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What is Prayer?

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9 July 2017 AM “Our Father in heaven….” Prayer, Intro

[9] Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven ….”

Westminster Larger Catechism

Q. 178. What is prayer?

A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 45 (A)

116. Q. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?

A. Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us.1

Moreover, God will give His grace and the Holy Spirit only to those who constantly and with heartfelt longing ask Him for these gifts and thank Him for them.2

1 , ; ; .
2 , ; .

Introduction to this Series

Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, which runs from Matthew chapters 5 through 7, tells us what life in His Kingdom is like, what those who are truly of this Kingdom will be like -- expressed in the Beatitudes, expressed in how our lives are lived out in the consciousness of being “coram Deo,” in the presence of God. And, as Jesus repeats over and again here in Chapter 6, it is a life lived before our Heavenly Father, with all that relationship entails.

One of the things we will be looking at for the next several weeks, is that prayer is one of those essential duties and privileges in the life of Christians.

Prayer is one of those simple things of the Christian life, but it is also one of those things we so often simply leave out. It is simple, but a struggle!
Alexander Whyte said, “There is nothing we are so bad at all our days as prayer.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer.”
I think what John Newton wrote certainly resonates with every one of us:
“I find in my own case an unaccountable backwardness to pray. I can read, I can write, I can converse with a ready will, but secret prayer is far more spiritual than any of these. And the more spiritual a duty is the more my carnal heart is apt to start away from it.”
How many of us join with Thomas Shepard, one of the Puritans who came to America, confessed in his journal, “There are times in my life when I would rather die than pray”?[1]
What we are seeking in this series on the Lord’s Prayer, which starts next week, is not to make us feel guilty about our lack of prayer. We already know we’re “dead to rights” guilty in this regard. No, the purpose of this series is to whet our appetites for the life of prayer. I want to drive you past the bakery of prayer when the aroma coming from the ovens is just at the right place to put us in a swoon. I want to drive you past the barbecue joint of prayer when the combination of the wood smoke and the ribs on the grill is suggestive at its most mouthwatering. I want to encourage us to apply ourselves anew and afresh to a life of prayer in the confidence that the Lord will meet us and grant us still more blessing as we pray.[2]
Today, we will be looking at why prayer is necessary, that is, essential[3] to the life of Christians, to those who are citizens of this Kingdom, to those who are Children of the heavenly Father. In coming sermons in this series, we’ll look at the assurance of God hearing of prayer, and especially at the model prayer our Lord Jesus has given us here in .
Let’s commit this series and ourselves to the Lord now in prayer…

1. Prayer Is Necessary For Us In the Glorification of God’s Name:

Why is prayer necessary?

Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us.

Mankind was originally created in God’s image, we were created good, to have communion with God, a condition that our first parents enjoyed in holiness and happiness – that is, to know God, to love Him, and to live in relationship with Him, to praise and glorify Him! That was God’s original purpose in the beginning, and it still is His purpose to have a people that glorifies Him.
Sin brought about a breakdown in that relationship of holiness and happiness, a breakdown in communication and fellowship. We became a people steeped in sin, bound in misery, a people totally estranged from God our Creator[4] and gracious Father. Our sin nature inherited from our first parents left us unable and unwilling to glorify God. Our heart’s inclination was towards evil, continually, to live in hatred of God.

But God – that glorious transition in - [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— ( ESV)

God undertook to restore the breakdown in communion, to repair the lines of communication, by God the Father’s sending of His Son, the incarnate Jesus Christ, to live perfectly, fulfill the law, and die sacrificially, satisfying God’s wrath against us that we might not face hell, thereby atoning for our sins; and raising Him from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.[5]
We are, if we are in Christ, a people who are now delivered from the power of sin and death, a people justified and sanctified. We are now a people in fellowship with God. We now, by the mercy of God, been born again to know God, to love Him, to live with Him in covenant, to praise and glorify Him. We are reconciled to God by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We’ve been given the Holy Spirit to help us in our prayers; we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who continually represents us before the throne of Heaven.
He has brought us, who were once “far off,” to be near to Him, giving us a new nature, adopting us as His dear children. And as our Father, he delights in talking with us and in hearing from us, to hear our prayers and petitions and praises and thanksgiving.
Prayer is that natural part of gratitude that we return to our heavenly Father for His mercies in Christ Jesus. It is not an every-once-in-a-while thing, but a flow of communication, a lifestyle, of gratitude. Prayer is the most important part of that lifestyle of gratitude. Looking at prayer, “we can see the harmony, and the intimacy, the special character of [our] … relationship with God!”[6]
How important is prayer to our Christian life? Although prayer is not the only part, it is certainly the most important, the most basic element and the most striking feature of the Christian life.[7] “A Christian without prayer is not rightly a Christian, for he lacks the most essential expression of his Christianity!”[8] A prayerless Christian is a puzzlement. Prayer marks us as Christians. When Saul of Tarsus is converted on the road to Damascus, and Ananias is sent in to him, Ananias was fearful. He had heard much about Saul, who had persecuted the church. But the Lord told him to go to Saul, “for behold, he is praying.” Saul is now a changed man, worshiping Christ, and his prayers reflect that.
So then, prayer is crucial, it is essential, in our restored fellowship with God. It is critical in our right response to God’s mercies in our gratitude.
A marriage, a family, a household, where there is little or no communication of gratitude, is a pretty crummy place to be; it is safe to say that it is a fairly love-less place. It isn’t necessary to get grandiose and flowery in giving thanks, but the simple “thank you for doing the laundry,” “Mum, thank you for supper tonight,” “Dad, thanks for working to put food on the table,” “thank you, dear, for looking after me and putting petrol in my tank,” those sorts of returns of thanks, throughout the day, that give off an aroma of grace and gratitude in a home.
In the same way, it is in our regular, simple prayers, as we personally and together in the family, and as the Church, go before the throne of God that we truly begin to glorify God. This is how we as children communicate with our Father our gratitude for Who He is and what He has done and is doing. And what that requires is a continual remembrance of what God has done and is doing for us in Christ Jesus.
That is how Christ went about it with His Father. Did it ever strike you how often Jesus prayed? Even though He is the Son of God, one with the Father, when we see Him in His ministry in the Gospels, He prayed. Often, He went alone, away from the crowds, to the mountains, in solitude, to pray. He went to glorify the Father and to seek His strength. The ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ is unthinkable without prayer. There, in that intimate fellowship between Himself and His Father, He glorified God. From out of that fellowship He went from strength to strength. And so in this way, He taught us how to pray.[9]
If prayer is not the most important part of your thankfulness, if I do not glorify God within the confines of my own room and within my house, and if there in our homes, our hearts are not open to God, we may forget about the rest of our doings for the Lord. All our programs and vision statements and outreach and whatever we attempt will have missed putting the first things first. We will have, as the Ephesian church was told in Revelation chapter 2, lost our “first love.” You and I will have missed the essential part of Christian living.
So, prayer is essential, it is necessary, in our lives in Christ to express our gratitude, our thankfulness, our love of Him.
And we also see how far off the mark our lives are in this expression of thankfulness, of love for Christ. And though we might think we have “have it together” in our doctrine and worship practices, we really don’t.
[1] If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. ( ESV)
Faith and love and love are intertwined. We cannot love that which we do not trust, do not believe. That which we do not believe does not provide us a basis for hope. Our praying is indicative of how much we love, how much we believe, how much we hope in God.
And that leaves me with much shame, and it may leave you with shame as well. The paucity and barrenness of prayer in our personal lives, in our families, in our congregation.
But know this: God’s mercy is revealed especially in that he takes for faith, hope, and love, what is very weak faith, hope, and love; for repentance, what is admittedly often quite half-hearted repentance; and for obedience what is far away from heartfelt and consistent and strict obedience out of love to Him and desire to keep His commandments.
We fall so terribly short. But child of God, remember this: He takes our little for a lot. The Bible is reminding us of that all the time. To call us saints, as the Bible so frequently does, is to call saints very sinful people, who are rightly often ashamed of how unholy, how unsaintly we are.[10]
Yet our Lord Jesus didn’t despise the little boy’s five loves and two fishes, nor the widow’s two small copper coins.
We don’t have nearly the faith, or hope, or love, that we ought to have – and our life of prayer or, better, the lack of prayer, is the demonstration of that – but what faith, hope and love we do have, because it is faith, hope and love in the Lord Jesus – it is true faith and connects us to Him and to his blessing. The Lord credits even our weak and intermittent faith, hope, and love as righteousness.[11]
So, as we come to this series on prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer, we come with the request of the disciples in Luke’s Gospel – Lord, teach us to pray.
Works Cited or Consulted
Augsburger, Myron S. The Communicator's Commentary Matthew. Word Publishing Group, 1982
Carson, D. A. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of . Baker Books, 2004.
Chamblin, Knox. Matthew Volume 1 (1-13): A Mentor Commentary. Mentor, 2010.
Chamblin, Knox. A Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew (Class Notes), Reformed Theological Seminary. 1993.
Dickson, David. Matthew (Geneva Ser. Commentaries). Banner of Truth, 1981.
Doriani, Daniel M. Matthew (2 Vol Set) (Reformed Expository Commentary). P & R Publishing, 2008.
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2007.
Gaebelein, Frank E. The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New International Version of the Holy Bible (Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol.8). Zondervan, 1984.
Hendriksen, William. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (New Testament Commentary). Baker Academic, 1982.
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 6 Volume Set. Macdonald Publishing Co, 1985.
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.
MacArthur, John F. (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary). Moody Publishers, 1985.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to Matthew (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.
Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew (New International Greek Testament Commentary). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2005.
Parsons, Burk. “What is the Gospel?” Tabletalk, January 2015, p. 2.
Platt, David. Exalting Jesus in Matthew (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). Holman Reference, 2013.
Rayburn, Robert. Prayer, Part 1. . Accessed December 30, 2014.
Reed, Gordon K. Living life as Christ taught it: a study of the Sermon on the Mount, . Christian Education & Publications, 1973.
Ridderbos, Herman N. Matthew (Bible Student's Commentary). Zondervan, 1987.
Ryle, J. C. Matthew (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels) (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels). Banner of Truth, 1986.
Sproul, R. C. Matthew (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary). Crossway, 2013.
Stam, Clarence. Lord’s Day 45, QU. & A. 116, Prayer is Essential. Accessed December 31, 2014.
[1] Rayburn, Robert. Prayer, Part 1. . Accessed December 30, 2014.
[2] Rayburn.
[3] Stam, Clarence. Lord’s Day 45, QU. & A. 116, Prayer is Essential. Accessed December 31, 2014.
[4] Stam.
[5] Parsons, Burk. “What is the Gospel?” Tabletalk, January 2015, p. 2.
[6] Stam.
[7] Stam
[8] Stam.
[9] Stam.
[10] Rayburn.
[11] Rayburn.
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