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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Thankful believers ought to be prayerful believers
Text:LD 45 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 5

Psalm 145:1-3

Psalm 145:4-5

Hymn 1

Hymn 53

Scripture readings: 2 Samuel 7, Matthew 6:5-15

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 our Lord Jesus Christ,

How are things with your prayer life?  A lot of times that’s a question we’d rather not answer.  When it comes to prayer, there always seems to be such a gap between what it is and what it should be.  Maybe this has happened to you too:  it’s bedtime and you’re praying to the God who made heaven and earth and everything in them.  You’re praying, speaking with the King of the universe – and then you fall asleep right in the middle of it.  Or I think we can all relate to the tendency that all our prayers start to sound the same.  Dads who pray at the beginning and end of each meal start to use stock prayers with stock phrases.  That can quickly lead to formalism and just a going through the motions.  The Lord’s Prayer too can be rattled off in such a way that its meaning and purpose are lost to us.  Then we have all sorts of questions:  should I kneel when I pray?  Should I pray only to the Father or may I also directly address our Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit?  Do we always have to mention the name of Jesus at the end of every prayer?    And we could go on. 

All of the problems we have with prayer makes it clear:  prayer isn’t something natural for us.  We’re not born as people who automatically and without a second thought speak with their Creator.   No, we have to be taught how to pray.  That’s why our Catechism devotes the last section to this important topic.  We learn in our Lord’s Day this afternoon that prayer is the starting point of our thankfulness.  God wants those who are bought with the precious blood of his Son to be thankful and he wants them to express that thankfulness in the first place through prayer.  So we’re going to see this afternoon how Thankful believers ought to be prayerful believers

We’ll learn about our:

  1. Profound need for prayer.
  2. Proper attitude for prayer.
  3. Perfect model for prayer.

Do we need to pray?  That’s an important question to consider.  Can’t Christians get by without it?  Or perhaps can we just do it once in a while if the time is right and we feel like we need it?  That type of thinking fits right in with today’s consumer approach to Christianity.  In this approach, God is there to meet my needs and on my terms.

However, the Scriptures will have none of that and so neither will our Catechism.   Our Catechism says in the first question and answer that prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us.  The most important part.  “Now hold on,” you might say.  “Even more important than keeping the law?”  You might almost get the idea that the law is more important, after all it does come first.  First the section on the law and now a section on prayer.  But just because something is first in order doesn’t mean it’s first in importance.   According to what we confess here, prayer is even more important than keeping the law as a way to show our thankfulness. 

Nevertheless, we have to keep the idea out of our heads that one person prays and another person keeps the law to be thankful and then the one who prays is doing a better job.  As if we could make a choice:  keeping the law or prayer and you better choose prayer if you really want to be thankful.  No, the keeping of the law and prayer, they belong together like two sides of one coin.  The reason our Catechism puts the law first is that the preaching of the law logically leads us to prayer.  When we hear God’s law explained to us that leads us to eagerly ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit so we may keep the law and show ourselves thankful. 

So there is this profound need for prayer.  Oftentimes it’s said that prayer is for us spiritually what oxygen is for us physically.  Just as we need oxygen for our bodies, so we also need prayer for our souls.  There’s a lot of truth in that.  Without prayer we can’t show the thanks to God that we ought to.  We get stalled in the process of sanctification, of becoming more and more Christ-like.  If we’re trying to live a godly and holy life and then ignore prayer as if it’s an optional, add-on item, then we’re on the wrong road.  Then we’re just deceiving ourselves if we think we really care about godliness and holiness.  Quite simply put:  you can’t be a Christian without prayer.  

We need it.  This is even more so because God will give his grace and Spirit only to those who ask him for these gifts and thank him for them.   We must constantly be going to God and asking him for his grace and Spirit.  That’s why Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Pray continually.  Not just at the end of the day on the edge of your bed.  Not just around the supper table.  Continually.  Although in many instances it’s appropriate to do so, you don’t have to pray sitting down or kneeling.  You can pray as you do your work, even as you’re driving or going for a walk.  We can pray at any time, in fact the apostle’s command means we must.  That not only means asking for things of one sort or another.  We can and should also pray to God and thank him.  Thank him whenever you receive something good from his hand.  Thank him when you are awestruck by something in his creation.  “Give thanks in all circumstances…”  Find the good and beautiful in your life and thank the Lord in prayer!

But we also have the privilege of asking the Lord for things.  In fact, we’re commanded to ask for certain things.  We have to ask God for his grace and Holy Spirit in our lives.  Does that mean that before we pray we don’t have the Holy Spirit?  To answer that we have to keep in mind that we’re learning here about our thankfulness, or sanctification.  So we’re speaking here as believers in our Lord Jesus.  We’re believers who have been given the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit.  That means we’re speaking here in QA 116 about the continuing gift of the Holy Spirit, that he continues to work in us.  It’s this that we have to pray for constantly and with heartfelt longing. 

So don’t you see then how the Holy Spirit is essential to our prayers?  We must pray for him to continue his work in us, that he’ll draw us further along the road to holiness.  But there is more because we learn from Scripture that when it comes to prayer, he also works for us.  That’s clear from Romans 8:26-27 [read].   The Holy Spirit perfects our prayers.  Isn’t that comforting?  Because this is so we can go to God with confidence.  When we stumble in our prayers and struggle to find the right words, it doesn’t matter because God hears us through the intercession of the Holy Spirit.  He will lead us further in our lives before his face.  But this can only take place when we do pray, when we turn to God realizing there is no other to whom we can turn.  We have a profound need for prayer because we need God.  That’s why there’s this command to pray constantly and with heartfelt longing. 

Do you know that heartfelt longing?  That requires some effort.  We have to be conscientious and apply ourselves to improving our prayer life.  What’s the best way to do that?  Start by busying yourself with the Bible – your prayer life can’t exist in isolation from the sincere study of God’s Word.  And if our prayers are simply repeated over and over again in insincerity and mindlessness, simply out of habit, then that needs to be addressed.  That’s because there’s also a proper attitude for prayer.

Sometimes you hear people say you can come to God just as you are.  God will unconditionally accept you no matter what.  In a certain sense this is definitely true:  God will accept all sinners who come to him.  However, we have to add the words, “in repentance and true faith in Christ.”  Only sinners who come to God in that way will be accepted by him.  You can’t come to God with a disrespectful attitude and be accepted by him.  You can’t come before his face with arrogance or with cursing and bitterness.  Loved ones, the Bible is clear that those who would come before the Almighty have to do so with the right attitude. 

We see that in the passage we read from 2 Samuel 7.  If we pay careful attention to King David’s prayer from verse 18 to the end of the chapter, there are some valuable things we can learn.  First of all, notice the way David addresses God.  He doesn’t speak to him as if God is his buddy to whom he can say anything he wants in whatever way he wants.  Instead, David’s words are pregnant with fear and respect.  He calls him, “Lord GOD.”  Literally the Hebrew text says there, “Lord Yahweh.”  David uses that term throughout this prayer, from beginning to end.  There is no other Lord Yahweh.  With no doubt David calls upon the one true God who has revealed himself in his Word – and he does so in full recognition of who this God is and who he is as his creature. 

He comes before Lord Yahweh in humility.  That too is clear right from the start.  “Who am I, O Lord Yahweh, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?”  Anyone who would come before Yahweh in arrogance will be cast away.  God can’t stand people who are proud and arrogant.  David learned that the hard way.  He had it in his head to build a house for God.  God told him to back off:  “Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?”  But even though he was given this rebuke, David was still blessed with rich promises, Messianic promises.  Because of that David is struck with awe and wonder and that’s the attitude with which he draws near to God in prayer.  Those promises were all fulfilled and now we’re even richer than David.  We have the realization of those promises:  we’ve been blessed with salvation in Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

When we think about it, that ought to humble us and make us thankful – it ought to give us the right attitude for prayer.  When we consider the fact that God’s own Son came to earth to suffer and die for us, we’re reminded of our need and misery.  We’re reminded that we were alienated from God by our treason.  But now we’ve been reconciled to him in Christ.  We ought to look up to heaven in thankful adoration.  We ought to be awestruck.

But we need more than just humility to come before Lord Yahweh.  We also need faith.  We have to trust that God is there and that he can care for us.  How much faith do we need?  How strong does our faith have to be?  It’s not the quantity or intensity of your faith that matters.  Even a small, stumbling weak faith can approach God’s throne of grace and be heard by him.  Even the faith that says, “I believe, help my unbelief” – even that faith will be heard by God.  God is loving, gracious, and compassionate to the weak and struggling.      

But whatever the case, that faith has to be in the Triune God of the Bible.  We’re speaking about the only true God, Yahweh, the God of David, the God of Paul.  He’ll only hear our prayer when we approach him as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In fact, we have his sure promise that he will hear us when we come as such.

Now the fact that he has promised to hear us doesn’t mean we always get what we want.  Our God knows better than we do what’s the best for us (it takes humility to acknowledge that as well!).  He is the overflowing fountain of all good.  We must trust that he’ll always do what is best for us even when this isn’t obvious to us.  That’s part of the firm foundation our Catechism speaks about in QA 117.  He knows what we need and therefore he also teaches us how to pray.  And that’s why he also gives us a perfect model for prayer. 

We noted right at the beginning that prayer doesn’t come naturally to us and so there’s this need for instruction about how to pray.  Now this instruction can be found throughout the Bible.  If you want to learn how to pray, it’s not in the first place a matter of learning by doing.  Instead, it’s a matter of closely studying the Scriptures.  Scripture and prayer belong together.  When we study the Bible we find many places giving us the instruction we need.  Think of the book of Psalms.  In the Psalms, we find many instances of David and other psalmists addressing God in prayer.  That can be instructive for us.  Our Catechism could have taken such an approach, but it wouldn’t have been very concise.  Instead, we look to the prayer that the Christian church has always held up as the perfect model for prayer:  the prayer which our Lord himself taught us, the Lord’s prayer.  Our Lord Jesus also recognized the need for instruction on this point and we find some of this instruction in our reading from Matthew 6. 

This section of the Sermon on the Mount is devoted to the topic of prayer.  Our Lord Jesus begins by instructing those listening about the right attitude.  Here we go back to what we already learned a minute ago, though Christ takes it further.  Jesus teaches us that prayer isn’t a matter of proud public displays; it’s a matter between God and the believer.  And so prayer is also not about many words and vain repetitions.  A good prayer isn’t necessarily long, nor are good prayers those that are repeated over and over again with no thought to what is being said.  We’re told not to be like pagans or Gentiles, not to be like the hypocrites.  Why?  Because our heavenly Father knows what we need before we even pray. 

Now that could raise a question or two.  If our Father knows what we need before we pray, why bother praying?  There are a couple of good biblical reasons.  We pray because the Holy Spirit works through our prayers to make us more humble and dependent on God.  In a sense, God doesn’t need our prayers, but we need to pray them because of the way they help us to mature as Christians.  So that’s one good reason to pray even though God already knows our needs beforehand. 

Another good reason to pray and keep on praying is because Scripture tells us in James 5:16 that our prayers are effective.  While God is all-knowing and all-powerful, he has told us in his Word that our prayers are part of his plan.  He is sovereign over our prayers and at the same time he mysteriously works through our prayers to accomplish his will.  So in the way God has arranged things, prayer actually makes a difference.  Knowing that, why wouldn’t you pray?        

So how then should we pray?  “Pray then like this…,” says Jesus, and then follows the well-known words.  The Lord’s Prayer is there for us as a model to teach us all the things we need for body and soul.  And again, we should realize that the focus here is on our needs, rather than our wants.  That’s an important distinction to keep in mind when we pray.  We need certain things – food, clothing, shelter, health – and many other things are just luxuries.  The Lord’s Prayer is here to help us make that distinction.   It’s also there to teach us the proper attitude to God, to ourselves, and to our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Lord’s Prayer sets a valuable pattern for us in our prayer lives – that we may truly show ourselves thankful both with our lips and our lives.

So, loved ones, we’re here again at the section on prayer.  Some of you have gone through this countless times.  For some of you, maybe it’s the first time.  But every time, it’s important to pay attention.  We desperately need this reminder of how to pray.  It’s not easy for weak and sinful people to pray.  With the help of the Holy Spirit let’s therefore learn prayer from our Master.  He will teach us the fear of God’s Holy Name.  He will teach us what we need to know and to know our need.  As we learn from Jesus in this age, we can look forward to the age to come when all our communication with God will be natural and perfect.  AMEN.


Our Father in heaven,

From our hearts we again call upon you, the one true God.  We acknowledge to you our deep need and misery.  As sinners, we humble ourselves before your majesty.  We don’t deserve to be heard by you, but we rest on the firm foundation which we have in Christ.  We know that because of him, you will hear us when we pray.  Thank you for this assurance that you’ve given us from your Word again this afternoon.  We ask for more grace and more strength from your Holy Spirit so that we depend on you each day and call to you each day.  Please give us all that we really need for body and soul.  Since you are our heavenly Father, we ask you to take care of us in every single way.  Also, please help us to be diligent in praying to you.  We beg you to teach us with your Word how to improve in our prayers.  Where our prayers are lacking and weak, we do ask again for the perfecting and sanctifying work of your Holy Spirit.    

* 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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