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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
 www.bethelurc.org
 
Title:Why Do We Need to Pray?
Text:LD 45 Hebrews 5:7 LD 45 (Q&A 116) (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2023-09-24
Added:2023-10-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Why Do We Need to Pray?

Hebrews 5:7 LD 45 (Q&A 116)

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, on the surface, question 116 of Lord’s Day 45 may strike us as being a bit strange – maybe even a little forced or contrived. Why do Christians need to pray? Isn’t that what we Christians ordinarily do? Doesn’t that just come with the territory. We might as well ask, Why do we need to breathe? Why do we need to eat?

 

But there is a difference, and it’s this: breathing is a natural reflex. We do it without thinking about it. And eating is something we do because our stomach growls as a reminder that we’ve skipped a meal. But when it comes to prayer – we Christians can be forgetful; and sadly, prayer does not come naturally to us as it should. It is a spiritual discipline that must be cultivated and maintained.

 

And by praying, I do not mean the 30 second prayers we offer up before and after mealtime. I’m talking about intentional prayer where you sit down alone with God and have a conversation – where you cry out to God, you bear your soul -- you lay before Him all your worries, all your burdens, all your concerns – and you cry out to God to help you; to save you; to deliver you!   

 

Now tell me: how often does that happen? If you’re anything like me, the answer is not enough.  

 

And yet this is why, thanks be to God, He sends trials and trying circumstances into our lives that shake us up; that wake us up; that heighten our awareness of our own mortality, of our own weakness and frailty, of our own inability to know or decide what to do. Those trials cause us to see and to confess our utter dependency upon God for everything.

 

This past week was a good example of this for me. To be a pastor serving a church, and then to get a call to serve another church is extremely unsettling. The last time that happened is when I was at Lynwood, IL and I got the call to come here to Bethel. These are weighty matters.    

 

I spent some time on the phone this past Friday with another pastor who has also received a call recently. He and I shared many of the same sentiments about difficulty of discerning God’s will, of trying to decide where God is calling us to serve. So, we took some time to pray together, and we asked the Lord, the King of the church, to lead us by His Holy Spirit, to make the decision clear and obvious. 

 

And for any of you who have ever agonized over career decisions, or moving to Canada from South Africa, or from Ontario, or if you’ve had to consider a job offer, or choosing college or a career, you know what this is like. You know why we Christians need to pray.

 

So let’s look at this Q&A from that perspective this morning.

  1. Prayer and God’s Sovereignty
  2. Prayer and God’s Son

 

1) Prayer and God’s Sovereignty

Because of the fact that catechism sermons are (generally speaking) teaching sermons, I thought it would be beneficial to use this first point to teach us about prayer in relation to the sovereignty of God.

 

The sovereignty of God is essentially that wonderful and Biblical doctrine that reveals to us that God is the almighty King over all creation -- over all creatures, over all nations, over all the forces of nature and the universe, even over all the powers and principalities of Satan.

 

To say that God is sovereign is to acknowledge that nothing happens anywhere in this universe outside the knowledge and perfect will of God – which includes the decisions of every person, the destiny of all nations, and it extends to the salvation of fallen man, and man’s eternal destination.

 

So, knowing this, perhaps the question should be: “Why do we Christians need to pray to a sovereign, almighty God? Why do we even bother asking our almighty God to heal us, to help us, to deliver us, or to change us, or to save a lost soul, when God already knows the outcome of all things. What difference does it make to pray to a God who already has the path and direction and even the duration of my life already predestined and predetermined?  

 

John Calvin addressed this very issue in his Institutes of the Christian religion. He writes: But some will say, “Does God not know (without us having to remind him), both what our difficulties are and also what is in our own interests, so that it seems in some measure to be superfluous (redundant, unnecessary, excessive) to solicit God by our prayers as if God were somehow sleeping or unaware of our needs until he was aroused by the sound of our voice.”

 

Then John Calvin goes on to answer that objection by saying: “Those who argue in this way attend not to the end or the purpose for which the Lord taught us to pray. It was not so much for God's good, as it was for our good.”

 

And that is precisely the crux of the matter. Prayer is not something we do for God's benefit. Prayer is not a means of awakening God to see the dire nature of our circumstances. Prayer is not a way of asking God to change our destiny or to alter his plan for our lives. No. prayer is for our benefit.

 

Certainly, God is pleased with our prayers. Certainly, God is blessed by our prayers, and God is praised and glorified by our prayers. But God's existence is not dependent upon our prayers. God can get along just fine without them. But we cannot.

 

God has ordained the act, the spiritual discipline of prayer as the means by which we creatures express to our Creator God our daily needs; by which we confess all our sins, our unfaithfulness and shortcomings, by which we recognize our emptiness, our inabilities, our absolute dependence upon almighty God to help us, to forgive us, to comfort us, to strengthen us and to encourage – to give us grace to persevere, to endure to the end.   

 

Maybe I can get at it this way. When we talk about the sovereignty of God, we are not only referring to the almighty power of God by which He ordains all things to come to pass, but we are also talking about the MEANS God uses or appoints to bring about that which he ordains. In other words, God not only ordains the ends, but he ordains the means to accomplish His ends.

 

For example, the Bible reveals that God created the heavens and the earth. That was an indescribable, glorious, unrepeatable act of God’s absolute sovereignty, might and power. But God also ordained the means whereby He created all things – which was the WORD of God. God spoke all things into being. God also used the dust of the ground to create Adam, the rib from Adam to create Eve.

 

In regards to prayers, God works no differently. This is precisely why Lord’s Day 45, Answer 116 says what it does then, when it asks why do Christians need to pray? It says, because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who continually and with heartfelt longing ask God for these gifts and thank him for them.

 

In other words, prayer is the divinely ordained means by which our sovereign God sees fit to grant, to bestow, to pour out His heavenly blessings upon us, His earthly creatures.

 

Our sovereign God wants us to pray, he commands us to pray -- not because we somehow control God by our prayers, not because God would otherwise not know that we need, or not know what to grant us. Rather, we pray because our almighty God is pleased to use our prayers as one of the ways by which, through which, He brings about His good and perfect will in our lives.

 

James 5: 16 states that the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective. Then James gives the example of Elijah who prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for 3 ½ years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produces its crops.

 

What James does NOT tell us, and what we know from hearing a series of sermons on 1 Kings, is that before Elijah ever prayed, God had decreed that there would be a severe drought in the land as a judgment for the idolatry of Ahab and Israel.

 

Then, 3 1/3 years later, before Elijah prayed, God had also decreed that the drought would end and that he would send rain on the land. Then God even sent Elijah to tell Ahab that God was going to send rain again. Then what did Elijah do? He prayed. 1 Kings 18.42ff says Elijah bent down to the ground and prayed 7 before it a cloud finally appeared. So yes, God ordained an end to the drought, but God also ordained that the means whereby it would end: the powerful and effective prayers of God’s prophet Elijah.

Beloved, do you see the benefit of understanding this? This explanation spares us not only from a very unhealthy, fatalistic, cynical and pessimistic view of prayer, but from a very fatalistic and cynical view of God – as if God “just does what he does” without any regard for us; as if we’re nothing more than impersonal pawns or robots. But that couldn’t be any further from the truth.            

 

As were about to see in the next point – Jesus, God’s own Son, prayed. And Jesus prayed for the same reason and in the same way that we pray. And Jesus prayed for the very same things that we pray for – with the lone exception that Jesus never had to ask forgiveness for his sins, because He was the sinless Son of God.

 

Remember, it was also Jesus who taught his disciples (and us) how to pray. So, if prayer was just a fraud, a fool’s errand, a vain practice, then why would God’s own Son pray and teach us to pray?

Jesus instructed us to come to His heavenly Father and ours with every plea, with every petition – to ask, to seek, to knock – asking for daily bread, for spiritual bread, for grace, mercy, help, deliverance, healing – for all things for body and soul.  

 

It was Jesus himself who taught us that prayer is not only powerful and effective, but it is also necessary – as vital as the air that we breathe, as necessary as the food that we eat. And each one of us, from the youngest to the oldest, is called to pray to God everyday, on a regular basis; and as we do, we will develop a habit, a healthy habit of bringing everything to God in prayer. The result of that will be that the grace of God will be given to us in greater measure, and the peace of God Himself well rest upon us in greater measure.    

       

2. Prayer and God’s Son

So that is Prayer and God’s Sovereignty. Now, for the second point, we consider Prayer and God’s Son. Here I want to look at that verse from Hebrews 5:7 which states: During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

 

In Christ’s earthly ministry there are numerous references not only to  Christ teaching about prayer – but of Christ actually praying. Jesus himself was a man of prayer.  Mark 1:35 say: “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” Matthew 14:13 “After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.”

 

Luke 5: 16 “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 6:12: “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” Luke 22:31-32 Jesus said: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.”

 

Think of the Upper Room Discourse where Jesus prayed (what we now call) the High Priestly Prayer. John 17:1 says “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: Father the time has come. Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you.”

 

And what follows are 25 of the most precious verses in all of Holy Scripture. We hear our Savior pour out his heart and soul before His heavenly Father; we bear witness to Christ’s great love for his disciples; we marvel at His care, his compassion and concern for His church – the people for whom He was about to die. Think of that – almost two thousand years before any of us were even born, Jesus was already making intercession to the Father on our behalf.    

 

In all these examples, we see what the author of Hebrews is saying: during the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears… 

 

The overall point of this passage from Hebrews 5 (and for several chapters) is to compare the priesthood of Jesus, our Great and Heavenly High Priest, with that of the priests who ministered in the earthly temple. The author of Hebrews is making the case that in every way – in his sinless Person, in His perfect once for all sacrifice, and in his intercession and prayer life on earth, and in his intercession now at the right hand of God, the priesthood of Jesus Christ is all surpassing and incomparable in its greatness.

 

And in this particular verse, Hebrews 5:7, the author is showing us that Christ’s pathway to becoming this heavenly high priest was one of humiliation and suffering, of enduring hardship and pain and calling upon God in prayer. It is believed that verse 7 is describing the scene of our Lord praying in the Garden of Gethsemane – where Christ called out to the Father not once, but three times: My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.

 

This is also how Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” as verse 8 says. Jesus earnestly, humbly, obediently and submissively, pleaded with the Father for there to be some other way, to take the cup of suffering from Him; but in the end, Jesus our Savior obediently conformed his will to the Father’s and Christ drank that bitter cup of suffering down to its very end.

 

But take note of what verse 7 says: Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of its reverent submission. We read that, and we think to ourselves: but wait a minute, God didn't save Jesus from death. Jesus died on the cross, didn't he? Yes, it's true that Jesus did die on the cross, and he was buried in the grave.

 

So how is it possible that he was heard? This verse is revealing to us that the Father ultimately answered the prayers of his Son by raising Him from the grave on the third day. Remember the prayer of Jesus going to the cross was for the Father to glorify the Son; so that by Christ being raised up on the cross the Father would draw all men to himself.

 

This could happen in no other way, than by the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. There could be no glory for Christ, no salvation for sinners, no Good News for the fallen world unless Christ was obedient and submissive all the way unto death; and then after that, He was saved from death by his resurrection from the grave.

 

The reason I think this is such an important point to understand, is that we don’t always know how the Father will ultimately bring about our deliverance; how He will see fit to answer our prayers. Yes, we pray to a sovereign God who knows all – but he is a sovereign God who loves us with an undying love, who loves us so much that instead of condemning us and destroying us in our sin, God sent His Son to suffer our punishment, so that by His death we may have the gift of eternal life.     

 

And so you see – for us as well, our ultimate deliverance will not come on this side of the grave. Yes, we may pray earnestly to God to heal us or others those stricken with cancer and other diseases and disabilities. We may pray earnestly to God for Him to intervene and save the life of a loved on injured in an accident.  

 

And there are times when in this life, God answers those prayers by granting healing. There are occasions of incredible and perhaps even miraculous recovery and healing.

 

But very often, those for whom we pray do not recover. They succumb to whatever cancer or illness has afflicted them; they do not recover from whatever injury they sustained in an accident, or we and they simply grow older and weaker until our bodies fail, and we die. In the end, if the Lord tarries – we will all die and no amount of humble and submissive prayers can prevent that.

 

But the glory and beauty of what Christ has accomplished for us in his atoning death and in his glorious resurrection is that through our physical death, the Father also saves us and delivers us from death by takes us into His eternal kingdom – so that for us too, God hears our prayers that are offered in reverence and submission.

 

You see, that’s one of the most important and often overlooked aspects of prayer -- God hears us when we pray. It’s not first and foremost about results. It’s not about solving the riddle of why we pray to a God who already knows everything. No. it’s about the fact that God hears his children when they pray.

 

Why do we need to pray? It’s because of all that we have said already – but also this: it’s because children (redeemed & forgiven children) need to talk to their father. It’s because children need to thank their father, and cry out to their father, and confide in their father, and wrestle and agonize with their Father, and learn humble submission, and reverence and obedience to their Father. It’s because we need to commune and have fellowship with our almighty God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit - to call upon the God of our salvation, and then to “hear” Him as he speaks to us from His Word and as the answers to our prayers are evidenced in the circumstances of our lives. So let’s be faithful children, obedient children, and thankful children and pray to God each day. Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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