The Gift of Prayer
HEIDELBERG CATECHISM, LORD’S DAYS 45
Why do Christians need to pray?
Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us. And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them.
How does God want us to pray so that he will listen to us?
First, we must pray from the heart to no other than the one true God, who has revealed himself in his Word, asking for everything he has commanded us to ask for. Second, we must acknowledge our need and misery, hiding nothing, and humble ourselves in his majestic presence. Third, we must rest on this unshakable foundation: even though we do not deserve it, God will surely listen to our prayer because of Christ our Lord. That is what he promised us in his Word.
What did God command us to pray for?
Everything we need, spiritually and physically, as embraced in the prayer Christ our Lord himself taught us.
What is this prayer?
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
DEVOTIONAL: October 15-21
The Gift of Prayer
Carla and I grew up in families that began and ended each day, as our parents would say, “with the Lord.” And rightly so. Biblical prayer to the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit is the practice that builds healthy individuals, families and societies.
Prayer is God’s gift to His children. Two words, I believe, capture its essential purpose: fellowship and followership. Through prayer we fellowship with our greatest treasure, joy and love. It is where we know the Father and enjoy Him forever. Through prayer we also become more and more conformed to the likeness of Christ, follow Him, and delight to obey the Father through Him. Therefore, “prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.” Since He has loved and rescued us in Christ, how can we not respond in grateful love? “God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them.” Since He has loved and rescued us in Christ, how can we not seek to be transformed through the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit into obedience through Jesus Christ. That is the natural fruit of the gospel (Galatians 5:1-26).
Three words describe the character of genuine prayer, the attitude of the pray-er who fellowships with the Lord and follows in His footsteps.
Sovereignty: Prayer is a relationship of dependence on our Sovereign and Triune God. It is by definition the public affirmation that we are void of true life and hope without Him. So, teaches the Catechism, “we must acknowledge our need and misery, hiding nothing, and humble ourselves in his majestic presence.” Jerry Sittser states it this way: “Faith turns away from self and comes empty handed to God. Faith doesn’t believe in itself; it believes in God.” Since He is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving and ever-present, we entrust ourselves to His care (Philippians 4:4-7)
Simplicity: Prayer is a relationship of devotion to the Holy Spirit’s work of transformation. Tertullian said the Lord’s Prayer is an “abridgement of the entire gospel.” Every statement describes the walk of Jesus and, therefore, our call to obediently follow in His footsteps. Like Him we too must pray: “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Therefore, the Catechism states that we must ask “for everything he has commanded us to ask for” so that we may walk faithfully in the path of Christian holiness.
Sincerity: Prayer, finally, is relationship of declared trust in the Lord. I sincerely rest from my need to control life – my life or another’s life – and my need to tell God how to control it. “We must rest,” says the Catechism, “on this unshakable foundation: even though we don’t deserve it, God will surely listen to our prayer because of Christ our Lord. That is what he promised us in his Word.” Jerry Sittser describes this posture of rest: “When we pray, we decide to leave an ego-centered world and enter a God-centered world.”
I often hear people speak of the power of prayer, or that prayer is more effective when more people pray, or that unconfessed sin weakens prayer. I also know people who question their own faith because they’ve been led to believe they should experience a vision or special word from God while they pray. I question whether these ideas are consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, the gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone assumes that human words are powerless, numbers are meaningless, sin was met with the love of God, and that the Bible, the Spirit’s voice that ministers to us the gospel of Jesus, is our sufficient revelation from Him. And Jesus himself repudiated any attempt to use prayer as a form self-righteous exhibitionism: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). God’s Sovereignty requires our simplicity and sincerity, not our self-adulation.
The Old Testament recounts the time when King David decided to count the number of fighting men he had at his disposal (2 Samuel 24:1-25). The Lord severely rebuked and punished him for his sin. The Lord alone was Israel’s strength and hope; not her army. Likewise, the Lord alone is the Christian’s strength and hope; not any number of “prayer warriors.” Humbled, David built an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah, offered his sacrifices, and the place became the site of Israel’s Temple (1 Chronicles 21:1-22:1). Jesus, of course, is the true Temple and better Sacrifice. He is the Father’s presence through the Spirit, the One who decisively conquered the Devil, freed God’s children from the rule of sin, and has given His assurance of eternal hope (Hebrews 1-4). He did this not because there is power in prayer or strength in numbers, but because He is God and He is good. God’s Sovereign goodness requires our simplicity and sincerity.
Prayer is God’s gift to us. It is our privilege to exercise sincere, simple, and humble dependence on Him who alone is sovereign (Matthew 6:5-15, Luke 18:9-14). Let’s express our grateful fellowship with Him and let’s seek to grow in grateful obedience to all He teaches in His Word. In the famous words of Nike: “Just do it.”
Pastor Calvin Hoogendoorn
Sunday, October 15
Prayerfully read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. The Catechism teaches that “prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.” Do your prayers express predominately thanksgiving or petition?
Monday, October 16
Prayerfully read Philippians 4:4-7. The Catechism teaches that “God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them.” What are the reasons you seek and rejoice in the Lord? What are the reasons you find it hard to seek and rejoice in Him? How does this Scripture passage help and encourage you in your life of prayer?
Tuesday, October 17
Prayerfully read 1 John 5:13-15. The Catechism teaches that prayer is to be exercised within the objective boundaries of God’s Word, the boundary of His will. What teachings of God’s Word serve as the content of your adoration, confession, thanksgiving and petition to the Lord?
Wednesday, October 18
Prayerfully read Psalm 51. The Catechism teaches that prayer includes confession and repentance – “we must acknowledge our need and misery, hiding nothing, and humble ourselves in his majestic presence.” How do David’s words encourage you to prayer words of confession? What areas of your life will you bring to the Lord for cleansing and renewal?
Thursday, October 19
Prayerfully read Luke 11:1-13. The Catechism teaches that we may live with the assurance, “this unshakable foundation,” that “God will surely listen to our prayer because of Christ our Lord.” How do these words remind you of God’s generous grace? How do they give you peace for today and hope for the future?
Friday, October 20
Prayerfully read Luke 18:9-14. Prayer is an exercise of humbly resting and trusting in God’s sovereign grace revealed in Jesus Christ. Why do we have a tendency to place more trust in our own words and action than in His Word and Work of grace? How do you resist the sin of pride while you pray?
Saturday, October 21
Prayerfully read Matthew 6:25-34 and Romans 8:18-39. Are your prayers driven by worry, seeking a “quick fix” to the spiritual, moral, relational or physical uncertainties in your life? Or, are your prayers driven by gratitude, seeking Him who has promised and demonstrated in His Son, Jesus Christ, that He is making all things new in His time and according to His will?