WSC 101 First request

Introduction

For the last two sermons, we’ve been thinking about what our church’s Catechism says about prayer. First of all, there was question and answer 98 of our Catechism which asked: ‘What is prayer?’ And the answer explained that prayer involves the offering up of our desires to God. So, in prayer we can bring to God all our cares and concerns and problems, the things we need and want, and we can lay them before him.

And prayer involves confession of sin, because when we come before our Heavenly Father we want to say sorry to him for all the ways we have disobeyed him and offended him. We want to say sorry to him and ask his forgiveness, knowing that for the sake of Jesus Christ, he will pardon us for all that we have done wrong.

Prayer involves offering up our desires to God. It involves confession. It also involves thanksgiving. Thanksgiving begins by believing that God is the source of every good thing that we enjoy here on earth. Every good thing we have has come to us from him. And therefore we ought to thank him for his kindness towards us. So when we pray, we give thanks to him and acknowledge before him his goodness to us.

When we pray, we offer up our desires to God. We confess our sins. We give thanks to him. And we also learned that true prayer is trinitarian. We pray to God the Father with the help of the Holy Spirit. And we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, because he is the one who has opened the way for sinners like us into the presence of God. It’s as if the Lord Jesus were to take us by the hand and lead us through the entrance of heaven and into the throne room of God, and right past the angels, and straight up to God the Father where we’re able to present our prayers and requests to him. By ourselves, we have no right to approach this holy God. But with the Lord Jesus at our side, we can come confidently to God, knowing that our sins have been forgiven for ever and we have peace with God, because through Christ, God has become our Heavenly Father and he’s always ready and willing to hear our prayers which we offer in Jesus’s name.

Prayer is all of those things. Then last week, we thought about the way in which prayer is a means of grace. There’s the prayers which are offered up to God as part of our public service of worship. And as the minister leads the congregation in prayer, God works in us to give us the assurance of his love and peace of conscience and perseverance and all the other benefits we receive from Christ’s redemption.

And then there are are own prayers. And as we pray, we’re drawn near to God. And he draws near to us to bless us and to help us.

So, just like the reading and preaching of God’s word, and just like the sacraments, so prayer is one of the ways the Lord Jesus works in our lives to give us all the benefits of his life and death and resurrection so that we press on in the faith until at last we enter glory. So, prayer is a means of grace.

But last week, we also began to look at the Lord’s Prayer which has been given to us as a model prayer, as a pattern to guide us when we pray. And we looked briefly at the structure of the Lord’s Prayer. It begins with the preface: ‘Our Father in heaven.’ Then there are three requests which are about God and his glory, and his kingdom, and his will. Then there are three requests which are about us and what we need: daily food, daily forgiveness, daily protection. And then the prayer ends with a suitable conclusion, giving glory and honour and praise to God. The Lord’s disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. And so he gave them the Lord’s Prayer to guide us when we pray.

And then the final thing we did last week was to consider the preface to the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven.

And we learned several things. The word ‘our’ teaches us that we’re to pray with others and for others. It also teaches us that we’re praying to our God who has bound himself to us for ever and ever. And therefore we’re encouraged to pray to him. The word ‘Father’ teaches us that we’re coming to our Heavenly Father who loves us and who cares for us. Since he’s already given up his Son for us and for our salvation, then there’s no good thing which he will withhold from us. And so, again, we encouraged to pray. And the words ‘in heaven’ teach us that we’re to come with reverence, because of the heavenly majesty of the Lord. But the words ‘in heaven’ also teach us that God is mighty and powerful, ruling over all things from his throne in heaven. And therefore, not only is he willing to help us, he’s able to help us. And so, we encouraged to pray.

Yhis week I’ve prayed for all kinds of things. I’ve prayed for him to help me and Roland to prepare for these Sunday services. And I’ve prayed for him to help us worship him as we should, with reverence and awe. I’ve prayed for him to help us all grow in holiness and comfort. I’ve prayed for the conversion of those who don’t yet believe. I’ve prayed for the church’s children. And for the young people. And for the elderly. And for everyone in between.

As I’ve visited the sick and the elderly, I’ve prayed with them and for them. I’ve prayed for their health. And I’ve prayed for the Lord to strengthen their faith and to protect them from the Evil One.

I’ve prayed for the Lord to help us with the door-to-door visitation. And as part of that, I’ve prayed for practical things like suitable weather. And for safety. I’ve prayed to the Lord to send out workers to do the work. I’ve prayed for success in giving out the gospels and for God to work in the hearts and minds of the people we meet to make them want to know more about the Lord Jesus.

I’ve prayed for outreach here. And I’ve prayed for the extension of Christ’s kingdom throughout the world so that more and more men and women and boys and girls will acknowledge God as the one true and living God who is worthy of all their praise.

During the week, I’ve prayed for family and friends, for their health and happiness and for God to keep them faithful to him.

I’ve prayed with, and for, my own family in our daily family worship: for God to help us to grow in the likeness of Christ; for the children to do well in school; for God’s forgiveness for our sins and for his provision for all that we need; and for people we know who need his help.

I’ve prayed for all kinds of things. And I’ve prayed first thing in the morning. And last thing at night. And throughout the day. On my knees and while driving the car and walking the dog or at the bedside of someone who is sick, and all the while, calling out to our Father in heaven who always hears us and answers us. As the Psalmist says:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps [his people]
will neither slumber nor sleep.

He never sleeps nor slumbers nor takes a break or goes on holiday. He’s always ready to hear his children who come to him for help. In our prayers, we offer up our desires and needs to God, and we confess our sins and we give thanks to him, and we know that our loving heavenly Father is always willing and able to answer our prayers. And therefore, we’re encourage to come to him.

Hallowed

Today we come to the first request in the Lord’s Prayer which is:

Hallowed be your name.

What are we praying for whenever we pray for God’s name to be hallowed? Listen to the answer our Catechism gives:

In the first request … we pray that God may enable us and others to glorify him in all in which he makes himself known; and that he would overrule all things for his own glory.

That’s it. To hallow God’s name means to glorify God. It means we give God the honour and the praise and the reverence which he deserves. And so, when we pray for this, we’re praying that when we and others hear God’s name being mentioned, or when we think about God and who he is and what he has done we will respond by acknowledging his greatness and glory and by giving him the honour that he alone deserves.

And so, this takes us back to the beginning of the Catechism, because in the first question we’re asked:

What is man’s chief end?

And the answer given is:

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

God made us so that we would glorify him and honour him and so it’s little wonder that the Lord Jesus makes this the first thing we should pray for. Whenever we pray, we should pray that God will help us and all others to do what we were made to do, which is to glorify the God who made us and who has redeemed us by his Son.

Glory to God, not ourselves

Notice, of course, that what we’re praying for, and therefore what we ought to desire more than anything else, is for God’s name to be glorified. We’re praying for God to be glorified, and not ourselves.

In the books of Acts, we read how Peter went to Cornelius’s home to speak to him and his household about the Lord Jesus. And when Peter arrived, Cornelius fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter would not stand for it and told him to get up: ‘I am only a man yourself’ he said. He wanted Cornelius to worship the Lord and not himself.

And then, something similar happened to Paul and Barnabas in Lystra. After they had healed a lame man, the people cried out:

The gods have come down to us in human form.

And so they called Barnabas Zeus, and they called Paul Hermes, the names of two Greek gods. And the people even brought bulls to them to offer as a sacrifice. But when Paul and Barnabas realised what they were doing, they tore their clothes and said to them:

Why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you.

And they went on to tell the people of Lystra about God, because they wanted the people to know the one, true and living God and to worship him and him alone.

In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul was writing to the church in Corinth about various matters. And the first thing he mentioned was the disputes and divisions which existed in that church. This little church was ruined because the people were quarrelling with one another and though they regarded themselves as being very spiritual, Paul regarded them as being no different from unbelievers, because they were quarrelling so much with one another. And what were they quarrelling over? Well, it seemed they had their own favourite preachers. One group boasted that they followed Peter. Another group boasted that they followed Apollos. And yet another group boasted that they followed Paul. They were treating these preachers like stars, putting them on a pedestal, and boasting about them to one another.

Isn’t Paul great?
No, Peter is better.
No, you’re both wrong, because I think Apollos is much better.

So, what did Paul do? He put preachers in their place. He wrote:

What is Apollos? What is Paul?

Are they stars to look up to? re they men to boast about? No, says, Paul, they’re only servants — and the word Paul uses for ‘servants’ means, ‘labourers’. Preachers are to be compared to the hired-hand who is hired at the beginning of the day and is sent out into the field to do exactly what the landlord says; and then afterwards, he’s given his wages and sent off with hardly a word of thanks. That’s how you’re to regard us, says Paul.

I’m like the worker who is sent out into the fields to sow the seed, says Paul. And Apollos is like the worker who is hired later to water the seed. We’re just the hired-hands, the labourers, sowing the seed of God’s word and watering the seed by our preaching. And the one who really matters is God, because he’s the one who has the power and the authority to make the seed grow.

Do you see? The people were boasting about this person or that person. But Paul is reminding them that the one they ought to honour, and boast about, is God. We’re to honour him above all others.

In Revelation 19 we read how the Apostle John fell down before the angel in heaven who was speaking to him. And John began to worship, or to pay homage to, the angel. But even though this is a glorious, heavenly angel, he will not receive the praise which is due to God alone. He said to John:

You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers…. Worship God.

And so, the first thing we learn here is that if neither Peter nor Paul nor an angel in heaven sought glory for themselves, then neither should we. Instead of boasting about ourselves and what we have done, we ought to boast in the Lord and pray for God to be honoured.

Failure

The second thing to learn here is that this request reveals our greatest shame. Think about what happens whenever we’re driving through the countryside. And perhaps you’re up in the mountains somewhere. When we lived down south, I used to drive through the Wicklow Mountains. And sometimes I’d go round a bend and suddenly, there in front of me, is a wonderful view. The mountains in the distant and a valley below. There are the clouds in the sky. And there’s a river and there are trees. And grassy slopes and rocks and perhaps a waterfall. And it’s breath-taking. And often I’d stop the car and get out, because I wanted to get a proper look at this marvellous scene. Perhaps you’ve done the same. As soon as you see something like this, you recognise it as something wonderful. As soon as you see it, you’re struck by its beauty.

And yet the glory of that landscape is nothing compared to the glory of our God. But how slow we are to give God the glory and honour that he deserves. In fact, none of us would have ever thought to praise God if were not for God himself who taught us to worship him. He came to us, by his Spirit, and gave us a new heart to replace our old, natural heart which was hard and cold. And he gave us a new heart which was able to love and admire God so that, for the first time, we were able to praise God and to give thanks to him for all his good gifts to us. And if it were not for the Holy Spirit, working in us, we would never dream of praising God.

And, of course, it’s the Holy Spirit who continues to work in us to take away all the remaining hardness in our hearts and the heaviness which prevents us from worshipping him as we should. He works in our lives, as we meet together to hear his word, and he makes us more and more willing and able to praise God and to worship him in the way that he wants.

And yet, there’s still so much of our old, sinful nature remains in us, so that when we come to church, we often come reluctantly. Or when we come, we do not pay attention to his word, or we do not sing his praises with our whole heart, or instead of wanting to talk to God in prayer, we only want to talk to our neighbour, or we’re anxious for the service to finish so that we can go and do what we really want to do. So much of our old, sinful nature remains in us that we need to pray, and keep praying, for the Lord to help us to honour him and give him the glory he deserves.

When the Lord’s disciples asked him to teach them to pray, the first thing he told them to pray for was for God’s name to be hallowed. The Lord knows what we’re like. And he knows what we need better than we know ourselves. And so he taught his people to pray that God will work in our hearts by his Spirit to incline our hearts to know him and to acknowledge him as the one true God and to glorify him. If worship came naturally to us, the Lord would not have taught us to pray for this. But because of our sin and spiritual blindness, he taught us to pray for this.

Others

What we pray for ourselves, we ought also to pray for others. When we pray for God’s name to be hallowed, we’re praying that God will enable all others to know him and to acknowledge him as the one true God and to worship him.

In Acts 17 we read that Paul reached Athens. And Paul was greatly distressed by all the idols he saw in the city. Imagine going around the city, and outside every home, or at every corner, and throughout the marketplace and in the public square, were all these little statues of this god and that god which the people bowed down to and prayed to and brought sacrifices to. These people seemed so religious, and yet none of them knew the true God or honoured him. So, when the opportunity arose, Paul spoke to them about the God of the Bible who made the world and who sustains it, and who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead by whom he will judge the living and the dead.

Paul was distressed because the Athenians worshipped all kinds of false gods and none were worshipping the true God. And it distresses us (doesn’t it?) that still so many people in our day do not worship the true God and they do not think to give him the honour that he deserves. Just think about what we’re like whenever we don’t get the credit we deserve. At work, the boss praises a colleague for work that you did. And it upsets us and annoys us because we know it’s not right. Or a woman spends time and effort preparing her husband’s dinner, and she hates it when he doesn’t think to thank her for it. Or, we see children being cheeky to their parents. They’re not giving their parents the honour that is due to them. And we know it’s not right. And all around us there are people who never think to worship the Lord or give thanks to him or honour him. And it distresses us because we know it’s not right. And so, when we pray, we pray that God will take away all spiritual ignorance and atheism and idolatry, so that people everywhere will come to know the true God and give him the honour that he deserves. And so, we have the prayer of the psalmist is Psalm 67:

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!

Conclusion

God made us so that we will glorify him and enjoy him for ever. And he deserves all our praise because he alone is God and there is none like him. And therefore, when we pray, we pray for God to get the glory he deserves and for men and women and boys and girls to do what we were made to do and what all of God’s people will do for ever and ever, joining with the angels in heaven to declare:

Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honour and glory and blessing!

So, when we pray, we pray to our loving heavenly Father. And we pray, asking that he will so work in the world that we and all others might come to know him and to praise him.