Day 1 | Introduction
Welcome to St Johns Papatoetoe Studies. During Holy Week, we will examine portions of our confession that relate to the Lord’s Prayer. This will connect us to an historic faith rooted in the word of God. Ministers of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand are required to sign a Formula to uphold before commencing parish work. That formula begins by saying:
The understanding of our faith is rooted in history’s Protestant Reformation. That took place more than 500 years ago and why we can easily lose touch with our origin. We have reminders of our roots through statements of faith, formulas, and creeds.
So let us begin with the bigger question:
What is Prayer?
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. The Larger Catechism (1648) Question 178
How did we come to that answer? Let us break it down one phrase at a time.
- Psalm 62:8 reads, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God. It is a pouring out our heart’s desires to God, trusting we are safe to do so.
- John 16:23 declares, “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” We pray in the name of Christ because Jesus taught us to do so. We trust the truthfulness of Jesus’ life and words that claim when we pray in his name, the Father will give an answer to our prayers.
- Romans 8:26 states, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Prayer is not just giving the Father a list of our desires expecting them to be granted, it is a relationship with God entered into by God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps our infirmities (Larger Catechism, Question 182). We do not possess the moral capacity to know how we ought to pray. That is why true prayer is through the Spirit who intercedes on our behalf, translating our desires through groanings we cannot utter. Prayer is offering up those things agreeable to God’s will (Shorter Catechism, Question 98).
- Psalm 32:5-6 explains:
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
Therefore let everyone who is godly
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
Prayer is a confession of our sins. By acknowledging our transgressions against the Lord, we can receive forgiveness necessary for our prayers to heard. Without confession, our desires will not align with God’s will and our prayers will be ungodly.
Daniel 9:4 gives a reassuring testimony. “I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments”.
- Philippians 4:6 declares, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Prayer is the thankful acknowledgement of God’s mercies.
The answer to the question, “What is prayer?” needs to be unpacked a bit further. How come we pray only to God? And why do we pray in Christ’s name?
Are we to pray unto God only?
God only being able to search the hearts, hear the requests, pardon the sins, and fulfil the desires of all; and only to be believed in, and worshipped with religious worship; prayer, which is a special part thereof, is to be made by all to Him alone, and to none other. The Larger Catechism (1648) Question 179
The short is “Yes. We are to pray unto God only.” There are 8 reasons given for this answer.
- Only God is able to search the hearts. 1 Kings 8:39 verifies: “then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind)”. When the disciples sought divine leadership for Judas’ successor, “And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen.” (Acts 1:24). The ability of God’s Spirit to make intercession on our behalf is explained in Romans 8:27:“And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
- Only God hears the requests. Psalm 65:2 challenges, “O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come.” We go to God for he hears prayer which implies that other gods are false and do not hear at all.
- Only God can pardon sins. Micah 7:18 reads, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.” God is not one that holds grudges and he delights in being merciful.
- Only God can fulfil everyone’s desires. Psalm 145:18-19 declares: “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.”
- Only God is to be believed. Romans 10:14 reminds us, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
- Only God is to be worshipped religiously. Matthew 4:10 demands this as truth: “Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
- Only God can be truly worshipped through prayer. Have you considered that most use prayer as a means to communicate to themselves? Or connect to an inanimate entity such as The Universe or Force or Energy or Collective Consciousness? 1 Corinthians 1:2 says, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”
- Only God should be glorified when we are delivered from trouble. Psalm 50:15 says, “and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
From the heart we believe our prayer is “to the one true God only, who has manifested himself in his word.” (Heidelberg Catechism Question 117).
What is it to pray in the name of Christ?
To pray in the name of Christ is, in obedience to His command, and in confidence on His promises, to ask mercy for His sake; not by bare mentioning of His name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and His mediation. The Larger Catechism (1648) Question 180
- We pray in the name of Christ as an act of obedience to his command in John 14:13-14, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Connected to the act of obedience is a confidence in our Lord’s promises. John 16:24 states, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” We are assured that our prayers for mercy are just as much for the sake of God’s glory as it is our need as Daniel 9:17 reveals: “Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.”
- We pray in the name of Christ as something more than just stating his name for ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
- We pray in the name of Christ to recognise him as our High Priest in the Father’s throne room. Hebrews 4:14-16 explains: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” This gives us confidence for our prayers being accepted by God as 1 John 5:13-15 declares: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”
Praying in the name of Christ recognises our sinfulness creating a distance between us and God and only through a mediator can we be received into God’s presence and that Christ alone is that mediator. (The Larger Catechism Question 181).