On March 8th of this year we will celebrate Prayer Day. In our churches it is a time to worship together, give praise to God, and be reminded of God’s faithfulness and promise to care for us in the coming year. In the past, when our whole country was more involved with farming and the planting and sowing of crops, it was easier for us to realize our dependency upon God and our need to ask him for our daily bread. Today we have jobs that give us more than we could ever use, we have storehouses of goods, we have clothes to choose from in abundance and it is often easy to forget that we need to pray earnestly for all that we need. We often think that we can take care of ourselves, and it isn’t until God strikes us with illness or death and that we slow down and reflect on his hand in our life.
Prayer Day is a good time to take some time to reflect and meditate on God’s word regarding prayer. It is a time to examine our own prayer life and give ourselves some goals for improving our prayer life. It is a time to re-examine our need for prayer and God’s requirements for prayer. So, let us now consider some of the basics when it comes to prayer and use the Heidelberg Catechism as our path to examining our communication with God.
Why must we pray?
Lord’s Day 45 Answer 116 states “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.”
Let us take a moment and break up this answer. First it is the “chief part of thankfulness…” If we are truly thankful to God for all that he has done for us, we will have a willing heart and a genuine desire the come to God in prayer. Isn’t it in our nature to want to be with and talk to people that show love and kindness to us? Who loves us more than our heavenly Father? Who has already shown us a love greater than a brother, because he has laid down his life for his sheep? Next notice, “which God requires of us…” God commands us to pray. As children of God it is our desire to serve him and obey his commandments. When our heart seems locked and we in our weakened state feel that we cannot pray, we must remind ourselves that God commands it of us and therefore we must sit down, bow our heads, and let the Holy Spirit guide us in our prayer. And finally, let us look at the promise or reward for following God’s will, “God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only…” God promises his tender mercies, and his gift of the Holy Spirit to those that pray. The Holy Spirit will give us the words which we need to say to our Lord and Maker. So today when you bow before your Lord in prayer, remember to come with a heart of thanksgiving knowing that you are obeying your God and that as promised you will receive the rich gift of his Spirit.
How must we pray?
Once again I turn to Lord’s Day 45 Answer 117: “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.”
The things that I want to point out in this answer are that we must come to God, with respect “to the one true God only…” God is not a man whom we can address like a friend. We must at all times remember to respect him as our heavenly Father. We must pray to God the Father; not the Holy Spirit, not God the Son, but with a childlike trust and reverence we speak to the one who we know loves us, will guide us and care for us. God is not our equal, God’s name is not one that we flippantly take upon our lips to help us get good grades, or a date, or a new car. We must come to our Lord with all our needs and yes, even our desires, but with a tone of respect and understanding of who he is and an understanding of what our relationship is with him. Which brings me to my next observation. We are called to come to God with deep humility; “knowing our need and misery…” Only when we truly know how sinful we are can we come to this point of deep humility. If there is any part of us that thinks we are good, we will not be able to reach the point of humility that is called for in Scripture. The beauty of knowing this humility is that then the Bible tells us that we can come boldly to the throne of grace and present ourselves before the Lord. So through our humility we shall be exalted. Finally, as I mentioned before, we can come boldly and confidently to the throne of God because we have been promised that “Christ our Lord, certainly hear our prayer…” As parents, we listen to the need of our children. As a parent I can’t tell you how many times I fall short of this part of my children’s life. We want them to feel that they can come to us about anything. We truly desire this and encourage it whenever we can. But our mind is full of earthly things, our heart is selfish with our own thoughts and desires. Our Lord, on the other hand, has promised us that he will never be preoccupied with other things. He will listen to us and give us his perfect undivided attention. What more could any of us ever ask for, but to have the “ear” of our heavenly Father who loves us perfectly and is able and willing to give all that is good for our bodies and souls. So today when you bow your head in prayer, come humbly but boldly to God’s throne with a real understanding of what you are about to do and whom you are talking to.
What should we pray for?
The Heidelberg Catechism spends several Lord’s Days answering this question. It is always beneficial to review our prayers in light of these questions and answers. Answer 118 summarizes this section with this response “All things necessary for soul and body which Christ our Lord has comprised in that prayer he himself has taught us.” Here the authors refer to our Lord’s Prayer.
Before we get specific with what requests we may and may not bring before God, let us look at this summarized answer. “All things necessary for soul and body…” ALL things NECESSARY. Not just all things, but all things necessary. It is so easy for us to want to bring all things to God in prayer, but as I mentioned before, if we come humbly and with true reverence, we will not bring requests to God that are frivolous. I think that it is also important to point out that this answer puts forth first the necessities for the soul before those of the body. If we first pray for true wisdom, God’s Word, to fill our soul; then we will know what to properly bring to God in prayer for our body. We need the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us through our prayers, to help us keep our minds focused on coming to God with reverence and humility.
The Heidelberg Catechism gives us the guidelines to follow for proper prayer. It is not my intention at this time to go over those individual Lord’s Days. I would however, like to take a moment to examine a few of the specifics that we must watch out for in our prayers. We may not bring to God the things that will make our human flesh feel better. It is not wrong to pray for health and a strong body, but we must not desire these things for praise of man, or so that we look attractive to others; we must desire these things so that we have the strength to serve God. It is not wrong to want a spouse, but we should not pray to God for a date, or let our hearts get discouraged because we are not dating. Our desire should be that God will give us a godly mate, in his appointed time, and that he will give us the strength and contentment to wait upon him. I know that we all want to be liked by others and to have friends, or even for some, to be popular. But we must remember that it is more important that God be happy with how we present ourselves, how we walk with him, the sacrifices that we are willing to make for his sake. May our prayer be for strength, contentment, and courage to walk in these ways and not to be distracted by the desires of our flesh. We may pray to God for our bodily needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, work, etc. But we must lift up these petitions with a clear conscience that God’s will be done. We need to pray for guidance and for a wise heart when we make the decisions as to what to eat, what to wear, where and how to live, and what type of job to have.
When we come with proper respect and understanding of God’s Word, we may bring our hopes and our disappointment to God in prayer. The Lord loves the tears of a broken heart when it brings his children to his feet. At times like this we have the comfort of knowing that Christ will intervene on our behalf, if in our emotional state we may not come to him in a proper manner. We need not be afraid of coming to God with our deepest and sometimes darkest thoughts and admissions. The Lord knows us and loves us unconditionally, and only through his grace can we truly be healed and renewed.
Prayer is a wonderful and precious gift that God has given us. He commands us to use it as a way to have blessed and true fellowship with him. We must use it in confidence knowing that God’s love for his people will bless us and give us a rich life; full of his blessings. May God’s word encourage us all in this day to bow boldly before him in prayer; and to bow often.