“Prayer is the breath of life for the Christian.” That sentiment is one I heard many times from a man I consider to be role model for me of the Christian life. He considered prayer to be as essential for the Christian as breathing is to every living being. He was a surgeon by vocation, so he understood well the critical need of breathing for the human body. And I had the privilege of praying with him many times, so I caught a glimpse him putting these words into practice. The idea of “prayer as breathing” was not just a collection of words he spoke to others. They were words he lived by each day.
I have been reading an excellent collection of sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism, by Rev. G.H. Kersten. As it explores the Lord’s Prayer, Catechism question 117 asks this:
“What is the kind of prayer that pleases God and that he listens to?”
The answer is:
“First, we must pray from the heart to no other than the one true God, revealed to us in his Word, asking for everything God has commanded us to ask for.
Second, we must fully recognize our need and misery, so that we humble ourselves in God's majestic presence.
Third, we must rest on this unshakable foundation: even though we do not deserve it, God will surely listen to our prayer because of Christ our Lord. That is what God promised us in his Word.”
In explaining what the Catechism teaches in this answer Kersten writes:
“Praying is, in the first place, a subjecting of ourselves to God’s counsel and government. He controls our lives and He decides what we need. Hence we must pray to the Lord for all that He has commanded us in His Word to ask of Him; doing so in submission to Him and with childlike trust, so that He may fulfill that need insofar as it is subservient to His honor. In dealing with His people He has His honor in view – and true prayer seeks God’s honor and the exaltation of His thrice holy Name; that is, in a manner subservient to our salvation and deliverance."
As I read that paragraph the part that I have highlighted just jumped out at me. As I read, and re-read it several times, I thought about what Kersten is teaching here about prayer. He is teaching that at its heart, true prayer is only incidentally about us, and that the primary purpose of prayer is to honor, or as I like to say, to bring glory to, God.
True prayer does not so much seek for God to grant the desires of our heart, but it seeks to praise God above all things. True prayer is prayer that is driven by a desire to magnify God’s greatness.
From that perspective my prayers often seem woefully short. I am thankful for being reminded through this reading that God’s glory, or Kersten phrased it, God’s honor, should be at the forefront of my approach to God. And I am thankful that whenever I turn to God in humility, He will gladly meet with me.
Below are the scripture references that underlie each part of the answer to Catechism question 117, as well as a link to Kersten’s book.
First - Ps. 145:18-20; John 4:22-24; Rom. 8:26-27; James 1:5; 1 John 5:14-15
Second - 2 Chron. 7:14; Ps. 2:11; 34:18; 62:8; Isa. 66:2; Rev. 4
Third - Dan. 9:17-19; Matt. 7:8; John 14:13-14; 16:23; Rom. 10:13; James 1:6
Kersten, G.H. The Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons (p. 628)