************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 45 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on September 30, 2018

Lord's Day 45
1 Kings 8:22-54

According to the sound doctrine of the Catechism, grateful, thankful living includes three things: daily repentance for sin, daily obedience to the Law, and daily conversation with God in prayer. Or, to put it another way, the good we do includes three things: repentance, obedience, and prayer. So far we've looked at repentance and obedience; today, we begin to look at prayer as part of grateful, thankful living.

I hope you all recognize the phrase "sound doctrine." I've been stressing that phrase as we've been going through the Catechism. It is a phrase I borrow from Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus. It is a phrase that emphasizes doctrine that comes from the Bible. It is a phrase that doesn't cater to what man's itching ears want to hear.

We need instruction on prayer. We need to instruct our children and youth on how to pray. Because prayer is difficult. Prayer is difficult because we pray to a God we do not see or feel or hear. And, often we don't know what to say or how to pray (Rom 8:26). So, I repeat, we need instruction on prayer.

The disciples of Jesus didn't know how to pray. They also knew that Jesus was a man of prayer. So they asked Him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples" (Lk 11:1). In response, Jesus taught them the Lord's Prayer.

I What Prayer Is
A What is prayer? The sound doctrine of the Catechism tells us "prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us." This means prayer is worship. Prayer is the adoration of our majestic God by His adoring people.

There are different kinds of worship: private worship, family worship, public worship. All of them involve prayer. We should be praying as individuals, we should be praying as families, we should be praying as a congregation.

The first and second commandments tell us we are to worship only God. Since prayer is worship, this means it can only be offered to the God of the Bible. Because prayer is worship it can be offered only to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because prayer is worship it must be offered to the Triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Which reminds me of a very upsetting prayer I sometimes hear:
Thank you Sun
Thank you Earth
Thank you Water
Thank you Land
We may ask others to pray for us but we may not, we must not, we cannot pray to anyone or anything other than the one only true God. This mean the prayers of Roman Catholics to Mary are not true prayers. The prayers of Muslims to Allah are not true prayers. The prayers of Jews and Hindus are not true prayers.

Solomon's prayer in 1 Kings 8 is a prayer of adoration and worship. The occasion for the prayer was the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Solomon gathered the people together at the Temple and led them in prayer to God.

The first thing we notice is Solomon's posture. Listen to the first and last verse of our Bible reading:
(1 Ki 8:22) Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven

(1 Ki 8:54) When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the LORD, he rose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven.
Notice Solomon's posture? Kneeling. Kneeling before the majesty and glory of God in heaven. Kneeling in humility.

The entire prayer is one of humble, heartfelt worship. Solomon ascribes glory, majesty, and honor to God:
(1 Ki 8:23) O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below--you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.

(1 Ki 8:27) "But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!

Solomon confesses God's incomparable greatness. Included in this is the constant refrain of "Hear from heaven, your dwelling place." Our great and awesome God lives in heaven.

Prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us because prayer is worship.

B But prayer is more than worship. Prayer is also fellowship or communion with the Triune Godhead. Compare this to the Muslims who bow down in hopeless surrender and submission to their false god; they don't love their god; instead, they fear him. The Christian, on the other hand, speaks with God Himself as one friend speaks to another, or as a child speaks to his/her father.

This means prayer is a covenantal idea. It is covenantal communication. God has established a covenant relationship with us, a love relationship with us, and calls us to speak to Him.

In prayer, the Christian has a direct line of communication with almighty God. There is no telephone switchboard, no secretary, no barrier, no guardian of the gate. The line is always open. The believer always has access to the throne of grace.

The tragedy and the folly is that we neglect this line of communication and do not use it as often as ought. Too often, we take it for granted. We do not marvel at it. Imagine not talking with your lover -- the relationship withers and dies or is extremely dysfunctional. Likewise, imagine not talking with the Lover of your soul. Prayer is as necessary for the Christian's spiritual life as breath and food are necessary for the Christian's physical life.

Prayer, then, is warm, personal, and intimate. In prayer we pour out our hearts to the Father Who loves us in Jesus Christ.

Solomon's prayer in our Bible reading is cov-enantal communication. He mentions God's covenant of love and God's promises. But he also mentions the judgments which God will send on His people: defeat by an enemy, drought, famine, plague, pestilence, exile. Solomon knows that the people are prone to sin and to break the covenant. Yet, with confidence, he can ask God to forgive this sin. Ultimately, of course, God answers this prayer in the coming of Jesus and the cross. There, especially, God forgives and keeps His covenant promises.

II Why Prayer is Necessary
A Our second point is that Christians need to pray. The sound doctrine of the Catechism takes the approach that prayer is necessary.

But prayer is not necessary for God. God is pleased to hear our prayers. God wants to hear our prayers. God even delights in our prayers. But God does not need our prayers.

God does not need our prayers to praise, worship, or adore Him. Before time in eternity the Triune Godhead lived in perfect blessedness with neither angel nor saint to praise Him. Our praise and worship do not add one ounce to the weight of His glory.

God also does not need prayer to know what is going on or to give Him advice on what to do. I'm sure you have heard these kinds of prayers -- people who use prayer to inform God or to counsel God. Jesus says our Father in heaven knows what we need before we ask Him. And God works out all things according to His unchangeable will -- so He does not need our advice.

B So why do we need to pray? We need to go back to what the sound doctrine of the Catechism says: "prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us." The most important part. A person's thankfulness is not to be measured by exuberance in worship. A person's thankfulness is not to be measured by his/her social activism. A person's thankfulness is not to be measured by how much is put in the offering plate. A person's thankfulness is not to be measured by how orthodox they are. This is how God measures thankfulness:
1. God wants His children to repent of their sins.
2. God wants His children to strive for obedience to the commandments.
3. God especially wants His children to pray.

This tells us something about prayer. Prayer is not only the language of worship. Prayer is not only the language of the covenant. It is also -- and especially -- the language of thanksgiving. If we are thankful, we will tell God. In fact, we will not be able to stop thanking God. This is why our prayers must include thanksgiving. May I be so bold as to say we should always praise, worship, and thank God before we ask Him for anything!

God demands our thanksgiving in prayer. It is something we should naturally include. But often it is not. Thanksgiving in prayer is learned. Just as you teach your children to say thank you, so God teaches us to do the same. And, even when we do not feel thankful, God still demands that we thank Him. According to the sound doctrine of the Catechism, God withholds blessings from His unthankful people: "God gives ... only to those who ... thank him."

Consider Solomon's prayer again. At the conclusion to his prayer he stood and blessed the whole assembly with a word of praise and thanks to God:
(1 Ki 8:56) Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses.

C There is a second reason why Christians need to pray. Prayer is the means by which God gives us the blessings we so desperately need:
God gives his grace and Holy Spirit
only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly,
asking God for these gifts ...
In his letter, James puts it this way: "You do not have, because you do not ask God" (James 4:2). So, congregation, do you want the forgiveness of sins? Ask! Do you want the Holy Spirit? Ask! Do you want the grace to live a holy life and endure trials? Ask! Ask! Ask!

Ask because God delights to give. Ask because God wants to give. Ask because God is the overflowing fountain of all good.

III How Prayer is to be Done
A The sound doctrine of the Catechism tells us what prayer is. The sound doctrine of the Catechism tells us why prayer is necessary. And, our third point, the sound doctrine of the Catechism tells us how prayer is to be done.

We notice immediately that "we must pray from the heart." It isn't just mere words we are saying. We don't stack up word upon word and phrase upon phrase to impress man. Rather, it is God we are interested in. It is a relationship with God we are interested in. It is intimacy with God we are interested in. When we remember how glorious God is and how majestic His name, we will not speak irreverently and flippantly to Him; rather, we will speak from the heart.

B Secondly, "we must acknowledge our need and misery, hiding nothing, and humble ourselves." We must approach God with a deep sense of unworthiness. We must approach God knowing and admitting we are sinners. We must approach God like Solomon who asks God in advance to forgive Israel's sins for they are so prone to stray from God's commandments. We must approach God like the tax collector in Jesus' parable:
(Lk 18:13) But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
Our unworthiness is a starting point, not an afterthought. Whenever we ask God for something in prayer, we are asking for something in grace, for what we don't deserve, for what we have not earned. We who are unworthy do not demand of God; rather, we beseech and cry and beg and "groan inwardly."

C Third, we must "pray continually." We must approach God in prayer like the persistent widow of Luke 18. God wants His chosen ones to cry out to him day and night.

D Fourth, we must pray in faith. Faith that God hears our prayers. Faith that God answers our prayers. Not because our prayers are so eloquent. Not because our prayers are perfect. But because of Christ. You see, faith unites us to Christ and all His blessings. Faith unites us to the finished, completed, work of Christ. Faith gives wings to our prayers so that they get past the ceiling. Faith recognizes that Christ is the Intercessor Who brings our prayers to the Father's throne. That's why prayer is always done in Jesus' name. No Christian can pray without faith.

E Fifth, we must pray for what is acceptable to God. Often we don't know how to pray or what to pray for. But in the Lord's Prayer Jesus gives us a model. When we look at that prayer we notice we start not with ourselves but with God. Our first interest is His Name, His Kingdom, His Will.

Prayer is worship and communion with God.

Prayer is needed to thank God and to receive His blessings.

Prayer has to be done in the right way so that God will listen to us.

Let's end by saying the Lord's Prayer together ...
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