Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
My Attitude in Prayer
Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few.
This morning we look at Westminster Larger Catechism Question 185, which asks, “How are we to pray?” It gives the answer, “We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God, and deep sense of our own unworthiness, necessities, and sins; with penitent, thankful, and enlarged hearts; with understanding, faith, sincerity, fervency, love, and perseverance, waiting upon him, with humble submission to his will.”
As we saw last time, what we are to pray for is closely related to how we are to pray. That is because our attitude and desires are necessarily closely related. The humble person is not likely to go to God asking for an abundance of material goods. Likewise, the proud person will probably spend little time seeking God’s forgiveness of his many sins. Seeing that we can and should ask God for anything that is truly for our good and His glory, what should be our attitude when we pray to Him?
The Scripture at the head of this article gets at one of the most important aspects of the right attitude we should have when we pray. That is what the Catechism calls “an awful apprehension of the majesty of God.” As we saw last time, God is our Father. God loves us. God has come near to us in the person of His Son, and He draws us near to Himself. Theologians call this the immanence of God. God is near, very near, for He dwells in the heart of every believer by His Spirit. Without the immanence of God we could not hope to exist in His presence. We could not hope to be heard and answered by Him. We rely on the immanence of God when we pray. However, we must not forget or neglect the other aspect of God’s presence which is called the transcendence of God. The transcendence of God refers to His being infinitely above and beyond us. Apart from a conscious awareness of God’s transcendence we would not approach God as God! Yes, He is our Father and He loves us. We are like Him, and in the person of His Son He has become like us. But He is also the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God! There is a sense in which we can never be like Him. We can never be as He is: uncreated, independent, and incomprehensible. He is infinitely beyond anything else that ever was or ever will be. And we must keep in mind who we are praying to when we pray: the most perfect and most holy being that could ever be.
Likewise, we must keep in mind who we are. Not only are we infinitely beneath and below this God: finite, dependent, limited, and contingent, but we are sinners. We are entirely dependent upon God’s grace and mercy for our existence and for our salvation and acceptance before Him. Therefore our attitude should be one of adoration and praise, reverence and repentance. The Catechism mentions penitent, thankful, and enlarged hearts. Penitence is sorrow for sin. The more we understand our sinfulness the more thankful we will be to God for His mercies. Similarly, “enlarged hearts” refers to sincere longing for God’s grace and mercy. We ought to come to God in prayer because we want to be near Him. We want to experience His goodness, especially the benefits of salvation purchased for us by Christ. Thus, all of the expressions from understanding through perseverance describe what an enlarged heart looks like. If I truly desire God and His benefits I will be striving to know more of them, trusting more in Him, growing in sincerity of conversation to Him, loving Him more, wrestling more and more fervently in my prayers to be like Him.
Finally, my attitude in prayer should be that of a servant. I should pray to God to wait upon Him, not to seek for Him to wait upon me. This is probably the hardest thing for us as modern day Christians. We are good at feeling entitled. We are quick to assert our rights and seek for our honor. However, the truly mature Christian is more interested in seeing God honored. His primary goal in prayer is not to see his own will be done but He longs to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven and his desire is that God would privilege him to be part of it. May this be the focus more and more of your prayers, to God’s glory and your everlasting good!