Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Corporate Prayer is an Affirmation of the Church
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another… James 5:16aNKJV
This morning we look again at Westminster Larger Catechism Question 189, which asks, “What doth the preface of the Lord’s prayer teach us?” It gives the answer, “The preface of the Lord’s prayer (contained in these words, Our Father, which art in heaven,) teacheth us, when we pray, to draw near to God with confidence of his fatherly goodness, and our interest therein; with reverence, and all other child-like dispositions, heavenly affections, and due apprehensions of his sovereign power, majesty, and gracious condescension: as also, to pray with and for others.”
Last time we looked at how we should comprehend and be conscious of God’s majesty and God’s gracious condescension as we approach Him in prayer. We really need to be thinking of both if our hearts are to rightly come into His presence as we lay before Him our petitions. That is, that our God is majestic in His being and all of His attributes. He is high and lofty in the royalty of His holiness, infinitely above the greatest person who has ever lived. His glory shines so bright that it would blind us instantly if He were to manifest a small portion of it to us even for a moment. Our God transcends all categories and all degrees of greatness and magnificence. Yet at the same time, this infinitely glorious and awesome God graciously condescends to receive the prayers of the lowliest sinner, if only he would humble himself and come to Him by the blood of Christ, trusting in Jesus alone for his audience before God. This is what the preface to the Lord’s Prayer teaches us about the God to whom we pray.
But there is one final thing the divines note about this preface that would be easy to miss for it is found in the use of one word: our. When the disciples asked, and when Jesus taught them to pray by giving them The Lord’s Prayer, He did not begin the prayer by saying, “Now when you pray, say ‘My Father who art in Heaven,’” which He would have done if prayer was to mostly be an individual exercise. But instead He began the model prayer with the word “our.” Jesus taught them, and therefore us to pray by saying, “When you pray, say: ‘Our Father who art in heaven…’” (Luke 11:2). In any language we can only rightly say “Our Father” when we are speaking as group of at least two people before God.
This instruction through the use of the single word “our” was intentional by Jesus for two reasons. First because when Jesus prayed He used the phrase “My Father.” In fact, in the New Testament, Jesus uses the phrase “My Father” to speak of or to pray to God over fifty times! But Jesus never taught once that the individual Christian is to say to God “my Father.” This is because Jesus has a unique relationship to God the Father that we do not. Jesus is God’s Son by nature. He is the monogenes – the only-begotten Son of the Father. As embodied in the Nicene Creed, Jesus is of “one substance with the Father.” The Father did not make the Son. The Son always was even as the Father always was. Yet the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, as His “exact representation” (Hebrews 1:3 NAS) of Himself. His glory is the Father’s glory. His wisdom is the Father’s wisdom. His might is the Father’s might. He is “very God of very God.” In this sense Jesus can say “My Father” and we cannot!
Yet the second reason Christ instructs us to pray “our Father” is because God desires us to pray with and for other Christians. Christ died so that God could become our Father. God adopts the Christian in Christ, making him who was a child of the devil a child of God. This act of adoption occurs the moment a person truly believes in Christ with real faith and repentance from his sins. God really is the Father of the Christian now and forevermore. But Christ died to make many people children of God and like a family being saved from a great calamity, our Father in heaven wants us to think of His other children and to assist them as we all are being saved. For we are all brothers, we Christians. We are family—we are His Church. And we are in this vale of tears where there is sin, Satan, the world and our own flesh to oppose us. We have God’s presence and God’s Spirit to aid us, but this aid is given in the form of fruits and gifts meant to edify the whole church and build up one another. Therefore, when we pray, we should as much as we can do so with other believers, and we should always pray for other believers. For we are in this together and God would help us and see us helped together. So let us be zealous to ask Him to do so, and He will be more ready to hear us and to help us.