All Christian catechisms work through three key parts of the Christian faith: the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. These three teaching tools were used for generations to ground Christians in the basics of what it means to be a Christian. The Heidelberg Catechism is no different. The Apostles’ Creed it taught from questions 20-58. The Ten Commandments are taught from questions 92-115. The Lord’s Prayer is taught from questions 116-129. Lord’s Day 45 begins the teaching on the Lord’s Prayer:
Q 116. Why do Christians need to pray?
A. Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us. And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking God for them.
Q 117. What is the kind of prayer that pleases God and that he listens to?
A. 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.
Q 118. What did God command us to pray for?
A. Everything we need, spiritually and physically, as embraced in the prayer Christ our Lord himself taught us.
Q. What is this prayer?
A. Our Father who art in Heaven….
The Heidelberg Catechism is one of the warmest, most pastoral catechisms out there. This section on the Lord’s Prayer is no exception. Let me draw out a few points for you.
Prayer is the single most important way we express gratitude to God. Without a healthy, vibrant prayer life you can be sure you are living an ungrateful life. Kevin DeYoung says, “We pray out of gratitude.” The Heidelberg says that the Christian life is one of “expressing our gratitude to God for our deliverance” (Question 2). A life of prayer is a life of thanksgiving to the Lord for his many big and small gifts.
Look at question 117. What a rich theology of prayer in such a short paragraph! It tells us that prayer must be sincere, from the heart. Remember the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). He prayed, but not from the heart. When we enter God’s presence we should ask him to help us approach him with sincerity of heart.
Prayer also must be to the true God “revealed to us in his Word.” That means we cannot pray to some vague deity or god. True prayer is directed solely at the God of Scripture. Many men pray. And God will hear those prayers from time to time. But only those who pray to the God of Scripture can be assured of having his ear.
We pray when we recognize we are miserable sinners deserving nothing and when we see that God is majestic. Seeing our blindness, nakedness, poverty, and sinfulness leads us to prayer. If believe we are really fine without God then why pray (Revelation 3:17-18). Proud men do not truly pray because they do not bend the knee to God. They do not need God. They may pretend to pray. Their mouths may utter prayers that sound wonderful. But they are not humble in God’s presence and therefore they are not really praying.
We know we will be heard. But this is not because we deserve to be heard. God is not in debt to us to provide us with something or to listen. However, the work of Jesus Christ and the promises attached to His work in the Scriptures provide us with an “unshakable foundation.” Our Lord Jesus Christ left heaven, was born under the law, suffered at the hands of wicked men, was crucified, died and was buried. He rose again on the third day. All of this was done so we could “come boldly to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). Christ’s work attached to the promises given in the Scriptures guarantee that our Father will hear our prayers.
Finally, we are to ask for everything we need for body and soul. My children are rarely afraid to ask me for anything. They will ask for second helping of dessert, a third bowl of cereal, or more money. They do not always get these things, but they ask for them. But I am glad they feel the freedom to ask for anything. That should be our attitude toward our Father in heaven. What do you need? Do you need money? Ask him. Do you need a friend? Ask him. Do you need peace? Ask him. Do you need a husband or wife? Ask him. Do you need to overcome a persistent sin? Ask him. He will not always answer us in the way we want. But he will always hear. And he is always delighted when his children come to him with their needs.
I close with a few quotes from John Calvin (Institutes III:XX) on prayer.
It is, therefore, by the benefit of prayer that we reach those riches which are laid up for us with the Heavenly Father.
We dig up by prayer the treasure that were pointed out by the Lord’s gospel, and which our faith gazed upon.
Since no man is worthy to present himself to God an come into his sight, the Heavenly Father himself, to free us at once from free and shame, which might well have thrown our hearts into despair, has given us his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to be our advocate and mediator with him, by whose guidance we may confidently come to him, and with such an intercessor, trusting nothing we ask in his name will be denied us, as nothing can be denied him by the Father.