Here it is: the final set of questions and answers from my year-long attempt to offer reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism in honor of its 450th anniversary. They deal with the closing section of the Lord’s Prayer, and are especially relevant in the wake of a Christmas season that often generates misplaced desires and longings about what we think we ‘need’. By way of contrast, here are the things for which our Lord instructed us to ask.
LORD’S DAY 52
Q. 127. What is the sixth petition?
A. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” That is: since we are so weak that we cannot stand by ourselves for one moment, and besides, since our sworn enemies, the devil, the world, and our own sin, ceaselessly assail us, be pleased to preserve and strengthen us through the power of thy Holy Spirit so that we may stand firm against them, and not be defeated in this spiritual warfare, until at last we obtain complete victory.
Q. 128. How do you close this prayer?
A. “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.” That is: we ask all this of thee because, as our King, thou art willing and able to give us all that is good since thou hast power over all things, and that by this not we ourselves by thy holy name may be glorified forever.
Q. 129. What is the meaning of the little word “Amen”?
A. Amen means: this shall truly and certainly be. For my prayer is much more certainly heard by God than I am persuaded in my heart that I desire such things from him.
Jesus’ model prayer concludes somewhat in the fashion that it began: by acknowledging God’s glory, authority, provision, and power. The prayer began by expressing a desire to see God’s name glorified, the arrival of his kingdom, and the accomplishment of his will. Then, after seeking his providential provision and gracious forgiveness, we seek his protection and again acknowledge his glorious and eternal reign.
“Lead us not into temptation”, we pray, which does not imply that God also leads us into temptation. We do that ourselves. “Let no one say when he is tempted. ‘I am being tempted by God’, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:13-15)
We are to pray that the Lord will lead us away from the temptations and sinful desires that wrack us and sap our strength, for “we are so weak that we cannot stand by ourselves for a moment”. We are besieged by our “sworn enemies, the devil, the world, and our own sin”. And so we pray that the Lord would protect us, preserving us through “the power of thy Holy Spirit” until Christ’s return, when we are fully conformed to his image (Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 3:4).
Our prayers are offered to the King, because he is both “willing and able to give us all that is good” because he has “power over all things”. Through our petitions themselves and the subsequent fulfillment of those petitions, God is glorified. We pray to the King because he is the only one able to address our needs, and we pray to the King because he is willing to address our needs in the way that only a perfect and loving heavenly Father can.
[As to why Protestants say the “longer version” of the Lord’s Prayer–which includes this clause and is found in the KJV but not other modern translations–a helpful discussion is found here.]
I’ve always found it instructive and interesting that the catechism provides a distinct question and answer for “the little word ‘Amen'”, which we typically append to all of our prayers without giving it much thought. For most people it isn’t really anything other than a spiritual punctuation mark; as if your prayer wasn’t concluded till you said it. But there’s more going on than just that.
The word is a transliteration of the Greek word amein, which is itself a transliteration of a Hebrew declarative doxology stemming from the verb amn, which can mean “to believe, have trust in, be convinced that”. It literally means something like the catechism says: “this shall truly and certainly be”.
To use it to conclude our prayers, then, means that we are declaring our certainty in the fact that God not only hears our prayers, but is willing and able to answer them. It is a solemn attestation in the authority, benevolence, and mercy of the King to whom we offer our prayers. It does not mean that everything for which we pray will inevitably be answered just because we prayed them or simply because we used this doxological formula, but it does mean that God is who he says he is and can do what he says he can do.
So concludes the catechism. It offers a place of prominence to prayer by placing it last, and leaves us with a discussion of “the chief part of the gratitude which God requires of us” (Q. 116). The larger scheme and trajectory of guilt, grace, and gratitude through which the catechism expounds the basic elements of the Christian faith ends with this wonderfully sublime yet majestic declaration of praise where we add our voices to the chorus of the ages in confessing, “this shall truly and certainly be”.