The First Prayer: Heidelberg Catechism~ Lord’s Day 47

hallowed-be-thy-name

What is our first priority in prayer? When we pray what is the main goal? Jesus helps us answer this question by placing “Hallowed be your name” at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. Here, at the beginning of our fundamental prayer, Christ tells us that the main concern in our prayers should be that God’s name would be hallowed. That God would be worshiped and glorified and praised by our thoughts, words, and lives, as well as all peoples and nations around the world is our first prayer. Jesus will go on to tell us to pray for his kingdom to come and his will to be done. One author noted that this works backward. As God’s will is done, his kingdom is made manifest, and then his name is hallowed.

I pray for many things. I pray for my children, my church, my physical needs, my leaders, my parents, and my in-laws. But rarely do I focus those prayers towards hallowing God’s name. Usually these prayers are about what God provides us, not what we are supposed to give to God. How would our prayer lives change if our primary concern, our first prayer, was that God’s name, that is his character and works, would be glorified?

Which bring us to this week’s Heidelberg Catechism reading says:

Q: 122. Which is the first petition?

A: “Hallowed be thy name”; that is, grant us, first, rightly to know you, and to sanctify, glorify and praise you, in all thy works, in which thy power, wisdom, goodness, justice, mercy and truth, are clearly displayed; and further also, that we may so order and direct our whole lives, our thoughts, words and actions, that thy name may never be blasphemed, but rather honored and praised on our account. 

 If we were to break this down here is what that first petition is asking.

First, that we might rightly know God. We should study God. Theology is a Christian duty. Knowing God is our great aim. In order to treat God as holy we must know who he is, what his character is like, and what pleases him. We cannot hallow his name if we do not know him.

Second that we might sanctify, glorify, and praise God for all his wonderful works and how those works show forth His character.  What God does tells us who God is.  When we read about his wonderful deeds it should direct us back to his wonderful character, which in turn should lead to unceasing praise.

Third, that we should live in such a way that God’s name is honored on our account and not blasphemed. We can curse God with our lives as well as our tongues. Look at that little phrase. “Order and direct our whole lives…” Those words mean we are intentional and deliberate about what we do. We think about how God might be glorified by our actions. If we are considering sin we don’t just look at the consequences. We consider how our sin might blaspheme the Lord’s great name.  We ask, “How can I in the way I talk, think, and act honor the Lord.”

How would our prayer lives change if the glory of God’s name was our priority?  Would our requests change? Yes, I think they would.  Would our attitude change? Yes, that would change as well. Would our lives and the lives of those around us change? Certainly.  In short when we seek God’s glory above all else in prayer we become consumed by the one thing that ultimately matters; that our Father, who has created this world and redeemed us, should be praised and glorified by all men everywhere.

Kevin DeYoung summarizes it this way:

Our Father in heaven, the concern nearest to my heart and the one that shapes all other requests is that Your name would be regarded as holy, that Your fame would be heralded in the earth, that You would be honored among the nations, that Your glory would be magnified for all to see. O Lord, be pleased to cause men everywhere to take pleasure in You, that you might be praised now and forever.

Calvin says this about the first petition:

To summarize: we should wish God to have the honor He deserves; men should never speak or think of him without the highest reverence…His sternness no less than his leniency should lead us to  praise him, seeing that he has engraved marks of his glory upon a manifold diversity of works, and this rightly calls forth praises from every tongue… But the petition is directed also to this end: that all impiety which has besmirched this holy name may perish and be wiped out; that all detractions and mockeries  which dim this hallowing or diminish may be banished; and that in silencing all sacrileges, God may shine forth more and more in his majesty.

How do our prayers need to change so that hallowing God’s name is the priority when we kneel?

Pray as a Beggar

Here is a section from John Calvin’s Institutes on prayer (III:XX:7).  I have removed Scripture references unless he quotes the passage in full.

For this reason, they who delight in their own foulness aspire not at all [to prayer]. Lawful prayer, therefore, demands repentance. Hence arises the commonplace in Scripture that God does not hearken unto the wicked, and that their prayers-just as their sacrifices-are abominable to him. For it is right that they who bar their hearts should find God’s ears closed, and that they who by their hardheartedness provoke his severity should not feel him conciliatory. In Isaiah he threatens in this way, “Even though you multiply your prayers, I will not listen; for your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15). Again, in Jeremiah, “I cried out…and they refused to listen;…they will cry out in return, and I will not listen” (Jeremiah 11:7, 8, 11). For he counts it as the height of dishonor for wicked men, who all their lives besmirch his sacred name, to boast of his covenant.  Consequently, in Isaiah he complains when the Jews “draw near to him with their lips…their hearts are far from him” (Isaiah 29:13). He does not, indeed, restrict this to prayers alone but declares that falsity in any part of his worship is abhorrent to him. That statement of James applies here. “You seek, and do not receive because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). It is indeed true, as we shall see again later, that the prayers poured out by the godly do not depend upon their worthiness; yet John’s warning is not superfluous; “We receive from him whatever we ask because we keep his commandments” (I John 3:22), while a bad conscience closes the door to us. From this it follows that only sincere worshipers of God pray aright and are heard. Let each one, therefore, as he prepares to pray be displeased at his own evil deeds, and (something that cannot happen without repentance) let him take the person and disposition of a beggar.

For our prayers to be heard we must hate our sins, repent of them, trust in Christ’s blood to take our them away, and grow in holiness. Otherwise our bad conscience and our wicked deeds will put a ceiling over our heads and God will close his ears to us.

A Primer on the Lord’s Prayer by Dr. Martin

praying-hands

Here is Martin Luther’s short exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, which I found in his Small Catechism. I have not included every question, but just the central ones. The bold is mine.

Our Father who art in heaven.

What does this mean? God would thereby [with this little introduction] tenderly urge us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may ask Him confidently with all assurance, as dear children ask their dear father.

The First Petition: Hallowed be Thy name.
What does this mean? God’s name is indeed holy in itself; but we pray in this petition that it may become holy among us also.

How is this done? When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we as the children of God also lead holy lives in accordance with it. To this end help us, dear Father in heaven. But he that teaches and lives otherwise than God’s Word teaches profanes the name of God among us. From this preserve us, Heavenly Father.

The Second Petition: Thy kingdom come.
What does this mean? The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also.

How is this done? When our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life here in time and yonder in eternity.

The Third Petition: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer; but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

How is this done? When God breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will which would not let us hallow the name of God nor let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh; but strengthens and keeps us steadfast in His Word and in faith unto our end. This is His gracious and good will.

The Fourth Petition: Give us this day our daily bread.
What does this mean? God gives daily bread, even without our prayer, to all wicked men; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

What is meant by daily bread? Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as meat, drink, clothing, shoes, house, homestead, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful magistrates good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

The Fifth Petition: And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins, nor deny such petitions on account of them; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them; but that He would grant them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much, and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. So will we verily, on our part, also heartily forgive and also readily do good to those who sin against us.

The Sixth Petition: And lead us not into temptation.
What does this mean? God, indeed, tempts no one; but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us, nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome and gain the victory.

The Seventh Petition: But deliver us from evil.
What does this mean? We pray in this petition, as in a summary, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from all manner of evil, of body and soul, property and honor, and at last, when our last hour shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself into heaven.

Amen.
What does this mean? That I should be certain that these petitions are acceptable to our Father in heaven and heard; for He Himself has commanded us so to pray, and has promised that He will hear us. Amen, Amen; that is, Yea, yea, it shall be so.

R.L. Dabney on Public Prayer

Dabney 1

Here are six points from R.L. Dabney on public prayer. They come from the final chapter of his excellent book Evangelical Eloquence, which is a book on how to preach. They are good reminders for any pastors or elders who pray publicly.

1. The grace of prayer is to be secured only by a life of personal and private devotion. He who carries a cold heart into the pulpit betrays it not only to God, whose detection of it is inevitable, but almost surely to the hearers also.

2. The pastor should remember that he is praying on behalf of the people, therefore his language should be simple, his petitions corporate, not private and he should make sure he is praying, not preaching. 

3. The leader of the church’s prayers shall present distinct and definite petitions, and these not too numerous….The leader of prayer should therefore speak as one who has an errand at the throne, a point to press to God.

4. He who leads the devotions of others must study appropriateness of matter.  He should ask himself what would be uppermost in the hearts of Christians at that time.

5. The language of prayer should be well-ordered and considerate. He who speaks to the Searcher of hearts should beware how he indulges any exaggeration of words, lest his tongue should be found to have outrun his mind and to have “offered the sacrifice of fools.”

6. Above all should the minister enrich his prayers with the language of Scripture. Its inimitable beauty and simplicity, it is hallowed and sweet to every pious heart by a thousand associations.  It satisfies the tastes of all; its use effectually protects us against improprieties; it was doubtless given by the Holy Spirit to be a model for our devotions.

Sin to Death in I John 5:16~My Position

Yesterday I posted what several commentaries say about I John 5:16, which is one of the more difficult verses to interpret and apply in the New Testament. Here is the verse:

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. (ESV)

Here are my thoughts on the text.

First, I lean towards the “brother” in the first part of the verse as being a true Christian, even though “life” in John’s writings usually refers to eternal life.  John is clear in chapters 1 and 2 that Christians do sin. The “his” at the beginning of the verse would also indicate that this brother is a Christian. Colin Kruse’s suggestion that “life” refers to resurrection life is a tempting interpretation, though I have not researched it enough to say for sure.

Second, while the “sin to death” might mean blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, this seems unlikely given the context of I John. I John revolves around three main tests to see if one is a believer: the doctrinal test (believe Jesus came and died), the ethical test (obey God), and the relational/social test (love the brothers). I John orbits around these three ideas. In I John these three ideas are inseparable, though I would argue that the doctrinal test forms the foundation for the other two. John writes his letter so his readers can know who is in and who is out by looking at these three sign posts. That is not all John is doing, but it is a large part of what he is doing. The “sin to death” is a reference to someone who either denies Jesus came in the flesh, rejects obedience, and/or refuses to love the brothers. More than likely all three of these are involved in the “sin to death.” I think it is referring to an apostate.

Third, but it is important to remember what type of apostate this is. We are not talking about a man who simply walked away from the faith. We are probably talking about teachers or those who want to teach who are trying to lead John’s readers astray and who have denied by both word and life central tenets of the Christian faith. John is not talking about some who slipped quietly into the night. He is speaking of someone who has visibly rejected Christ in both doctrine, life, and love.

Fourth, I do not think John is commanding us not to pray for the apostate. I think Yarbrough’s suggestion that John is stating an option is a solid one. We are obligated to pray for the sinning brother. We are not obligated to pray for fire-breathing apostate.  The phrase, “I do not say that one should pray for that,”is awkward in the Greek and could have been stated as a command, but wasn’t. John does not say, “Don’t pray for him/that situation.” John says, “I am not saying he should pray for that.” He seems to leave the reader the freedom to make the choice whether or not to pray for that man.

Finally, while a situation like this is rare, it does happen. There are people who leave the Christian faith, deny its central tenets, and begin teaching others to do the same. When someone does that John does give us the option of crossing them off our prayer list.

Sin to Death in I John 5:16~What the Commentaries Say

Recently a parishioner asked me about I John 5:16

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. (ESV)

Here is the verse broken down into parts:

Person A: If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death.

Person B: There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.

John has just encouraged his readers to be confident in their prayers (I John 5:14-15). He then applies this exhortation by telling his readers that if they see a brother committing a sin not to death and they pray for that brother God will give the brother life. John goes on to say that if someone is sinning a sin to death we should not pray for him. This is a very difficult verse to interpret and apply. The strangest part is the phrase to “not pray” for the person who has sinned to death. There are two main questions: What is the “sin to death?” and Why shouldn’t we pray for the person?

I have several commentaries on I John. Here is what they say about the passage. I am not going to give all the arguments they put forward, but try to summarize their position.

John Stott
Stott’s viewpoint is that neither person is a Christian. So the first prayer that leads to life is a prayer for salvation. The sin to death is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Therefore we should not pray for this person because they cannot be forgiven (Matthew 12:31).

John Calvin
Calvin does not view the first person as unregenerate, he sees him as a wayward brother.  He argues that the second person is an apostate, which includes blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. However, he does not emphasize blasphemy against the Spirit because that is not mentioned in I John. Calvin admits that it can be hard to tell if someone has totally fallen away. He also notes that this is seldom the case, but when it is we should not pray for that man.

I. Howard Marshall
Marshall does not say it explicitly, but he implies that the first man is a Christian who is struggling with sin, while the second man is an apostate. He thinks the second person is someone who refuses to repent and refuses to believe on Christ. He does not mention blasphemy against the Spirit. He extensively qualifies the command to not pray for the second man so that his exegesis almost leaves no room to ever stop praying for someone.

Colin Kruse
Kruse sees the first man as a true brother who sins. He sees the “life” as resurrection life. He sees the second man as someone who has rejected that Jesus came in the flesh and atoned for our sins. The second man is an “antichrist.” His rejection of Christ puts him outside the realm of forgiveness. Kruse does not believe the sin to death refers to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because no where does John accuse these men of attributing the work of Christ to the Devil, which is a sign of blasphemy against the Spirit (Mark 3:22-30).

F.F. Bruce
He spends very little time on the first person. He does put brother in quotes, which may mean he does not consider him a Christian, but it is hard to tell. He thinks the sin to death is either a sin that leads to physical death, as with Ananias and Saphira or apostasy.  In the first instance, we should not pray for the person because they are dead. In the second place, we should not pray for them because they are past the point of repentance (Hebrews 6:4-6). He views this as an exceptional situation.

Robert Yarbrough
He sees the first person as a fellow believer who is committing some sin. He rejects the idea that the “sin to death” is specifically blasphemy against the Spirit for the same reasons Kruse does. However, he notes that what John is talking about is similar to blasphemy against the Spirit, but a different manifestation since Christ is no longer on earth. He thinks the sin to death is apostasy, specifically the failure to believe, obey, and love that is outlined in I John. Yarbrough believes that John is making a suggestion about not praying, not a command. He is not telling his readers they “must not” pray for this man, but rather that they do not have to. Here are four reasons he gives for why John suggests that we do not have to pray for that man:

1. John did not want to micromanage people’s prayer lives.
2. He understood that actions are often misinterpreted. Yarbrough is not very clear here.
3. To pray for someone means to identify with them therefore we should be careful in praying for an apostate.
4. John’s entire message runs against praying for apostates. They willfully abide in death and therefore are not to be prayed for.

Peter Leithart
Leithart believes the first one is a wayward brother whom we should pray for. He roots the distinction between sins to death and sins not to death in the Old Testament distinction between inadvertent and high-handed sins. He believes the second group is apostate false teachers. He does not think we should pray for these men. He uses Jeremiah to set a precedent for not praying for apostates (Jeremiah 7:16, 11:14, 14:11).

So what do I think…I will put that in the next post.

(Updated 6/12/14 at 9 am.)

Prayer in Worship

On Monday I quoted James Jordan’s first two theses from his book Theses on Worship. This morning I wanted to bring together his two points that worship is prayer and worship does not come naturally to make some observations about prayer in public worship.

1. Prayer should dominate the public worship of God’s people.  There should be many prayers in a worship service. They need not be long, but they must be frequent.

2. During worship, God’s people should pray some prayers together. At our church we confess our sins with a corporate confession of sin that we all say. I would like to add more corporate prayers over the coming years. Anyone who doesn’t like this should stop singing songs like, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” or “Come Thou Almighty King,” which are both prayers.

3. Praying correctly and biblically is not something automatically inserted into a new believer’s brain.  Proper prayer is learned.  Prayer is primarily learned in corporate worship. Those men who wish to pray in the public worship service must be well versed in the prayers and psalms in the Bible. Their prayers must be built on the foundation of God’s Word. They would also be wise to have The Book of Common Prayer on hand, as well as Hughs Oliphant Old’s book Leading in Prayer.

4. Learning to pray requires work.