Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
This morning we look at Westminster Larger Catechism Question 178, which asks, “What is prayer?” It gives the answer, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.”
God would have us to talk to Him. Man alone, being made in the image of God, is capable of expressing himself through the almost limitless medium of rational language. The English language comes from the Latin word lingua, “tongue,” which is where we get the word linguistics, the study of human speech. Language is how we communicate what is in our minds and hearts so that what is inside us is made known to others who cannot see inside us. With our mouths and throats we manipulate the breath God has given to us in order to produce sounds in the form of specific words that are expelled out into the atmosphere where others will hear and understand them and thereby understand us. In this way we communicate to others our desires, frustrations, joys and sorrows. We both know and are known by human speech as we speak to others and they speak to us.
Accordingly, when it comes to praying to God the truly wonderful thing is that we do not give to God any knowledge of ourselves that He does not have already. In fact God knows us better than we know ourselves for He knows us infallibly and completely. We may deceive or be wrong about ourselves. Plus, we may be truly ignorant of certain strengths or weaknesses that we have but have not yet discovered for we have not been tested in that area. In Stephen Crane’s classic, The Red Badge of Courage, the protagonist who is a green soldier in the Union army at the time of the Civil War agonizes over how he will respond under fire. Will he be a coward or a hero? Will he do his duty or abandon his post? He knows enough to know that he cannot really know what he will do until he experiences his first taste of real battle. So it is with much of life. We discover our character, our virtues and our vices when we are tested in specific areas. But God perfectly knows our characters at all times. He fully knows what we desire and what we feel before we utter a word: “You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether,” (Ps. 139:3-4). So why do we pray? And why does the Scripture at the head of this article say that by prayer we are to “let your requests be made known to God”?
I believe the simple answer is that God would have us to have a relationship with Him in accordance with the way that He has made us. Yes, God knows our desires before we express them. Yes, He knows our prayers before we utter them. But God made us to know rationally and He would have us to know Him rationally. We know objects by seeing them. We know voices by hearing them. We know different foods by tasting them. But God would have us to know Him by speech. The same way we truly know other people. Consider. We may know what other people look like, famous actors or athletes who we can recognize in an instant, but unless we have a conversation together, we do not “know” each other. We may call out the person’s name for an autograph, and they may acknowledge us and grant our request, but the entire time they will look upon us as strangers. But if we have any length of conversation with a person, then we begin to know them and they begin to know us.
And so it is with God. We have desires. In order for us to grow in a relationship with God, we must communicate (either with spoken words or silent speech) those desires to God, the same way we would to another human who we wanted to know us. But how can we do this to a God whom we cannot see or hear and to One against whom we stand condemned for our sins? The Catechism answers, “with the help of His Spirit.” For by God’s Spirit we acknowledge our sins & we thankfully trust in His saving mercy. And as we do this, then and only then can we express our desires to God in a way that we can have a relationship with Him: knowing Him and being known by Him (as we experience it) through the medium of prayer. May God grant us the help of His Spirit to pray daily to Him.