Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 45
Lord's Day 45
Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
Because prayer is the most important part
of the thankfulness which God requires of us.
Moreover, God will give His grace and the Holy Spirit
only to those who constantly and with heartfelt longing
ask Him for these gifts and thank Him for them.
What belongs to a prayer which pleases God
and is heard by Him?
we must from the heart call upon the one true God only,
who has revealed Himself in His Word, for all that He
has commanded us to pray.
we must thoroughly know our need and misery, so that
we may humble ourselves before God.
we must rest on this firm foundation that, although we
do not deserve it, God will certainly hear our prayer for
the sake of Christ our Lord, as He has promised us in
What has God commanded us to ask of Him?
All the things we need for body and soul,
as included in the prayer
which Christ our Lord Himself taught us.
What is the Lord's prayer?
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power,
and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Q. & A. 116 Pray without Ceasing
- The Catechism does not begin its instruction about prayer by asking what prayer is; it will tell us that in due course. Rather, it asks the question why prayer is necessary for Christians. For this necessity is denied by all kinds of pseudo-scientific arguments. Moreover, our own slow and evil heart often whispers to us that prayer is not necessary! It is that, especially, which our text book wants to disabuse us of. For although prayer is “the breath of the soul,” in the sense that we cannot do without it, just like we cannot do without our breath, prayer is not something that comes naturally to a Christian. We have had to learn and must learn again and again how to pray. That is what the Catechism is concerned with. Not that we shall know a lot about prayer, but that we shall be persons who pray. And nothing can move us to become such persons than to know the necessity of prayer.
- Prayer is necessary because:
a. God Demands it of Us. 1 Thess 5:17 says: "Pray constantly." (See also Mt 7:7; Lk 18:1-8; Phil 4:6; Ps 50:14, 15; and note the first, third and fourth commandments!)
God's commandment, not our need is what matters. Saying that one must pray only when one feels the need is a hypocritical suggestion of the evil one to break us of the habit of praying. We must have fixed times for our prayer (cf. Daniel and read Ps 5:4; and 55:18).
b. It Is the Most Important Part of Thankfulness. It is not all the thankfulness which God demands of us, but it is the most important part. A life without prayer is like perfume without scent. What is the place of prayer in your life?
c. The Lord Will Give His Grace and the Holy Spirit only to Those Who Ask for Them in Prayer. We are readily inclined to query this. Does God not first have to give his Spirit before we can pray? How can the Catechism then say that he gives us his Spirit only if we ask in prayer? But it is clear that the Catechism speaks here about the continuing gift of the Spirit! The only way to continue to receive the Spirit, who has been vouchsafed us in God's promise, is in the way of prayer.
- The Catechism says that we must pray “with heartfelt longing.” Our prayer may not be superficial, the work of our lips only. It must come from inside us, like a sigh, full of honest desire. And we must pray “constantly,” i.e., without ceasing, without giving up. If we do not receive what we pray for immediately, we should not stop praying. The Lord sometimes tests us by making us wait (Lk 18:1-8).
- Some people say: You do not have to pray, for God knows what you need. It is, indeed, not necessary for God, but is necessary for us. People also say: Prayer makes no difference, since everything has been fixed in God's counsel. Or they will say: God is too exalted to concern himself with us. But God has taken account of our prayer in his counsel (cf. Hezekiah). And the exalted God wants to be our Father and listen to us. However, we do better not to refute the arguments of unbelief, but to keep the commandment of the Lord!
- Does a Christian know how to pray automatically? What does his evil heart sometimes whisper to him? What must he first learn about prayer? What is the point of the Catechism in this respect?
- Why is prayer necessary? What do 1 Thess 5:17 and Phil 4:6, respectively, say? Is it correct to pray only when we feel the need to do so?
- How must we pray?
Q. & A. 117 Hear My Prayer, Spoken with Sincere Lips
- Praying is a holy art which must be learned. Not everything is prayer which is presented as such. The Catechism teaches us to recognize true prayer when it asks: “What belongs to a prayer which pleases God and is heard by Him?” The first question is not: Will we receive what we desire? But: Does our prayer please God? Prayer is giving thanks! It is serving the Lord! It magnifies him! And we do not have to be unsure about what pleases him. He has revealed it to us. He has given us a rule for it. That is why the Catechism is able to ask: What belongs . . . , i.e., what is prescribed for, what is the rule of prayer?
- The Lord hears prayer which pleases him. That is why the Catechism does not asks: What belongs to a prayer which pleases God and has a chance of being heard, but: What belongs to such a prayer which Is Heard. In fact, there are not really any unheard prayers. Prayers which are not heard are not true prayers. The Lord says in Hos 7:13-14: ". . . I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me. They do not cry to me from the heart. . . ." (See also Amos 5:21-24).
Further, Jas 4:3 says: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."
- In order to pray in a manner pleasing to the Lord, we must (a) know God, (b) know ourselves, and (c) know Christ.
a. We must know God. For we must “call upon the one true God, who has revealed Himself in His Word” in our prayer. We may not call upon idols. We do this easily and more often than we realize. And this becomes apparent when we read the Answer of the Catechism as follows: “the one true God only, As He has revealed Himself in His Word.” But we sometimes act in our prayer as if that good and trustworthy God is callous and unreliable! Then we pray to a God which consists of an image which we have formed of him in our minds, instead of to the one true God!
Further, we must pray to this one true God only “for all that He has commanded us to pray.” True prayer is not the presentation of a wish list. Rather, it is a presentation to God of his promises as empty vessels, so that he might fill them. In order to be able to pray properly, we must first listen to him. Therefore, do not forget to read your Bible when you pray! For, as Rom 8:26 says: ". . . for we do not know how to pray as we ought. . . ."
b. We must know ourselves. We must know our need, that is, our dependence on God. Adam already knew this need before the fall. And we must know our misery, that is, our guilt before God, and our depravity. We must know this thoroughly, so that, in our prayer, we assume the proper attitude and, being fully cognizant of our dependence and guilt, we “humble ourselves before God.” We may not pray like the Pharisee! Isa 66:2 says:
But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.
Let this humbleness, this admission of guilt and insignificance before the Lord determine our posture! That posture is deferential. Kneeling is, therefore, the best posture.
c. We must know Christ. Our prayer may not be a risky enterprise. We may not, in our prayer, just try something out. For, “we must rest on this firm foundation that, although we do not deserve it, God will certainly hear our prayer for the sake of Christ our Lord, as He has promised us in His Word.” We must always pray in the confidence and in the certainty that God certainly hears us. The Lord promised in Mt 7:8: "For every one who asks receives. . . ."
And Jas 1:6-7 says: "But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord."
And John writes in his first letter (1 Jn 5:14-15): "And this is the confidence which we have in 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 obtained the requests made of him."
We Have received in the promise what we prayed for in accordance with God's will! And God gives it to us, but only in his time! Our prayer must be based on that confidence. And then we shall no longer wait in uncertainty about what may happen, but we shall wait patiently on the Lord, who will hear our prayer.
- Is every prayer good? What is of prime importance in our prayer? Why? How do we know this?
- What does Jas 4:3 say? What are prayers that are unheard? Why do we not always receive what we ask for?
- What do we need to know in order to pray in a manner that pleases God? To whom, only, may we pray? What may we pray? What must always accompany our prayer?
- What is our need? What is our misery? How must we approach God? Is our physical posture significant in this respect? What should that posture be?
- What must be our firm foundation in our prayer? What does Mt 7:8 say?
Q. & A. 118 Open Your Mouth Wide and I Will Fill It
- We have already seen that we must pray for what God has commanded us to pray. This is explained further in this Answer. And it becomes immediately apparent that we are allowed to pray for a lot, viz., all the things we need for body and soul. “Need” is that which we lack. Hence, God commands us to pray for what we need. Not for what we might deem necessary, but what is necessary for the proper fulfilment of the charge the Lord has given us. And this includes things both for body and soul. We may ask for that which is necessary for us and our family, for the church and the nation, to serve the Lord. That includes everything, for the Catechism says: All the things we need. Not just the big things, but also the little ones. He who does not desire Everything from the Lord, will soon no longer desire anything from him.
- The Catechism teaches us also the order in which we should pray: First for the spiritual things, then for the bodily things. This is in accordance with the rule of Mt 6:33: “Seek first his kingdom.”
- Finally, the Answer points us to the “sample” prayer which Christ himself taught us. It includes (i.e., summarizes) everything for which God commanded us to pray.
- What must we pray for? What is need? May we pray only for important things?
- What order should our prayer follow?
- What is the example that we should follow in our prayer?
Q. & A. 119 Pray Then Like This
- We find the perfect (not the most perfect) prayer in Mt 6:9-13 and Lk 11:2-4. There are minor differences between these two renditions. Christ did not intend that we should only use that form in our prayer. It is an example. Nevertheless, respect for this example should cause us to use it every day in our prayers.
- In this example we distinguish:
a. The address: Our Father who art in heaven.
b. Six petitions: Three “Thy” petitions, in which we ask that God fill our spiritual need in order that we may rightly serve him; and three “our” petitions, in which we ask that the Lord fill our temporal need in order that we may rightly serve him.
c. The doxology.
d. The word, Amen.
- The use of the “pater noster” in the Roman church.
- The complete rejection of formulary prayers and collects.
- What do we call the Lord's Prayer? Where do we find it in Scripture? May we only use its words when we pray? How did the Saviour intend that it be used?
- How is the perfect prayer divided? What do the first three petitions ask? What do the last three ask?