We’re at that part of the Catechism which is about the means of grace: the means by which the Lord Jesus gives to us all the benefits of his redemption. He wants to give us justification by which we’re pardoned for all that we have done wrong and we’re accepted as righteous in the sight of God. And he wants to adopt us into God’s family so that God becomes our Heavenly Father who helps us instead of being the Judge who condemns us. How does the Lord Jesus give us those things? He gives them to us through the reading and preaching of his word. Through the reading and preaching of his word, he enables us to repent and to believe. And all who repent and believe are justified and pardoned and adopted into his family.
But he also wants to give us sanctification so that we become more and more willing and able to do his will here on earth. And he wants to give us the assurance of God’s love so that we know that God is for us and not against us. He wants to give us peace of conscience so that we can come before God with confidence, knowing that our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west. He wants to give us joy in the Holy Spirit. And he wants to give us growth in grace. And he wants to give us perseverance so that we will continue to trust in him throughout the remainder of our lives.
He wants to give us all of these things. And the way he gives them to us is through the reading and preaching of his word. And it’s through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And it’s also through prayer.
Someone was once saying to me that because of the hard times she’d gone through, she felt God no longer wanted her. And she wondered whether God was punishing her. So, what’s the answer when someone is feeling like that. Well, you remind them of the importance of coming to church each Sunday, because each Sunday, through the reading and preaching of his word, we’re reminded of the good news of the gospel. That is, we’re reminded how much God wanted us: he wanted us so much that he gave up his One and Only Son to death on a cross so that we could be with him for ever and ever. And every Sunday, through the reading and preaching of his word, we’re reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ has paid for all our sins. He took the punishment we deserve so that God will never, ever punish us for our sins. So, that’s how we get assurance of God’s love. That’s how we get peace of conscience. Through the preaching of the gospel. And, of course, we get the same thing through the sacraments because they also speak to us, in a visible way, of the greatness of God’s love.
The Lord Jesus wants to give us these things. And the way he gives us these things is through the outward means of grace.
Last week we began to look at prayer. And we learned that prayer is the offering up of our desires to God. We can come before God with every care and every concern and every need and every anxiety and every problem and we can lay our petitations and requests before him. Prayer is the offering up of our desires to God.
But prayer also involves the confession of our sins. We become before our Heavenly Father to say sorry to him for the ways we have disobeyed him and we ask him to pardon us. So, prayer involves confession.
And prayer also involves thanksgiving: giving thanks to God for all his goodness and kindness to us.
And we also learned that when we pray, we pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, because he’s the one who has opened up the way for us into the presence of God in heaven. And because we come in Christ’s name, and not in our own name, we have confidence that God will hear us for Jesus’s sake.
So, that’s what we were thinking about last week. Today we’re going to begin to study together the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s disciples saw him praying and they asked him to teach them how to pray. And he gave them — and us — the Lord’s Prayer. He said:
This is how you should pray.
In other words, he gave us the Lord’s Prayer to guide us in how to pray. It’s a model prayer. A pattern for how we should pray. And so, we’re going to begin to study the Lord’s Prayer this evening. But before we get to that, there’s one further thing to say by way of introduction.
Prayer as a means of grace
I’ve already said that we’re in that part of the Catechism which is to do with the means of grace, the means by which Jesus Christ gives us the benefits of his redemption. And Presbyterians believe that prayer is a means of grace. It’s one of the things the Lord Jesus uses to give us all that we need for our salvation.
However, other Reformed Churches do not regard prayer as a means of grace. They agree with us that preaching is a means of grace. So, God works through the preaching of his word and gives us what we need. And they agree with us that the sacraments are a means of grace. So, God works through baptism and the Lord’s Supper to give us what we need. But, they disagree with us that prayer is a means of grace.
And the reason they disagree with us is because for them, the means of grace are not things we do ourselves. The means of grace are things which happen to us. So, the minister preaches God’s word to us. He gives baptism to us. He gives the Lord’s Supper to us. These things happen to us, and we receive them. But prayer is different, because we all pray. Prayer is something we do ourselves, and it’s not done to us. So, they say, prayer cannot be a means of grace.
If that’s the case, why do Presbyterians regard prayer as a means of grace? I’ve come across two explanations. First of all, some have argued that when the Catechism refers to prayer as a means of grace, it’s referring to the public prayers which are offered to God during the public service of worship on behalf of the people. The minister, called by God, leads the congregation in prayer. And, on behalf of the congregation, he asks God to help us. And, on behalf of the congregation, he confesses our sins. And, on behalf of the congregation, he gives thanks to God for his goodness to us. And, when the minister is praying on our behalf, the Lord Jesus is at work in us to give us all that we need for our salvation. The Lord Jesus, who came into the world not to be served by us, but to serve us, draws near to us on Sundays by his Spirit to give us everything we need for eternal life. And he gives us what we need as we listen to the preaching of his word, and as we receive the sacraments, and as we bow in prayer.
That’s one explanation. When the Catechism refers to prayer as a means of grace, it’s thinking in particular of the public prayers in our service of worship. Another explanation, and this one is more common, is that prayer is a means of grace because when we pray, we’re brought near to God. As we draw near to God in prayer, so he draws near to us to bless us and to help us. So, think of Psalm 73, for a moment. The Psalmist describes how he was envious of the wicked who seemed to have it all. What good was it to serve the Lord when the unrighteous are the ones who are successful and who are getting on in life? What good is it? But then he went into the sanctuary. And, of course, he went to pray to God and to worship him. And, while he was praying to God and worshipping him, the Lord reminded him of what would eventually happen to the wicked; and the Lord gave him the assurance of his love, and joy in the Holy Spirit as he thought about heaven, And he gave him the power to persevere in his faith so that he would not give up believing in the Lord. When we draw near to God in prayer, he draws near to us and helps us.
Think of what we sometimes experience at the prayer meeting. We come along on a Wednesday evening. And often we’re so nervous about praying in public. We think to ourselves:
What if I mess up?
What if I mix up my words?
What will people think of me?
But then we screw up our courage, and we pray to the Lord. And afterwards, we feel wonderful, because it always does us good to be in the presence of the Lord, making known to him our concerns and cares, confessing our sins, giving thanks to him. Through prayer, we draw near to God and he draws near to us. And he comes and he helps us.
So, there are two explanations for why we regard prayer as a means of grace. As the minister leads the congregation, God is at work in us. As we draw near to God in prayer ourselves, so he draws near to us. Perhaps both explanations are correct. But the fact remains that the Lord commands us not only to read and preach his word, and to keep the sacraments, but he also commands us to pray to him when we come together. And he expects us to pray by ourselves as well.
The Lord’s Prayer
Having said all that, we come to the Lord’s Prayer. And the Lord’s Prayer can be divided into three parts. There’s the preface:
Our Father in heaven.
Then there are six requests which we bring before the Lord. The first three requests are about God: His honour and glory; the advance of his kingdom; the doing of his will. So we pray:
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
And the second three requests are about us and our needs: Our need for daily sustenance; our need for forgiveness; our need for protection. So we pray:
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
And finally, there’s the conclusion:
For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
The Lord Jesus gave us this prayer as a model prayer, an example of how we should pray. And since this is the pattern for how we should pray, it teaches us that, when we come before God in prayer, we ought to begin by reminding ourselves of who he is: he’s our Heavenly Father. Then, before we pray for ourselves, we should pray for his honour and for the advancement of his kingdom and for his will to be done. And having prayed for these things, we can pray for ourselves. And, of course, we’re taught to pray for both physical and spiritual things, earthly things and heavenly things. So, we need daily food, and we need daily forgiveness, and we need daily protection from the Evil One. And we ask the Lord to give us what we need. And then, we’re taught to end our prayers with a fitting conclusion, giving glory and honour and praise to God.
There’s a good pattern to show us how to pray. And parents: you can teach your children to pray like this, using the pattern the Lord Jesus gave us.
I want to spend the remainder of our time today thinking about the preface:
Our Father in heaven.
And first of all, we begin with the word ‘our’. What does this tell us? It teaches us that we’re to pray with others, because the Lord has taught us to say not ‘My Father’ but ‘Our Father’. The word ‘our’ implies that we’re praying with others.
Now, in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord warned us not to pray in order to be seen by others. Instead, when you pray, go into your room and close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. By saying this, the Lord wasn’t banning public prayers. He was simply forbidding us from turning our praying into a performance. And to encourage us to pray together, we have all the examples in the Bible of God’s people praying together. Just think of the book of Acts. In chapter 1, we read how the believers gathered in the Upper Room where they had celebrated the Passover Supper with the Lord Jesus and they devoted themselves to prayer. In Acts 2:41 we read how they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship and to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. When they met together as a church, they joined together in these activities. And in Acts 4 we read how the believers gathered together and prayed together for the Lord to help them preach with boldness despite the opposition they faced.
I could go on and give many other examples of places in the Bible where it refers to the Lord’s people meeting together for prayer. That’s why, in our Sunday Services for worship, we not only sing songs of praise and listen to the reading and preaching of God’s word, but we also pray together. And that’s why we have our congregational Bible Study and Prayer Meeting. We meet together for prayer, because God’s people have always met together for prayer. And, of course, parents ought to lead their families in worship at home; and our family worship each day ought to include prayer. So, parents and children should bow together in prayer to give thanks to God and to seek his help. And the reason we pray together at home, and the reason we pray together as a congregation, is because the Lord has taught us to pray together and to say:
Our Father in heaven.
However, not only does this word ‘our’ teach us to pray together, but it also teaches us to pray for one another. We’re not only to pray for my own needs, but we’re to pray for the needs of my brothers and sisters in the Lord. I’m to pray for our needs. Listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians. He said: ‘We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.‘
And then he goes on to say a few verses later: ‘For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will [and so on].’
And then, near the end of his letter, he wrote this: ‘Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too….’
Do you see? Paul and his companions were praying for the church in Colossae. And he asked the church in Colossae to pray for them. We’re not only to pray for ourselves, but we’re to pray for one another.
But there’s a third thing to learn from this word ‘our’. The God we address in prayer is not just God. He’s our God. He’s the one who has established his covenant with us and he has promised to be our God, and the God of our children after us. And he has promised to keep us as his children for ever and ever. By this covenant, he has bound himself to us for ever. And he has promised to help his people always. And so, when we turn to him in prayer, we know that we’re coming to our God, who has promised to take care of our daily needs and to forgive us our sins and to protect us from all evil. And therefore, what an encouragement it is when we pray to know that we’re not coming to any God, but we’re coming to our God who has bound himself to us for ever. So, from this little word ‘our’ at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord is teaching us to pray with one another, and to pray for one another, and he’s teaching us that, when we pray, we’re coming to our God who loves us and has promised to help us.
Next the Lord teaches us to pray to ‘our Father’. And God is our Father in two ways. He’s our Father because he’s the Creator, the one who made all things in the beginning and who is the source of our being. He’s the one who has given life to all. And, therefore, in that sense, he’s the Father of all. And as the Father of all, he cares for all that he has made.
And so, every day he causes the sun to rise on the evil as well as one the good. He sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. He cares for all his creation and therefore we can count on him to take care of all that he has made.
But secondly, he’s the Father of every believer, because he’s adopted us into his family.
Do you remember what Paul wrote in Ephesians 1?
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ….
Through faith in the Lord Jesus, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ has become our Father. Once we were enemies because of our sins; but now, we’re been adopted into his family. And every believer is therefore encouraged to come before our Father in heaven with all our needs and concerns, knowing that he cares for us. And so, the Lord Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Our earthly fathers are sinners, but even they know to give their children good things. So, how much more will our Heavenly Father give us the good things we need when we ask him? Since he’s already given up his Son for us and for our salvation, there’s not one good thing he will withhold from us. And so the Lord says:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.
Why not? Because your heavenly Father knows what you need.
And so, this word ‘Father’ encourages us to pray with confidence, because we’re coming to our Father who loves us and cares for us.
And finally, the Lord Jesus teaches us to pray to ‘our Father in heaven’. This implies two things. First of all, it reminds us to pray with reverence. Children, of course, should show respect to their earthly fathers; and God’s children must show respect and reverence to our heavenly Father. When we come before him to praise his name with our songs or to pray to him, we ought to remember his majesty and holiness. Think of Moses as he approached the burning bush — and the Lord instructed him to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground. Think of how the Israelites were afraid whenever God came down on Mount Sinai. They worshipped him with reverence and awe. And so should we, because our God dwells in heaven.
Before someone says that that was the Old Testament, bear in mind what happened to the Apostle John when he had that vision of the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus in Revelation 1. Do you remember? He saw the Lord and fell down as though dead.
Instead of bursting into the presence of God and speaking carelessly and casually to him, we ought to remember that he is the Most High God and we ought be humble ourselves before him. Through Jesus Christ, our sins are covered and we can come into his presence with confidence that he will accept us and our prayers. But nevertheless, it’s always right to remember who he is and to be reverent in his presence.
But then that fact that our Father is in heaven reminds us that he is powerful. He is the one who rules over all things. The nations are like a drop in the bucket to him, because he is so mighty and powerful and his power and authority extends over all the world. So, we’re encouraged to come before him in prayer and to offer up our desires to him and to make our cares and concerns known to him. We’re encouraged to come to him, because he is Mighty God and nothing is too hard for him. Our earthly fathers are limited in what they can do for us, because they’re only human. But our heavenly Father can do all things for us, because he’s the All-Powerful One. And so, the Lord Jesus has taught us to remember that the One we turn to in prayer is in heaven from where he rules over all things.
When we put all this together we learn that we’re to pray with one another and for one another. And since the One we pray to is our Father who loves us, we know that he is always willing to help us. And since the One we pray to is in heaven and rules over all, we know that he’s able to help us. We come to him with reverence because of his heavenly majesty, but we also come to him with confidence because he has bound himself to us. And in all this we’re encouraged to come to him with our desires and cares and concerns, knowing that he alone is able to lift us up when we’re struggling and to give us the strength and help we need. And so, the Lord teaches us to turn to our Heavenly Father and to make known to him all our needs.