Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The God Who Hears Us
Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, Ephesians 3:20NKJV
This morning we continue to study Westminster Larger Catechism Question 196, which asks, “What doth the conclusion of the Lord’s prayer teach us?” The third part of the answer states: “The conclusion of the Lord’s prayer (which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen,) teaches us… with our prayers to join praises, ascribing to God alone eternal sovereignty, omnipotency, and glorious excellency; in regard whereof, as he is able and willing to help us, so we by faith are emboldened to plead with him that he would, and quietly to rely upon him, that he will fulfil our requests.
How important it is that when we come to God in prayer, we come believing that He is able and willing to help us. Though sometimes this confidence in prayer is wrongly distorted by advocates of the Prosperity Gospel or the Word of Faith movement where believers are taught to “Name it and claim it,” yet the fact is we should pray with expectant faith. Otherwise, we ask God for things while we doubt whether He will grant them to us. John Calvin had much to say about how insulting it is to the Father when His children ask Him for things even as they do not think He will give to them: “It is not easy to say how much God is irritated by our distrust, when we ask what we expect not of his goodness.” Thus he counsels, “We should be animated to pray with the sure hope of succeeding…” In fact, according to Calvin, “Those who approach God with a doubting, hesitating mind, without feeling assured whether they are to be heard or not, gain nothing by their prayers.”
You may be surprised to see one of our Reformed fathers speak so boldly on prayer. And indeed Calvin received some criticism of his bold view of prayer. Undaunted, the Genevan preacher responded that expectant faith is what distinguishes the prayers of believers from the prayers of unbelievers. Thus, Calvin said of his opponents: “When we say that believers ought to feel firmly assured, they think we are saying the absurdist thing in the world. But if they had any experience in true prayer, they would assuredly understand that God cannot be duly invoked without this firm sense of the Divine benevolence… God can only be invoked by such as have obtained a knowledge of his mercy from the Gospel, & feel firmly assured that that mercy is ready to be bestowed upon them.” The believer who has experienced God’s mercy in true prayer knows that His Father desires to grant His pious requests.
The last part of Calvin’s quote speaks to our section of the Catechism’s answer. Because of God’s sovereignty, power and excellency we, by faith, are emboldened to plead with Him to fulfill our requests. That is, as we really believe and are persuaded that God is eternally and fully sovereign; that He has always and will always completely rule over everything that ever was, is, or will be; we are strengthened in our faith that He is free to do what we ask. Likewise, as we really believe and are persuaded that God is omnipotent; that He has all power to do whatever He desires; we are strengthened in our faith that He is able to do what we ask. And finally, as we really believe and are fully persuaded of God’s glorious excellency; that He is upright and good and cares for us; we are strengthened in our faith that He is willing to do what we ask.
The problem is that while we can easily intellectually affirm God’s eternal sovereignty, omnipotence, and glorious excellency, we are so weak of faith that we can hardly believe it to any benefit in our prayers. But once our Spirit-enabled praise has raised up our faith to the point where we are persuaded that God is able and willing to help us, we will boldly plead with God that He would, and then and only then are we able to quietly rest and rely upon Him that He will fulfill our requests. I’ll let Calvin have the last word: “Hence the whole Church thus prays, ‘Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee’ (Ps. 33:22). Prayers are vainly poured out into the air unless accompanied with faith, in which, as from a watch-tower, we may quietly wait for God.” May God grant us expectant faith in our prayers!