Conversing with God in Prayer —
Finding little of meaningful conservative Presbyterian history on this day, December 11, we turn to the magnificent question and answer of Shorter Catechism 98 as it deals with prayer. It reads: “What is prayer? A. 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 sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.”
It is interesting to this writer that the Larger Catechism on the same theme has the unique phrase “by the help of his Spirit” which is not found in the Shorter Catechism. The latter catechism has the solo phrase “for things agreeable to his will” which is not found in the Larger Catechism. Both are biblical, of course, and we will treat both in this devotional.
Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God. The Psalmist exhorts in Psalm 62:8 to “pour out your heart before him.” (ESV) As both His creatures and His children, we are dependent upon Him for everything. So He invites us to offer us our desires unto both our Creator and Redeemer.
Yet we must be careful in that those desires are to be for things which are “only agreeable to His will.” It isn’t praying for anything our spirit wants. It is praying for things which conform to His Holy Word and submit to His will. Moses in Deuteronomy 29:29 specifically told us that “the secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (ESV)
Obviously, we need “the help of the Spirit” in these desires. Paul in Romans 8 tells us in verse 26, 27, that “we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts know what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (ESV) There will be no effective prayer without the Spirit coming alongside of us to aid us in this privilege.
And yes, it must be in “the name of Christ.” This may be the bare mentioning of His name during and at the end of prayer. But primarily it speaks of drawing our strength from the intercessory work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. It was Jesus Himself who put Himself down as an advocate when in John 16:23, he said “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”
Next, “confessing of our sins” must always be a part of our prayers. Why? Because as the Psalmist said again, “if I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18 ESV) We must confess, or as the original says, “say the same things as” the Lord who convicts us of general and particular sins. Then, we can claim the promise of 1 John 1:9 that “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Last, thanksgiving or a “thankful acknowledgement of his mercies,” or offering our gratitude for all His answers to our prayers, is in order. “In everything give thanks,” Paul commands His people in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
We haven’t placed down prayer on these devotionals, believing simply that this was a “given” anytime we sit down to reflect on His providence in days gone by as well as the present. But we need to be men and women of prayer, as we see the day of His coming approaching.
Words to live by: There are countless books on the subject of prayer. We could spent out entire spiritual life reading them. What is important however is that we simply learn by praying. We can be in the spirit of prayer. We can pray generally. We can pray specifically. We can pray with ourselves or with others. But above all, be men and women of prayer.
Through the Scriptures: Hebrews 1 – 4
Through the Standards: The importance of assemblies
“For the better government, and further edification of the Church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called Synods or Councils; and it belongs to the overseers and other rulers of the particular churches, by virtue of their office, and the power which Christ has given them for edification and not for destruction, to appoint such assemblies; and to convene together in them, as often as they shall judge it expedience for the good of the church.”