Q & A 98-99 Prayer
Q. 98 What is prayer?
A. 98 Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sin, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.
Prayer is an exercise of faith. Why would one pray if one did not believe that God exists and answers prayer (Heb. 11:6)? Prayer means we trust God also, that he will do that which is according to his will, that which is for our good. He invites us to pour out our hearts to him (Ps. 62:8). If we pray for what the scriptures indicate are matters acceptable to prayer, we know that the Spirit will also help us, “because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:27 Cf. v. 26). It is also clear that we are instructed to ask of the Father in Jesus name (Jn. 16:23). We also know that confession is a central part of prayer (Dan. 9:4 Cf. Ps. 51:1; Mt. 6:12; Lk. 11:4; 18:13-14). It is also important that we pray with thankful hearts (Phil. 4:6).
Q. 99 What rule has God given for our direction in prayer?
A. 99 The whole word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called the Lord’s prayer.
It was noted in the answer to the previous Q & A 98, that prayer is to be in harmony with the will of God, especially as we have it in the word. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (I Jn. 5:14). Ultimately, we do have the Lord’s prayer to guide us as a pattern. There is something which is significant about the relationship of the ten commandments, dealt with extensively in the earlier part of the catechism (Q & A 45-81), and the Lord’s prayer. As one looks at both, there seems to be a clear connection between the two, as will hopefully be demonstrated in what follows.
The Lord’s prayer (Mt. 6:9ff.), as it is called, was actually given in response to the disciples request that the Lord teach them how to pray (Lk. 11:1). These two items begin with their focus on God and then on ourselves and our relations with our fellow human beings. “Just as the chief end of man in all of life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, so in prayer it is God who comes first, and only then our own interests. Just as the Ten Commandments first instruct us in the worship of God, and then go on to teach us the life of service for God, so the Lord’s Prayer begins with God. It concerns God himself, then his kingdom, and will, before there is mention of our own needs.” (Williamson 317)
“Much more true to life is the New Testament account of the disciples of our Lord, who were unable to remain awake to pray with Jesus for even one hour! (Matt. 26:36-46). If we study the Bible we find that even the Lord’s faithful servants were often driven to pray by the circumstances, rather than by mere inner impulse. Think of Abraham praying for Lot in Sodom (Gen. 18:16-33). Or think of Moses praying that God would not destroy Israel (Ex. 32:31-35).” (Ibid. 318)
“Just as we can work out our whole duty to God from the Ten Commandments, so we can work out our whole prayer life from these petitions.” (Ibid 319) Again, we also know that the Spirit helps us in prayer (Rom. 8:26-27). “Just as a loving Father will not despise or reject a request of his son when it is expressed in lisping speech, so the Father will not despise a sincere prayer because of its humble form. The deepest lesson of this pattern of prayer, then, is the fact that true religion-and therefore true prayer-is a thing of the heart. This is why our Lord stripped away everything that could possibly obscure this fact.” (Ibid. 320)