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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Learn to Pray like a Little Child
Text:LD 46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Glory of the Father

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 146:1,3                                                                  

Ps 57:5  [after reading of Nicene Creed]

Reading – Galatians 3:26 - 4:7

Ps 103:1,4,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 46

Hy 82:1,2

Hy 72:1,2,3,4,5

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

Beloved in Christ, one of the most astonishing things that Jesus ever taught has to do with prayer. He gave us permission to call God “our Father.” It’s a privilege that we’re very used to. I’m sure that we sometimes pray our Father’s name carelessly.

But listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 11, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (v 27, NIV). That gives you a sense of what a gift it is! When we pray the name “Father,” we’re doing something that is both bold and reassuring. Through Christ, and by his Spirit, we can pray to the Father in heaven even as little children would address their earthly parents.

Notice how the Catechism puts it: “Why has Christ commanded us to address God as our Father?” And the answer: “To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer that childlike reverence and trust toward God which should be basic to our prayer” (Q&A 120).

That’s a good choice of words: “to awaken in us” that childlike attitude. Sometimes we forget how close to us our Father really is. Or it could be that we’ve grown cold to what a privilege it is. So we need to be awakened to this truth: the living God has claimed you as his own child in Jesus, and He wants you to be a humbly trusting son and daughter, in prayer and in all of life. This is what Jesus teaches in the opening of our prayer. I preach God’s Word as summarized in Lord’s Day 46,

Learn to pray like a little child to your heavenly Father:

  1. He is your Father in Christ
  2. He is your Father in heaven


1) He is your Father in Christ: When we read Q&A 120, there is one line that should stand out as being by far the most significant in the whole Lord’s Day. This line teaches a mind-boggling reality, something that we can only begin to grasp. What line am I referring to? It’s that simple phrase half-way through: “God has become our Father through Christ.”

One way to appreciate that truth is by trying to imagine our life without it. What if God had not become our Father? If He wasn’t our Father, our status would not simply be as orphans, parentless and alone in the world. No, without being children of God, we are children of wrath. It’s one or the other. If we don’t belong to God through Christ, as Jesus says to the unbelieving Jews in John 8, then “[we] belong to [our] father, the devil” (v 44).

And the thing about families is that the children’s lives are so often shaped by who the parents are. That’s a general principle from Scripture. Blessings are passed on from fathers and mothers to their children. But evil too, has a way of running in the family. And so the children of the devil don’t have a bright future, for Satan is condemned already.

But for those who are the children of God, there is a marvelous change. As his children, we have become heirs to eternal life—heaven and it’s glory is our inheritance! As God’s children, we’ve been welcomed into the safety and blessing and warmth of his household. And yes, as his children, we’re allowed to call on God as Father. All this privilege as God’s children, the Catechism says, is “through Christ” (Q&A 120).

To get into what that means for us, we first need to think about Christ, and to think about him as the eternal Son of God. He was the first and greatest one to call on God as Father. Now, there will always be a deep mystery to this triune relationship. The mystery is how God can be Father and God can also be Son, and still the persons are equal in every way—eternal and almighty. We don’t understand the Father-Son dynamic, but we accept that it’s true. For the Father said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son” (Matt 3:17).

This relationship of Jesus the Son with the heavenly Father was basic to his life. As Jesus always said during his ministry, He came to earth not on his own initiative, but as the one sent by the Father. In everything, He was devoted to doing his Father’s will.

Even though Jesus was fully God, He relied on his Father in every way. And He showed this dependence through the same thing that we’re allowed to do: by prayer. The four Gospels tells us that in prayer Jesus often asked for his Father’s blessing. So Jesus prayed to his Father before his baptism (Luke 3:21). He prayed before He called the twelve disciples, even spending the whole night with the Father (6:12). Before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus agonized for hours in prayer (22:39-46).

And not just before special occasions or at tumultuous times, but regularly, Jesus as the Son of God talked with his Father in heaven. Luke says in 5:16, “Jesus often withdrew to solitary places and prayed.” This is one of the essential things for us to learn (and to imitate) as God’s children, that it was through prayer that Jesus enjoyed a living connection with his Father. Without prayer, there really is no relationship.

The connection between the Son and the Father was perfect, of course. There was never any wavering in Jesus’s confidence, no doubting, no drifting apart of Father and Son. Jesus’s prayers were without fault. Jesus prayed “from the heart,” and He called “upon the one true God only,” and in humility, and in an attitude of reverence and trust (Q&A 117). Jesus prayed prayers like they were meant to be prayed!

So after all that, maybe we’d think that this is the kind of thing that only Jesus can do. Only He could be so bold as to call God his Father. But when Jesus teaches us to pray, this is his first lesson, earth-shaking in power: when you pray, you’re allowed to call on God as Father.

Jesus says, “As I have always prayed to the Father, so you may also pray.” Jesus tells us: “You can have the same kind of close relationship with God that I have, even though I am God’s own and well-loved Son!” You can pray to the Father, in solitary places, in public worship, at tumultuous times and on ordinary days, whenever you draw near to God.

This is how it’s possible, says Paul, “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his Son… that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). When He came to earth, Christ lived in total obedience to his Father, even to death on the cross. God was well-pleased with him—so pleased that God accepts as children all who are joined to Christ by true faith.

So when the Father sees Christ, He sees us. His obedience is ours. His suffering is ours. His death and resurrection are ours. Even his glory is ours. Every privilege that belongs to Christ belongs also to us. God the Father overlooks our unworthiness and adopts us as his own sons and daughters.

It means that we can even cry to God, “Abba, Father” (Gal 4:6). You might’ve learned before that the name “Abba” is a term of special closeness between a child and his father. It was a word used by young Jewish children, like a child today will call her parents, “Daddy” or “Mummy.” Such simple words are often the first things that are spoken by a child, for no one is more important to a child’s life than Mum or Dad.

Yet that the old word “Abba” is more than just baby-talk. In Bible times, even adults would use it. For example, students in the synagogue would address their teachers as “Abba.” Adult children would still use word “Abba” when speaking with their elderly fathers. So there is a strong sense of respect in that term, “Abba.” Yet there’s no mistaking the intimacy that goes with it, the loving closeness.

It’s how Jesus prayed too. Think of his prayer in the garden, praying in full submission to God, yet in full confidence: “Abba, Father. I trust in your unfailing love. I revere you in your holiness. I want to do your will.” It’s an address which shows how deeply He trusted, loved, and wanted to obey his Father. 

Through Christ and his Spirit, that is allowed to become the whole tone and atmosphere of our prayers, too: “We cry, Abba, Father.” We can pray to God in the humility of a child, and with the confidence of a child. The Catechism uses the word “child-like,” because children often look at things in a straightforward way. None of our cynicism about life, none of our pessimism about other people, no doubt about a person’s promise. They have a simple, trusting certainty.

And if that’s how children view their earthly fathers, we can look to our heavenly Father in the same way. There’s no need to hesitate. No need to be self-conscious. You can look to God with a faith that is unquestioning, a confidence that you really can share everything with him, the God “who daily bears our burdens.” Like little children, we recognize that no one is more important to our life than the LORD God, our Father.

When we pray, our Father is there—He is only one trusting word away. We cry to him like little children, for our Father understands exactly what we’re trying to say. We cry to him like little children, for we have nothing to give of ourselves.

For Jesus’s sake, we can be confident as we hold onto the Father’s promise. With his own mouth God has told us. “My child, I’ll give your daily bread and everything needful. I’ll keep you from harm. I’ll strengthen you in temptation. I’ll teach you and shape you.” Even in the hardest and worst of times of our life, the Father says that our salvation in Christ is secure.

It’s no wonder that John cries out with wonder in his first letter: “What manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). And that is what we are. For He is our Father in Christ, and He is…


2) He is our Father in heaven: The Lord’s Prayer is short, just seventy words or so in English translations. So every word counts. This is why the Catechism is correct to highlight the second part of this prayer’s address, “Why is there added, in heaven?” (Q&A 121). Even these two words carry weight.

The Catechism begins its explanation of them on a negative note, “These words teach us not to think of God’s heavenly majesty in an earthly manner” (Q&A 121). What is an earthly manner? It’s a way of life that is typical of humans, what you’d expect from people like us. An earthly manner is one marked by weakness, by failing, unreliability.

An “earthly manner” means that even if you have strength, yours is a limited strength. And if you have love for someone, it’s probably a conditional love. Or if you’ve committed yourself to some cause, it is likely that at some point your commitment will weaken, even drop off altogether. And if you perform some good deed, it will always be imperfect. That is the earthly manner, and we all live this way.

So why does Lord’s Day 46 start its answer like this? The authors of the Catechism know that we always see things from an earthly perspective. So we might reckon that even when we pray to him, God is a lot like us. He might have great abilities, have a lot of patience, be very genuine in what He says—but when it really comes down to it, God is still going to disappoint us when we pray. When something is really hard in our life, God might not come through to help us. Or when we’ve sinned terribly, God might not show mercy.

That’s the human way, the “earthly manner,” one that’s true to our own experience. We might even think of our own earthly fathers here, and about their failings. They might’ve tried their best, but they often got it wrong. This can make it hard for us to grasp things like everlasting love, undeserved favour, fatherly mercy and wisdom.

But the Catechism says, “Don’t think of God in an earthly manner. The LORD God is different—He is holy. When you pray, you call on a Father who is in heaven.” This address gives us a different vision of who God is. Our Father is unlike anything here on earth. He is eternally majestic in his holiness, perfect in glory. He is God, whose throne is heaven, whose footstool is the earth. And so in Deuteronomy 16, God’s people are told to pray to him like this, “O God, look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place” (v 15). He is our Father in heaven.

What does that really mean, though? If you ask a child what heaven is, she’ll probably point up to the clouds: “God lives up there.” We smile at the simplicity of children, yet when adults talk about heaven, we still struggle to understand what it means. Is it a physical place? Is it up? Is it down? Is heaven in another dimension entirely?

The best thing, of course, is turn to Scripture. The Bible tells us that when we think of God as dwelling in heaven, this doesn’t mean that He is ever limited to one place. Paul says this in Acts 17, “The God who made the world and everything in it, is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands” (v 24). He wasn’t restricted to the temple, and He’s not restricted to heaven. In fact, Jeremiah says that God fills both heaven and earth (23:24).

Instead, to speak of God as being “in heaven” is to get a picture of his great majesty and power. Seated on his heavenly throne, our God has unlimited resources and possesses infinite abilities. He has myriads of angels to command, and all of creation at his disposal. As the Maker and Lord of all, He is never bound by our earthly restrictions.

Yes, He is Father: He is close by, one who understands our human concerns, and who delights to show tender mercy. God is Father, yet He is far greater than anything here on earth—He is heavenly in his ability and strength.

Isn’t this good for us to know? When we begin our prayers in the way Jesus taught us, we get an automatic reminder that our God is both great and gracious: “Father in heaven,” we may say in faith, “You are bigger than all this. Bigger than these worries. Bigger than these temptations. Bigger than this anxiety. Bigger than the devil and all his allies. You have everything in your hand, everything under your control.”

This is also what the Psalmist confesses at the end of Psalm 73. After he has poured out his heart to God in great trouble, he finds rest in the LORD, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (v 25). In heaven, and on earth, we have all that we need when we know the LORD.

To this awesome God in heaven we pray. And here a little of that childlike simplicity can be good. For children just accept that God in heaven is there. Though they haven’t seen him, they know it. Though their understanding isn’t perfect, they accept it. They know what God in heaven can do, and they don’t doubt it for a second. When we pray, we should do so in that same childlike way: trusting, knowing that God in heaven can do all things. Not seeing exactly how it’s all going to work out but being sure that the Father has it well in hand.

So after telling us how not to think of God—“in an earthly manner”—the Catechism gets more positive. The Catechism exhorts us “to expect from his almighty power all things we need for body and soul” (Q&A 121). Like we said, this heavenly God has the power, and He will use it faithfully for the sake of his children in Christ.

In his teaching on prayer in Luke 11, Jesus says it’s very simple: If we ask, God our Father will answer. “Ask, seek, and knock—and the door will be opened.” As the Catechism says of God the Father, “He will much less deny us what we ask of him in faith than our fathers would refuse us earthly things” (Q&A 120).

Does this mean that our heavenly Father will always give what we pray for? Is it so simple? We all know from our own life of prayer that it’s not. We pray and pray, but the stress remains. The illness gets worse. The brokenness isn’t healed and the temptation doesn’t diminish. We have learned that God doesn’t always respond to our prayers in just the way we like—in fact, God’s answer rarely comes in just the way we imagined or wanted!

What are we to think of this? Well, every father and mother knows this too, that it’s not good to answer every request that your child makes with a “yes.” Sometimes a “yes” is OK, but sometimes a “no” is better. Sometimes a child needs something else entirely. Sometimes it is better for a child to wait, or to reconsider.

If that’s what earthly fathers and mothers know, then of course Father in heaven knows it so much better. He knows best how to answer our prayers and requests, because He knows us! As Psalm 103 says, God remembers how we are formed, He remembers that we are only dust. God’s answers to your prayers today (and tomorrow and throughout your life) reflect God’s deep and loving knowledge of you. He knows our frame.

He knows that sometimes we have to learn patience and trust (and then learn it again). Sometimes we have to be stretched to serve him in a new way. Sometimes we need the tough lessons of his loving discipline through hardship, having to be emptied of our pride, having to make do with less. Sometimes we need a boost of joy, and sometimes a dash of trouble. Our heavenly Father knows us so well, loves us so deeply, and He answers us perfectly.

So whenever we pray “Our Father,” Jesus says we can do this with a faith that is firm: “Father, I look to you alone. Father, I depend on you alone. I know that you are able to do exceedingly and abundantly above all that I ask or think” (cf. Eph 3:2). As we lay before him our life, our worries, our sins, our fears and sorrows, we know that God is Father: our Father in Christ, and our Father in heaven.

In heaven, yet not out of range, but always near. Our Father in heaven has ears to hear when we call in our trouble. Our Father has eyes to see when we need help. Our Father has hands to guide us in our confusion, and to discipline us when we need correction. Our Father in heaven has a mouth for speaking words of comfort to our heart.

So be sure that your Father wants to hear your prayers, however small or simple they are. Don’t make him wait. Don’t put him off. But call on God as your Father and expect from his almighty power all things that you need for body and soul!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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