Our Attitude in Prayer
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Psalm 2:11NKJV
This morning we look 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 this question we considered how God’s fatherly goodness ought to powerfully motivate us to draw near to God even as children to a father who loves them and always does what is best for them. In other words we looked at what is in God that should draw us to Him. Today we consider what should be in us when we go to God. That is, when we understand who God is and how much He loves us, we should be mightily affected in our hearts and minds as we approach Him in prayer.
The first attribute mentioned by the divines that our confidence of God’s fatherly goodness towards us should produce in us is reverence. The words reverence, revere, venerate and similar words all have at their root the basic meaning of fear. Now some kinds of fear, like terror, repel us from the object producing the fear. But another kind of fear actually draws us in closer to its source. Reverence is this latter kind of fear. When we have reverence for someone or something we have a kind of fear that causes us to regard the person or object being revered with a deep respect and admiration. To revere someone or something is to hold them in high esteem and to consider them as being worthy of great honor and glory. A revered person is a weighty person, an important person. We are rightly repulsed and shocked at the idea of a revered person being disrespected or disgraced. The Catechism notes that this kind of fear, this reverence that we should have towards God is one of several “other child-like dispositions” that we should seek to put on and cultivate when we approach God in prayer.
To discover some of these “other child-like dispositions” we only need to consider how especially very young children naturally regard their parents (assuming their parents are loving and not abusing or neglecting them). The little boy wants to be “just like his Dad” when he grows up. The little girl admires her mom and imitates her with her baby dolls. We all can immediately picture such examples, because we have seen them so often repeated before us. No one teaches or persuades the children to act this way towards their respective parents, it is ordinarily in them to do so. God is amazingly good and gracious to preserve such natural filial fear in sinful children for their sinful parents. Another child-like disposition in children towards their parents is trust or faith. The faith that children naturally have in their parents is amazing to consider. They instinctively know that their parents want the best for them in food, clothing, shelter, schooling, and when playing, working or sleeping. They may not like their parents’ rules but even when they try to disobey they ordinarily trust their parents almost blindly. Along with this child-like disposition is humility. Little children naturally regard their parents with profound humility. Jesus greatly exalted these child-like dispositions of faith and humility when he said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3-4).
Though these attitudes ought to be natural in us towards God, especially as we consider who God is and how He loves us, they are not. As sinners we are not in a pure natural condition but a fallen one, and the natural fallen condition is not to regard God with reverence, trust, and humility, but with hatred and contempt. Thus, the divines exhort us to seek to put on these things as we draw near to God in prayer. If we are believers we, by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, can do this by listening to and heeding the teaching of this preface to The Lord’s Prayer, as we consider what it is saying and as we diligently strive to stir up our hearts to actually believe it: that the God of the universe is “Our Father, who art in heaven.”