Wednesday, October 19, 2022

What is Prayer?

Question 98: What is prayer?
Answer: 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 acknowledgement of his mercies. (WSC)
Prayer, like the word of God and the sacraments, is an outward and ordinary means by which Christ communicates to us the benefits of his redemption. Prayer is a means ordained by God though which and in response to which he blesses his people. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). God himself exhorts and invites people to call upon him (Is. 55:6, Ps. 50:14-15). We pray as a response to his word.

Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God. We are taught to “pour out your heart before him” (Ps. 62:8). In prayer, we make our requests known to God and we make a case for them, appealing to his character and promises, describing our situation and desires. The prayers of Scripture are sometimes bare requests (e.g. Luke 18:13), while other times they include arguments, appeals, and descriptions that support their requests (e.g. Gen. 32:9-12, 2 Chron. 20:5-12, Ps. 143).

We ought to offer up desires for things agreeable to his will and not for things unlawful. Sinful desires ought to be confessed to him with sorrow (see below), while lawful desires ought to be offered to him. We should especially seek the good things God has promised, knowing that prayer is a means by which he grants them. As Thomas Watson put it, “The tree of promise will not drop its fruit unless shaken by the hand of prayer.”

Prayer is to be offered in the name of Christ. That is, we should offer our prayers through his mediation, coming to God through Christ. No sinner can have access to God without a mediator, and there is but one mediator, Jesus Christ. Through faith in him, we gain confidence to approach God for help. We ask for mercy for Christ’s sake, “not by bare mentioning of his name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 180).

And prayer does not only consist in offering up our desires, but also in confessing our sins and giving thanks for his mercies (Dan. 9:1-19, Phil. 4:6). We confess our sins and admit our guilt, express our grief and hatred of sin, and seek his forgiveness and renewing grace. We also give thanks to him and praise him for his excellencies and blessings, expressing our faith, awe, love, and hope.

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