2010-01-10 (pm) 2 Chronicles 7:11-22; LD 45 Why Pray?
God is omniscient. That means God is all-knowing. Jesus, in teaching his disciples how to pray, warned them not to pray like the gentiles who babble on and on repetitively. Such nonsense is unnecessary, since our Father knows what we need even before we ask. So pray this way. And he taught them what we call the Lord’s prayer.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be studying the Lord’s prayer as the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism explain it. The catechism is a useful tool to help us think deeply about a variety of topics, as we’ve seen. But ultimately, it is nothing more than a tool.
But if God knows what we need before we ask it, why pray? After we answer this question, we’ll quickly go through the major points of Lord’s Day 45.
We pray because we’re in a relationship with God. Jesus teaching to the disciples in Matthew chapter 6 tells us that we benefit from prayer. God clearly doesn’t need or require our prayers. We need to pray, we are required to pray, for our benefit.
In the context of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, he points out the methodology of idol worshippers, those who prayed to idols. In those days, people thought they could influence their gods through flowery language, many words, certain prayer formulas, sacrifices and that sort of thing. They considered the gods to be rather like themselves, that is, rather human, capricious, inconsistent, changing minds rapidly, easily swayed, sometimes stubborn, that sort of thing. These people influenced the Israelites. Not only did they worship other gods alongside the one true God, they began to think they could manipulate God after their own desires.
But the one true God is not like humans. No one can manipulate God. God is sovereign; he is completely in control. He is never capricious, he never changes his mind, and he is not stubborn. God is patient and kind, slow to anger, abounding in love.
God is our Heavenly Father. And we relate to him, much as we relate to our human fathers. Think back to when you were a child. Some of you are children, so think instead about your relationship to your father and mother.
Did you, or do you ever have to ask your parents for supper? Did they, or do they ever fail to give it to you? If not, then why do you ask? Don’t we sometimes ask, “What are we having for supper? Or have you ever caught yourself asking, are we going to have supper?”
The track record should speak for itself, but whether out of curiosity or insecurity, we do ask. And it is natural to ask. It is simply part of being in a relationship with our earthly fathers and mothers.
But like any relationship, it must be cultivated. Try ignoring your spouse for a while. Try ignoring your children for a while. Try being so involved in playing on the computer that your parents have to call you 5 times for supper and see what kind of reaction you get!
A relationship requires communication. Prayer is the way we communicate with God and in prayer, God communicates with us. Therefore, while we’re mostly looking at what we say to God, it is important to listen to God while we pray. Often, words of scripture will come to mind while praying. Or thoughts will come to mind also. If you have a thought, compare the thought with scripture, that is, test the spirits! Make sure it is in keeping with God’s Word. If while praying you sense God telling you to steal a brand new pickup truck, you can easily test the “spirit” by searching scripture.
That’s a rather obvious example, but with searchable scriptures online, you should be able to find compare it with scripture. If it contradicts scripture, then you know it is a false spirit. This is important especially when we are seeking peace for something difficult, or if we desire something, we know is wrong, or if it is in a grey area. God will not contradict himself. Scripture must always be our rule to guide us.
Earlier, I said that God requires us to pray, for our benefit. Because He is all knowing, he doesn’t need our prayers to let him know what’s going on. It’s not as if he’s listening to our prayers and says to himself, “Really? Wow, that’s news to me!” No, God knows us better than we know ourselves.
So, why pray? How does prayer help us? Prayer, in helping us develop our relationship with God, also helps us learn to trust God more and more. Like communicating with parents who care for us, God cares for us also.
And so, we turn to God in prayer, out of thankfulness. Prayer is a response to faith. If we didn’t believe in God, if we didn’t trust God’s promises for us in Christ, then we wouldn’t pray to him either! The catechism states it very well when it says that prayer is the most important part of thankfulness.
Praying to something or someone other than God is like a child thanking the neighbour for the supper he ate at his own house. The neighbour didn’t do anything, his parents did. Just as it is ridiculous for a child to give thanks to someone else, it is preposterous to give thanks to anyone or anything other than God.
In our afternoon’s passage, we see one example of God’s promise to listen when we pray. Even though the context is Solomon’s dedication of the temple he built in Jerusalem, Jesus makes it clear that when God was speaking about the temple, he was referring to more than just the physical structure there. God was speaking about our hearts as the temple of the Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament tabernacle, later replaced by the temple, point directly to our hearts, where the Holy Spirit resides. The Holy Spirit then points us to the heavenly temple, which Christ will bring down to us, or raise us up when he returns. When that happens, we will have true fellowship, a face-to-face relationship with God.
Until that time, we communicate to God through prayer, and he communicates to us through his Holy Spirit within.
Just as relationships between people, parents and children can break down from a lack of communication, God warns, in both our passage from 2nd Chronicles, and the Heidelberg Catechism that prayer requires not only constant communication but also a humble heart.
The verse referenced by the catechism from our passage is, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, then I will hear from heaven and heal their land.” When you think of what disrupts relationships the root is often pride. Pride prevents us from making amends, “they hurt me, so I’m not going to them.” Pride says, “I didn’t really do what they think I did.” Pride says, “I don’t need God, I can get by just fine on my own, and in my own way.”
Humility on the other hand, is quick to say sorry. Humility moves us toward forgiveness even when the pain is still there. Humility reminds us of who God is, and who we are in Christ. Humility reminds us that all our good deeds are as filthy rags until Christ washes them with his shed blood on the cross.
When we pray, in seeking the one true God, we cannot help but humble ourselves before him. We cannot help but become aware, through the Spirit’s work in us, of our own shortcomings. We bring these things before God, not hiding anything, because he is aware of everything. We freely admit them, seeking restoration and healing.
And, again, God hears our prayer, not because we pray, but because of the promises, God made to us through Christ. In fact, Christ himself intercedes before the Father on our behalf. Furthermore, we see this in our passage, and in prayers like Psalm 23, God acts for his name’s sake. He does it to bring people to him in faith, to bring glory his name. God even allows bad things to happen in order to defend his honour. At the end of our passage, God warns that he will destroy the temple for his names sake, so that people will know God is just as well as merciful! Non believers will give glory to God because they recognise he is worthy of honour.
A related question to why pray, is what to pray. The catechism answers this with “everything we need spiritually and physically.” God is the source of all good. There is no one else to turn to. When a child needs help, he or she goes to his or her mother or father. When we need help, we also turn to our Father in heaven.
This is not much different than asking, “What’s for supper?” It’s like asking, God, “what do you have planned for me?”
God’s will for our lives falls into these three categories. They are: God’s secret will, or his will of decree, God’s revealed will, or his will of desire, and God’s will for our lives, his will of direction. The first one is God’s will for all time, ordained from before the beginning of creation and it is something that will come to pass no matter who or what tries to stop it.
God’s will of desire, or his revealed will, is the specific instruction given in His word, which we sometimes obey and at other times fail to obey. God’s will of direction is what people tend to really want to know—questions about jobs, spouses, houses etc. The question is, “Does God have a plan that he expects us to figure out before we do anything?”
We can and are encouraged to ask for God’s direction through constant communication to God in prayer, but God does not expect us to try to discover his specific plan for our lives before we make decisions. Kevin DeYoung in his book, “Just Do Something” says, “Trusting in God’s will of decree is good. Following his will of desire is obedient. Waiting for God’s will of direction is a mess.”
We trust God’s secret or decreed will, that it is perfect. We believe God’s revealed will, his commandments for our lives, because God wrote them for our benefit. Then, we use God’s wisdom to make decisions that are in keeping with God’s commandments.
So, in looking for a spouse, if find one who is also a believer, so that we won’t be unequally yoked, as God commands in his Word, we can go ahead and marry that person without having to fret, “Is this the person God had planned for me?” In looking for a job, find one that doesn’t make you do wicked or law breaking things, and go and do it! In finding a home, find one that puts a roof over your head, keeps you warm in winter and doesn’t overburden your finances, then buy it and live in it. Don’t worry yourself into thinking, does God want me to live on 9th or 10th avenue?
If you sit around waiting for God to tell you what to do in every detail, you’ll be waiting a long time. Joseph didn’t sit around waiting for the answer to why God sent him to Egypt; he just worked hard. Eventually he understood why. Sometimes we just need to be faithful to the obvious, and allow God to work out the specifics later.
And as we go, we pray. We pray about every aspect of our lives. Essentially, it isn’t a bad thing to model our prayers after the Lord’s Prayer. It came from Christ, it covers all the bases, it is effective. Rather than doing it simply by rote memory, think about every line. As we study the Lord’s Prayer over the next few weeks, we’ll learn how to do just that. Amen.