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Lord’s Day 45

Question 116. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?

Answer. Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us; and also, because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with sincere desires continually ask them of Him, and are thankful for them.

Question 117. What are the requisites of that prayer which is acceptable to God and which He will hear?

Answer. First, that we from the heart pray to the one true God only, who hath manifested Himself in His Word, for all things He hath commanded us to ask of Him; secondly, that we rightly and thoroughly know our need and misery, that so we may deeply humble ourselves in the presence of His divine majesty; thirdly, that we be fully persuaded that He, notwithstanding that we are unworthy of it, will, for the sake of Christ our Lord, certainly hear our prayer, as He has promised us in His Word.

Question 118. What hath God commanded us to ask of him?

Answer. All things necessary for soul and body, which Christ our Lord has comprised in that prayer He Himself has taught us.

Question 119. What are the words of that prayer?

Answer. Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.


Oh, how we need instruction in prayer!

Our prayers are lacking in reverence, in faith, in frequency, in content, in fervency, in confidence, and in so many other ways. Not one of us can say that we have mastered the art of prayer. In fact, the more we pray, the more we see our need of prayer.

Observing the constant prayer life of Jesus, the disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Jesus’ response was to give “The Lord’s Prayer,” which is not only a prayer to be prayed by us, but also a model for true prayer. By it He teaches us what prayer is, the appropriate content for our prayers, and the attitudes we should have as we come before God in prayer.

 

What is prayer?

Prayer is a miracle and gift from God to us sinners. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God day by day. Their sin, however, put a separation between them and God and made this communion impossible. Prayer is God’s gift and means for us again to commune with Him. In the gift of prayer, the holy God breaks down the communication barrier between us and Him. This does not mean that all prayer reaches God, for the foundation of our access to God in prayer is the saving work of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:19-21). In our salvation, Christ has removed the barrier of sin that separates us from God and has poured His own life into us by the Holy Spirit so that we desire to seek and commune with the Holy God. Prayer, then, is a privilege given to the children of God. In prayer, we talk to God, our Father. What intimacy! What a wonder!

In prayer, the child of God brings himself consciously into the presence of God. When we pray, we close our eyes and fold our hands, as a symbol of shutting ourselves out from all distractions, so that we may come with understanding and a focused awareness before God. Certainly, we are always in the presence of God who is inescapable (Ps. 139:7-12), but so often our minds and our lives are preoccupied with so many other things and our thoughts are far from God. Prayer is the pause from the busyness of our lives that brings us back to the reality of God. Prayer transports us from the earth into heaven, bringing us before the throne of His grace. Thinking of prayer this way helps us to be more prayerful. Too often we limit prayer to the act of bowing our heads, closing our eyes, and speaking directly to God, but the Bible says that we should pray “always” and “without ceasing” (Eph. 6:18; I Thess. 5:17). We cannot always stop to pray but, like Nehemiah, we should in our moments of crisis pray to the God of heaven as we go on with our duty (Neh. 2:4-5).

The miracle and gift of prayer is God’s concession to our human weakness and to our sinful forgetfulness of Him. What would otherwise be impossible God makes possible in the gift of prayer through His Son, Jesus Christ. Prayer is the scepter that the righteous and holy King extends to us so that we can come into His presence.

 

Acceptable prayer

When we speak of true or acceptable prayer that is pleasing to God, we do not mean that God accepts us on account of our prayers. Rather, we mean that the God who has already accepted us in Jesus Christ will hear our true prayers. Not all the prayers of God’s children are acceptable to Him. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18). In fact, all of our prayers are so weak and marred by sin, that we need the constant intercession of our heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:25).

Recognizing the weakness and failings of our prayer, with the disciples we want to improve in our prayers so that they better express our thankfulness to God. With the goal of improving our prayers, the Catechism guides us in the evaluation of our prayers by giving us four qualifications of true prayer.

First, we must from the heart pray to the one true God only, as He has revealed Himself in His Word. A robust theology of God as the all-knowing, everywhere-present, almighty, sovereign, gracious, faithful, saving, and only God is essential to true prayer. He is not a God who is unaware, and needs our reminders. He is not a God who is fickle and changing, and needs our pressures. He is not a God for emergencies only, whom we do not need for the majority of our lives. He is not a weak God, unable to answer our prayers. But He is our heavenly Father, who is always for us, who spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us, and who will with Him also freely give us all things (Rom. 8:31-32).

Too often in prayer we come before God with wrong ideas about Him, with little praise to Him, or with the idea that He must give us what we want simply on account of our asking. A good practice before praying, is to read a psalm of praise and include this as the introduction and approach to God in your prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ teaches us to begin with praise and then with petitions for God’s name, kingdom, and will, before we come to our own needs.

Second, in true prayer, we must be directed by God’s Word both in how we pray and for what we pray. God has commanded us to rely on Him through prayer for all things necessary for body and soul, for health and salvation. Daily bread as well as constant sustaining grace come from God. Are we relying on Him for these things, or pursuing them in our own strength? Do we turn to Him for wisdom, and pray to Him with regard to every other endeavor or pursuit? Again, how forgetful we are, by nature no different than wicked Herod who “gave not God the glory” (Acts 12:23).

When our petitions are directed by the Word of God, then they are themselves a form of praise, because in them we acknowledge and thank God as the Giver of every good and perfect gift. One who in prosperity is prayerless because he feels he needs little does not give God the glory. Especially in prosperity we need to examine our prayers so that we do not fall into the sin of Israel, who said in their heart, “My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth” (Deut. 8:17). Psalm 136 is a beautiful model for thankful prayer.

Third, prayer that is pleasing to God is made in the acknowledgment of our needs and our misery before Him. That is, we should be humble in our approach to Him. True humility comes only when we know God and who He is, and know ourselves before Him. A proper understanding of our sinfulness and utter dependence on God will affect our prayers. Then we will always come in the name of Jesus Christ. Then we will never come with a sense of entitlement as though God is under some obligation towards us. True prayer is offered in humility. A great pattern of humble prayer is given in Daniel 9:3-19.

Fourth, acceptable prayer is confident prayer, that is, we come in faith founded on the promises of God. Doubt in prayer, and indeed in all our life, is an affront to the character of God and the value of the cross of Christ. God, who has given His Son, promises with Him to freely give us everything else that we need. So, James tells us to “ask in faith, nothing wavering” and in Hebrews we are told to “come with boldness unto the throne of grace.” Even a person who is humble— or perhaps we should say, only a person who is humble— can pray this way because in humility he depends not on himself for acceptance before God, but he comes through the blood of the Son of God. That blood is the foundation for confidence in prayer.

 

Prayer is necessary

Do we really need to pray? Does not God already know our needs, and does He not know every thought in our mind even before we express it in words? Jesus tells us, “Your heavenly Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him” (Matt. 6:8), and David confesses that God knows all his wanderings and counts all his tears (Ps. 56:8).

It is important for us to understand that when God gives to us the gift of prayer, He is not giving us something that He needs but something that we need. Imagine a life without prayer. In prayer, God ties Himself to my human need of communication, of knowledge, of dependence, and of trust in Him. God ties Himself to the means of prayer as the way in which we will consciously receive all things from His hand. Prayer changes us, not God. Prayer is a way for us to come into subjection to the will of God and His dealings with us in our lives. In that way, prayer is the way in which we receive God’s blessing in our life.

This is why we can also say that, even when God withholds from us what we ask, still He is answering our prayers. When He gives to us something different than we desire, He is giving us exactly what we need. When He denies our requests, He is helping us in a powerful way to submit to His way and will for us. Through prayer, He changes us and brings us into conformity with His own good will for us.

Jesus teaches this in Luke 11 when, instead of God giving us what we want, Jesus says that our heavenly Father will “give the Holy Spirit to them that ask” (Luke 11:13). This is one of the most surprising statements in the whole Bible about prayer. When a son asks for bread or a fish, he receives what he asks. But God, when He denies our requests, gives something much better, the Holy Spirit. In the way of prayer, the Holy Spirit works contentment and submission in our hearts, so that we can say with Jesus, “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done!”

Prayer is also necessary as an expression of our obedience and gratitude to God. God has commanded us to pray. In prayer, we not only express our gratitude with our words, but the act of believing prayer is itself a part of our thankfulness—the chief part of our thankfulness. Prayer is a response in the believer’s heart to the saving grace of God. Prayer is an expression of our constant dependence and gratitude to our loving Father. One who does not pray is ungrateful and says, “I really don’t need God.”

How is your prayer life?

Lord, teach us to pray!


Questions for discussion

  1. Why do we/you need instruction in prayer? Where can you most grow in prayer?
  2. What is prayer?
  3. How is prayer God’s gift to us?
  4. Is it possible to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17)? How is Nehemiah 2:4-5 a good example of this?
  5. Is it true that only the believer can offer acceptable prayer to God? If so, why?
  6. What does it mean to pray “from the heart”?
  7. What is the relation between true doctrine and true prayer?
  8. What limitations does Scripture place on the content of our prayers? Are we sometimes too limited in our petitions?
  9. What are some of the ways that we show humility in our prayers?
  10. What does James 1:5-8 teach us about prayer? How is this possible?
  11. Why is prayer necessary in the life of the Christian? How does the story of Hezekiah in II Kings 20:1- 11 help us to see this?
  12. How is prayer itself an expression of gratitude?
  13. Did Jesus say that we should repeat the Lord’s prayer? How should we use this prayer?
  14. Understanding prayer biblically can complicate and inhibit our prayers (we are trying to check all the boxes). How do you balance a proper understanding of prayer and the freedom that we should feel as we come to God our Father in prayer?