Q: What is prayer?
A: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.
Psalm 10:17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear.
The catechism is setting us up here for it’s section on the Lord’s Prayer. We see hints of the Lord’s prayer in how this answer is structured. “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will” is pointing towards the phrase, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”. “With confession of our sins” reflects the portion of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. “Thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” points towards the section, “Give us this day our daily bread”. And in the coming weeks, we will explore in depth the Lord’s Prayer, all of its major sections (which the catechism breaks down by discussing four major requests in the prayer), and see how the prayer is both a model for us to use and is, indeed, a prayer in and of itself that we should make use of regularly.
But prayer is more than what the catechism lays out here, and I’d like to expand a bit upon this catechism by looking at two aspects of prayer not addressed in the catechism, at least directly. Because I think that too often we view prayer as a duty and a spiritual discipline. It is both of those things, but it’s a duty and a discipline given to us graciously for our own growth and good, and for God’s glory.
First, prayer is a means of grace. We already talked about how the means of grace are given to God’s people for their discipleship and nourishment. As a means of grace, prayer is vitally important to the life of a child of God. It is equally important, in fact, as the Word read and preached and the administration of the sacraments. God works through prayer to shape and mold our desires and feed our faith. As a means of grace, prayer is one of the ways that Christ himself communicates the benefits of our redemption!
Secondly, prayer is a privilege. Do we think about prayer in this way? As the book of Hebrews declares, we have a great high priest through whom we have been given access to the throne of God. There is one mediator between God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we go to God the Father in the name of the Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are entering into the Holy of Holies itself and able to come before the maker of all things to lay our cares, our concerns, our desires, our hopes before him. And, remarkably, God hears us. The Holy God hears us, cares for us, and will be faithful to answer us. How can we not see prayer as a privilege? Imagine how special you would feel if the president of the United States invited you into his personal living quarters to talk to him? Here is the God of all creation saying, “Come my child, speak to me. I will listen, and I will answer”.
Lastly, something the catechism does mention, is that prayer is something we do in the name of Christ. We come to God the Father, the God of all creation, through God the Son. There is no other name by which we can come. Why are we not consumed by the holiness of God when we come into the presence of the Father in prayer? No reason, other than we are coming in the name of our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who has made satisfaction for all our sins and who has clothed us in his robes of righteousness. When Christ died on the cross, you will remember the curtain in the temple which divided the outer court from the inner "Holy of Holies" was torn from top to bottom. This symbolized the reality that now, through Jesus Christ, all of God's people (not just Israel's high priest) could come into the very presence of the holy God himself and not be consumed, because we have one mediator between God and man-the Lord Jesus Christ.
If prayer is all these things (and more!), then why are we so lazy with it? Why is it so hard for us? May God give us the grace daily to pray without ceasing, to make full use of this means of grace for our good and for his glory.