Before getting into this post, I feel the need to offer a brief mea culpa. I’ve attempted to be diligent with my reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism in honor of its 450th anniversary–and I think I’ve done a decent job of providing regular posts throughout the year. (The frequency has been decent, I leave an assessment of the quality of those posts up to you…)
But, as my last post explains, it’s been a busy month or so with accepting a new call, moving, and trying to get settled in to a new place of ministry. So I’ve gotten a bit behind. I thought about playing catch-up and offering some reflections on the weeks that I missed, but decided against it. I may come back and pick those up some time in the future.
That means you won’t find any posts on the majority of the section which expounds upon the Ten Commandments–but don’t read this as though I was disinclined to those sections or think them less valuable. In fact, I’ve written on the normative use of the Law and how the catechism handles this issue a few places, and the questions themselves are pretty clear and straight forward.
All of that is to say that I’m going to try to get back on pace and jump forward to where I should be at this time: the section of the catechism that begins to expound upon the Lord’s Prayer. So without further ado, here it is:
LORD’S DAY 45
Q. 116. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
A. Because it is the chief part of the gratitude which God requires of us, and because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who sincerely beseech him in prayer without ceasing, and who thank him for these gifts.
Q. 117. What is contained in a prayer which pleases God and is heard by him?
A. First, that we sincerely call upon the one true God, who has revealed himself to us in his Word, for all that he has commanded us to ask of him. Then, that we thoroughly acknowledge our need and evil condition so that we may humble ourselves in the presence of his majesty. Third, that we rest assured that, in spite of our unworthiness, he will certainly hear our prayers for the sake of Christ our Lord, as he has promised us in his Word.
Q. 118. What has God commanded us to ask of him?
A. All things that are necessary for soul and body which Christ the Lord has included in the prayer which he himself taught us.
Q. 119. What is the Lord’s Prayer?
A. “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 evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.”
Calvin called prayer the “chief exercise” of the Christian faith, and the catechism expands on that idea by saying that it is “the chief part of the gratitude which God requires of us”, which brings up two interesting and important ideas. First, that prayer is an expression of gratitude, and not merely an opportunity to set forth our requests before God. Not only should we be grateful that we can offer prayers to the living Lord, but the very offering of those prayers is also an expression of that gratitude.
The second thing that always struck me is that this gratitude is required. This may seem to cut against the character of gratitude (i.e. is it really an expression of gratitude if it is an obligatory expression?), but fits with the biblical portrait of discipleship (i.e. in response to God’s grace we live and love as he has called us to live and love).
Prayer, therefore, is necessary both because we are called to do it and because we need it. It is the right response of a grateful heart and it is the means by which we commune with God. It is an act of discipleship and it is an act of worship. It is a time to praise God for who he is as he is revealed in his Word, and it is a time to confess our unworthiness before him. It is a time to seek his mercy and it is a time to know that, in Christ, we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
The familiar acronym ACTS (Adoration Confession Thanksgiving Supplication) is a not unhelpful reminder of the components of prayer that the catechism also expounds. Prayer is not just about presenting to God a list of our (often shallow) wants, but about seeking his face and delighting in our utter dependency upon him. We are to pray for the everyday and the mundane (“our daily bread”) as well as the extraordinary and the miraculous.
Like many Reformed confessions and catechisms, this one then moves into a more detailed exposition of the Lord’s Prayer. Along with the Ten Commandments and Apostles’ Creed, this prayer has long been considered one of the things that Christians should know intimately in form and content–which is why we’ll take some time to reflect upon its various components in coming posts.