Concerning Prayer: H.C. Lord’s Day 45

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 45

 Q 116. Why do Christians need to pray? 
A 116. 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 God for them.
 
Q 117. What is the kind of prayer that pleases God and that he listens to? 
A 117. First, we must pray from the heart to no other than the one true God, revealed to us in his Word, asking for everything God has commanded us to ask for.
Second, we must fully recognize our need and misery, so that we humble ourselves in God’s 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 God promised us in his Word.
 
Q 118. What did God command us to pray for? 
A 118. Everything we need, spiritually and physically, as embraced in the prayer Christ our Lord himself taught us.
 
Q 119. What is this prayer? 
A 119. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.* For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.
 
This Lord’s day begins the final section of the Heidelberg Catechism which focuses specifically in on the Lord’s Prayer.  It is fitting, I think, to end the teaching about how we are called to live here.  We have talked about our sin, our Savior, and our response to that.  First, the gratitude that comes from us for our salvation, then the specifics of what we believe.  Next we talked about the Law, a guide for our lives that ultimately points us back to our need for a Savior and the reason for our faith.  Finally, now, we will talk about our connection to God which is prayer.
 
The first Lord’s day that talks about prayer starts off, rightly, by showing us some of the whys and whats of prayer.  Given the recent events in Texas, and the subsequent negative reactions about prayer that have taken place, these teachings are now, more important than ever.
 
So why pray?  I think, at least for those who are believers, the appropriate counter question is “why not?”  We believe that God is the creator of the universe, that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift including our lives, and that God loves us so much the He has saved us from our sins through His Son, Jesus.  He also invites us into a relationship with Him, one that is connected to Him through prayer and the Holy Spirit.  Through prayer, we bring praise, worship, gratitude, and all sorts of requests.
 
It isn’t, however, so much about what we bring in prayer as it is what God brings in those moments too.  When we approach God, we are shown His love and grace, His welcoming arms are open and He is present there more than any person in our lives ever is to us.  In these moments, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are also built up in our trust of God, humility of ourselves, and in our identity before Him in Jesus Christ.
 
God also invites us to bring anything and everything to Him in prayer.  In a close relationship, you would talk to your friend about the happenings of your day.  You would most likely also share some of your concerns and frustrations.  Our Heavenly Father desires this with us as well.  He wants to hear about our struggles at work, the joy we get from our children, our frustration in not being able to find our keys.  More than that, though, He wants to be a part of those things in our lives.
 
What this doesn’t mean, however, is that whatever we ask God for we will get.  God is not some sort of cosmic vending machine.  That is why the “How” of this teaching is so important.  Jesus teaches us how to pray and in following this teaching, we begin to get a sense of what is most important.  While God certainly cares about the things that you want, what He has promised you is the things that you need.  He is the ever-present, always providing Father who gives us everything we stand in need of.  The teaching of the Lord’s Prayer reveals to us what those needs actually are.
 
As we look to this, and the teaching that will follow, we will begin to see unfolded before us, God’s deep desire for intimacy in our lives, and also His unending love for us, and His unfailing provision and presence in our lives.


The Lord’s Prayer: H.C. Question 119

What is this prayer? 
 

Matthew 6:9-13 – “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘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.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
 

Luke 11:2-4 – He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”


For What do We Pray? H.C. Question 118

What did God command us to pray for? 
 
James 1:17 – Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
 
Matthew 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
 
Philippians 4:6 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.


Pleasing Prayer: H.C. Question 117

What is the kind of prayer that pleases God and that he listens to?
 
Psalm 145:18-20 – The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.  He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.  The Lord watches over all who love him,  but all the wicked he will destroy.
 
John 4:22-24 – You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
 
Romans 8:26-27 – In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
 
James 1:5 – If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
 
1 John 5:14-15 – This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
 
2 Chronicles 7:14 – if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
 
Psalm 2:11 – Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
 
Psalm 34:18 – The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
 
Psalm 62:8 – Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.
 
Isaiah 66:2 – Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord.  “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.
 
Revelation 4 – After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. 
 
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”

Daniel 9:17-19 – “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
 
Matthew 7:8 – For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
 
John 14:13-14 – And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
 
John 16:23 – In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
 
Romans 10:13 – for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
 
James 1:6 – But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.


Prayer: H.C. Question 116

Why do Christians need to pray? 
 
Psalm 32:5 – Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”  And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
 
Romans 3:19-26 – Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
 
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his
righteousness,
because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
 
Romans 7:7 – What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Romans 7:24-25 – What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
 
1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
 
1 Corinthians 9:24 – Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
 
Philippians 3:12-14 – Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
 
1 John 3:1-3 – See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.


Revelation 8 – Trumpets (Part 1)

Read Revelation 8

When the last seal is opened, John records something unique to Revelation so far: silence.  While silence is certainly not a foreign concept in the Bible, often indicating reverence or awe in the presence of God.  This could certainly be the case as the scroll that was sealed is now open for all.  However, it could also be that this silence brings a time of preparation for what is known as the “trumpet judgments,” the next series of seven judgments that are about to take place on the earth.

The golden censer and the burning incense draw their symbolic meaning from the altar of incense in the Tabernacle and Temple and from Old Testament imagery of prayers and actions before God.  Such things rose up to God like the smoke of a fire and were thought to produce either “pleasant” or “fowl” odors before the Lord.  John records that the incense that was in the golden censer was indeed the prayers of God’s people.  Old Testament tradition holds that angels played a part in mediating between God and humanity though this is certainly not something that the New Testament indicates.  Jesus Christ is our mediator and also the perfector of our prayers and worship as He presents them before God.

As the seven angels begin to blow their trumpets, the judgments that are poured out on the earth contain some familiar imagery.  Thunder, fire, and earthquakes we have seen before indicating in some fashion the presence of God in whatever is happening.  The first trumpet judgment, like many of these, draws its imagery directly from that of the 10 plagues in Exodus, something that is echoed in the book of Ezekiel.

The impact of these judgments is expressed by the fraction 1/3, indicating that at least partially, the punishment that is being poured out here is not yet complete.

The second trumpet judgment’s impact is reminiscent of the first plague on Egypt when the whole of the Nile river was turned to blood.  Jeremiah also records the image of the mountain begin destroyed as part of a vision regarding the punishment of Babylon, which becomes an image for all the is evil in the world and a focal point for the battle between good and evil later on in Revelation.

Wormwood, the falling star of the third trumpet judgment, is a very bitter tasting plant.  The star, John says, taints the fresh water of the world, making it poisonous to drink.  This event is reminiscent of the miracle of the waters of Marah, recorded in Exodus 15, except in reverse.  Jeremiah records a similar series of events in his prophecies as well in both chapter 9 and chapter 23 of his book.

The fourth trumpet judgment carries a similar theme to the ninth plague on Egypt, that of darkness.  These similarities are important to the overall theme of Revelation, that of the ultimate freeing of God’s people.  Israel’s exodus represented the freeing of God’s people from bondage; the plagues were God’s action on behalf of His people to punish the enslaver.  Here we see similar things happening again, but on a cosmic scale, signaling the coming of the “final exodus” of God’s people from the oppression of sin and evil in the world.  This is also why we draw so heavily on imagery from the prophets because they too envisioned this as a result of the coming of the Messiah and the ultimate redemption, reconciliation, and victory that He would bring.

Drawing on imagery like this doesn’t always “explain” what exactly it means, but rather creates connections in the redemptive work of God throughout salvation history.  We can then see that what John is witnessing here is not necessarily something new, but instead is the great revelation of God’s work to reconcile the whole world to Himself and put an end to sin and evil once and for all.



James 5 – Warnings and Prayers

Read James 5

It is no secret in Scripture that God has a special place in His heart for the oppressed and marginalized.  Much of the mission of the Church is based on a call to care for the widow, the orphan, those in prison, and the oppressed and much of the early church was made up of such people.  The makeup of churches nowadays seems to have changed a bit.  Church appears to be a place where those who have their lives all together go, not where the broken come to receive healing.

James issues a warning to those who are “rich,” but it goes for all those who oppress or ignore the oppressed and marginalized.  Our actions in this regard do not go unnoticed before the thrown of God.  We must be careful in how we act and in where our priorities lie for it is not our earthly wealth that matters to God, but what we did with the blessings, actions that reveal where our heart is, that He has given us that truly matters.

One of the ways we can ensure a proper orientation in our lives in this, and all matters that James brings up, is committing to prayer.  We don’t talk about this enough, I think, in the church.  When we come before God, we come to praise Him, to thank Him, and to lift up our needs and the needs of the world before Him.  We do this because God calls us to, because He is capable of handling our needs, and because we trust Him.  Doing so, however, does not exempt us from action either.  God calls us to be active participants in His work in the world and this happens through the prayers and actions of His people.  When we invite God into situations, we believe that He is going to act in ways the build His Kingdom and further His will in the world.



Hebrews 13 – A "brief" Note

Read Hebrews 13

As the author of Hebrews concludes the letter with the customary final greetings, he/she encourages the audience to take what has been written, especially the exhortations (appeals, advice, arguments, persuasion, etc.) seriously.  This letter, the author says, is much briefer than it could have been.

Certainly, that is true of all the writing of Scripture.  There is so much more to say on all of these topics.  John, at the end of his Gospel, attests to this as well:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.  John 21:25

That being said, Scripture doesn’t continue on in this way.  I think of the many dozens of books that I was encouraged to read in seminary, tens of thousands of pages, and the thousands upon thousands of books that have been written on Scripture and theology; we could go on forever… and will!!  But the author here has a way of summing it all up in a couple of “brief” exhortations.

Keep on Loving – This first and primary exhortation is the crux of the whole Gospel, the whole Law, and all of Scripture.  Keep on loving God.  Keep on loving each other.  The author offers some practical ways in which this can be lived out but essentially the message is the same as Jesus’ message in Matthew 25, “Whatever you did for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did for me.”

Hold to sound teaching – This is a message that endures throughout the New Testament.  As the church continued to grow, it continually faced a number of different threats from different groups that would offer “new teachings” or “new revelations.”  These, however, often steered people way from the faith and away from grace.  They were in direct contradiction of Jesus statement in John 14, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Pray – Prayer is a continual exhortation throughout Scripture as well.  Paul writes that we should “pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”  Jesus too taught His disciples to pray and modeled a prayer life that we are called to follow.  Even at the right hand of God, Jesus is said to be praying, interceding for us on our behalf before the Father.

There is so much more to say here.  But, I suppose, I should take my cue from the author of Hebrews and keep it “brief.”  Much more will come as we begin our reading of James!



Colossians 4 – Open Doors

Read Colossians 4

Pray that God would open doors to the Gospel

Pray that God would open doors to the Gospel

Remembering that Paul is in prison while writing this, he closes his letter with a request to the church in Colossae to be devoted to prayer for themselves and him as well.  Even though he is incarcerated, Paul is still fervently preaching the Gospel and believes that God is going to advance the Gospel through His situation, grim as it may be.  To that end, he requests prayer, not just that he would be able to tell others about Jesus, but that he would also have the wisdom to say what needs to be said.

What Paul asks for is quite profound.  We talk, in Christian circles, about always spreading the Gospel, showing God’s love to all whom we meet.  Yet how often to we ask God for the wisdom to say what needs to be said (or to not say what need not be said)?  We find ourselves in very specific contexts in our lives, no one context is similar to another.  Like Paul, we ought to be relying on the Spirit to give us the words to say, not relying on our own wisdom to get us by.

More than that, though, Paul encourages the church in Colossae to “make the most of every opportunity.”  This too is an encouragement for us.  How many times have we heard stories about people who regret not saying something to a friend, loved one, or coworker, thinking that they would have an opportunity later only to find out some tragic thing happened.

People in the world are walking in darkness, the eternity of their souls at stake.  We cannot afford to be lax in our words or our actions, simply waiting for another day.  For Paul, the time to preach the Gospel was now.  Whether he was in prison, at home, or on the road, he sought the spread God’s Good News of love and grace, praying that God would open every door and give him every opportunity.



Acts 4 – Prayer Power

Read Acts 4

After Peter and John are released from their interrogation by the religious leaders, yet another opportunity that they took to spread the Gospel Message, they returned to those who believed.  Likely the other disciples, who are now called Apostles, were there too.

Scripture says that, upon their return, the first thing they did after reporting what had taken place was to pray.  This wasn’t simply a passing “thank you God for protecting us” type of prayer, but rather a deep prayer of acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness and power shown through Jesus Christ.  It is also a petition that God would continue to show that power in the midst of the threats and turmoil that they continued to face.

I wonder how often we turn to prayer like this in the face of turmoil in our lives… or in our culture?  Scripture says that when they prayed like this, both committing to continue in God’s name and asking for the Holy Spirit to empower them to advance God’s Kingdom, that the whole room shook and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  It was almost like a second Pentecost!

Sometimes it seems like, when confronted with things that challenge our faith, we more readily turn to social media to complain than to pray and ask for the Spirit’s guidance.  More often than not, the resistance that is put up from the church comes in the form of memes, not prayer.

The simple fact is that our power does not come from our prowess on social media, just like the newest, latest, and greatest of anything doesn’t guarantee the advance of the Gospel.  It is the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives that yields the fruit that Jesus talked about throughout His ministry.  This is what we must pray for.