine Him to be, but as He has revealed Himself to be.

Let us pray as blind Bartimaeus prayed - crying out before God.  Such a simple but sincere prayer - Son of David, have mercy on me.  Again and again the same words.  But Bartimaeus wasn’t heaping up empty phrases, instead this was his sincere desire - for God to show mercy to him.  And Bartimaeus addressed his prayer to the one true God - the Son of David.  Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah.  Bartimaeus was sincere with his words, and he was sincere in his address.

Let our concept of God be SINCERE - without wax.  Only God is God - your politics don’t factor in to who He is.  Your personality doesn’t factor in to who God is.  God is the great I AM.  He is who He says He is.

God is sincere…let your understanding of Him match His revelation.

And when we have a basis of sincerity, praying with a right heart, in the right direction…we can pray from a place of total vulnerability.  Our second point.

When we know who God is, when we accept this and pray to this all-powerful and yet all-loving being.

Connecting personally with the King of the ages, the one who is immortal, invisible, the only God…when we can connect with Him personally as our Father…this can serve to break down barriers…if we allow it to.

As we sang at the beginning of the service, the two ultimate truths about our God are that He is our strong defender - He is all-powerful, and that steadfast love is His - He is all-loving.

Or, to use language from the catechism: He is able to do so as Almighty God, and willing also as a Faithful Father.

We have direct access to THE MOST POWERFUL BEING TO HAVE EVER EXISTED…the One who breathed existence into existence…and He uses that power for us, out of love.

He is all-powerful

He is all-loving

And…He is all-knowing.

Simply by not praying about something, you aren’t “cutting God off” from that information.  If you are ashamed of your sins and try to hide them, you might have some success with your friends and family, you might even have some success with yourself, living in deep denial, but you will never have any success with God.

And so, being vulnerable with God shouldn’t be nearly as scary as being vulnerable with people around you.  Because vulnerability with other human beings usually involves sharing what you have kept secret.  But with God, all your secrets are already known.  He fully knows us, and what is amazing is that He still loves us.  He fully knows us and He fully loves us.

And so, we should not be afraid to lay out our needs before God.  To be vulnerable with Him, because the only thing it can do is help.  There is nothing that you can tell God that will make Him leave you or forsake you.  There is nothing you can say or do that will shock God, no sin that is greater than the cross of Christ.

So confess them!  What could be easier?

But we don’t.  We DON’T confess.  We DON’T ask God, and instead we worry, instead we go to extreme lengths to hide, extreme lengths to make up for what we lack, instead of merely asking.

This is what we heard in our reading from James - What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.

You do not have, because you do not ask.  We aren’t comfortable being vulnerable with God.  We aren’t comfortable with a power dynamic that has God as holy and us as sinful.  With God as powerful and us as powerless.

But here’s the hard truth - what you’re comfortable with doesn’t change the facts.  What you’re COMFORTABLE WITH doesn’t change the facts.

The dynamic of God as holy and you as a sinner - it exists whether you confess your sins or not.

The dynamic of God as powerful and you as powerless - it exists whether you ask God for strength or not.

So why don’t you embrace reality?  If you fight reality, you may have limited success for a time, but reality always wins.  If you refuse to live in reality, reality will come knocking on your door anyways.

This is what the catechism means when it says:

We must thoroughly know our need and misery so that we may humble ourselves before God.

It is the same with prayer as with the gospel  - for the good news to be good, you need the bad news first.

With the gospel, we need to have some idea of our sins and misery for us to realize why it’s such good news that Jesus came to save us from them.  If we don’t know our sins, we can’t love our Saviour.  Let me say that again - if we don’t know our sins, we can’t love our Saviour.  And this is true for prayer as well.

Why would we ever pray to God if we don’t know ourselves or our need?  If we are in denial about how powerful we are…why would we feel the need to pray to an all-powerful God?  Maybe I’m all powerful too, so there’s no need to pray.

Maybe I’m holy and glorious and worthy of admiration!  Instead of me falling on my face before God, maybe He should do that for me!

And we would never phrase it like that…when something like this happened in Scripture, the 4 times it happened, the offenders were cast out of heaven, cast out of the Garden, given the mind of an animal, and eaten by worms, respectively.

We would NEVER DARE.  And yet, even though we are not at that point in our spiritual life, we are not at that utterly blasphemous level of pride, but when we refuse to acknowledge our need before God, we are on that same road.

Though not humbling yourself isn’t at the same level as pridefully elevating yourself, it’s exactly the same train track…just a little further down.

We need to truly know ourselves, truly know our needs, and then fall on our faces before our God, thankful that He would even stoop down to hear us, much less hear what we have to say, hear our needs spelled out before Him.

This is what Bartimaeus did.  Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!

Bartimaeus knew that he didn’t DESERVE healing from Jesus.  Bartimaeus did not call Jesus over as an equal, as a buddy, but he knew his need, and he knew his Lord.

 

Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me!  Let me recover my sight.

Bartimaeus didn’t “act casual” about his blindness.  Bartimaeus didn’t pretend like it was no big deal.  He cried out, again and again, knowing that he needed mercy, and he cried out specifically to Jesus, asking for the recovery of his sight.

 

Bartimaeus was vulnerable before God, and we must do the same.

For it is HONORABLE to be VULNERABLE before God.  It is HONORABLE to be on the side of reality.  To truly know who we are, and to truly know who God is.

And if God were simply all-powerful…we would have very little hope.  If God were ABLE as Almighty God, but NOT willing as a faithful Father…all would be lost.  Our boldness before the throne would be life-threatening.  Our boldness would be nothing more than foolishness.

BUT. GOD.

But power and holiness are not the only two perfections of our God.

If He was only about power and holiness, then there would never have been a Saviour.  There would be no gospel to preach, there would be no Christmas or Easter to celebrate.

But God is LOVING!

Everything He does IS POWERFUL

Everything He does IS HOLY

But also, everything He does is OUT OF LOVE!

God is loving, and God IS LOVE.

 

And because God is both loving and love itself, we can pray with total assurance.  Our final point.

When we know who God is, beloved, when we know what He has done, then we can pray with confidence.  We can pray boldly.  We can pray in hope, with total assurance, not only that God hears our prayers, but that something amazing will happen as a result of them.

 

Whenever we pray, something amazing happens.  How could it not?  For we are communicating directly with the God of the Universe!

Each and every believer has a direct line of communication with God, and when sincere prayers, from a place of total vulnerability reach the ears of God, the only possible result is something life-changing.

Through prayer, we are changed.  Every prayer that we pray strengthens that connection in our minds between us and God.  Every prayer that we pray strengthens that connection in our minds between our need and prayer.  Our need and God’s provision.  Our status and His status.

Praying several times a day, every day for 60 or 70 years…that is an amazingly strong connection that develops.

And through prayer, our situations are changed.  We may not always receive the answer we want, but each and every prayer is answered.

God answers each prayer in one of three ways: Yes, wait, or, I have something better for you.

 

He answers YES!

There are times when you pray for something, and your desires align perfectly with God’s will, and you receive exactly what you asked for.


 

God answers yes, and other times God answers: WAIT.

There are times when you pray for something, and your desires align perfectly with God’s will…but not God’s timing.  There will be a time when you receive what you asked for, but that time isn’t right now, and you need to be patient.  And God gives you the patience to wait.

 

God answers yes, God answers wait, and other times, God answers: I HAVE SOMETHING BETTER FOR YOU.

There are times when you pray for something, but your prayers are too small.  You might pray for happiness, but God gives you joy instead.  God loves you too much to give you lesser things.

We can have assurance because this is who God is.  This is who He always has been, and this is how He has always worked with His people.

As our catechism says:  We must 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.

Our God’s ears have always been open to the cries of His people, but even more for us, now that Jesus Christ has granted us access to the throne room of our God, now that, through His death and resurrection, we are not only God’s people, we are His children.  Not only is God our King, but He is our Father.

And what Father would deny His children what is good?

Not our Heavenly Father!  He knows what is truly good, and He grants what is truly good.

And what is our assurance of this?  How can we know that God will do this for us?

If our exalted position as God’s children isn’t enough, if this world around us, full of beauty, full of evidence of the providence of God isn’t enough…God has given us another assurance.

And that assurance is in the cross of Christ.   The assurance isn’t in the usual way of the cross, the usual focus - what it did for us.  That’s not the main assurance here, though of course it matters immensely.

But rather, the main assurance in the cross of Christ is what the cross cost God.  What did the cross cost?

The cross cost EVERYTHING.  God’s love for us bankrupted heaven, when He sent His only Son, His beloved Son, to die.

This was the cost of the cross, and the purpose of the cross was for us to be loved.  For us to be saved.  For us to be welcomed in to everlasting fellowship.

 

The cross signals what God is willing to do for you

And the cross signals God’s purpose, His end goal for you.

 

What is God willing to do?  What is He willing to pay?  EVERYTHING.  There is not a cost that is too high.  God will never deny you what you ask because it’s too much work, because it’s too much time, because it’s too expensive for Him.  He has already paid the highest cost for you.  Don’t think that He is unwilling to give you what you need.

What is God’s end goal for you?  It is to have life, and life abundantly.  Life and life eternally.  Life and life joyfully.

For our God, beloved, our God is sincere.

God is who He is and nothing else.

God is who He says He is, there is no hint of a lie, there is no hint of a change in Him.

God will answer our prayers and do amazing things with them and through them

Because He is Truth

Because He is Love

Because He is God.

 

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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