Introducing Prayer

The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 45

116. Question: Why is prayer necessary for Christians?

Answer: Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us.[1] Moreover, God will give His grace and the Holy Spirit only to those who constantly and with heartfelt longing ask Him for these gifts and thank Him for them.[2]

[1] Ps. 50:14, 15; 116:12-19; I Thess. 5:16-18. [2] Matt. 7:7, 8; Luke 11:9-13.

117. Question: What belongs to a prayer which pleases God and is heard by Him?

Answer: First, we must from the heart call upon the one true God only, who has revealed Himself in His Word, for all that He has commanded us to pray.[1] Second, we must thoroughly know our need and misery, so that we may humble ourselves before God.[2] Third, we must rest on this firm foundation that, although we do not deserve it, God will certainly hear our prayer for the sake of Christ our Lord, as He has promised us in His Word.[3]

[1] Ps. 145:18-20; John 4:22-24; Rom. 8:26, 27; James 1:5; I John 5:14, 15; Rev. 19:10. [2] II Chron. 7:14; 20:12; Ps. 2:11; 34:18; 62:8; Is. 66:2; Rev. 4. [3] Dan. 9:17-19; Matt. 7:8; John 14:13, 14; 16:23; Rom. 10:13; James 1:6.

118. Question: What has God commanded us to ask of Him?

Answer: All the things we need for body and soul,[1] as included in the prayer which Christ our Lord Himself taught us.

[1] Matt. 6:33; James 1:17.

119. Question: What is the Lord’s prayer?

Answer: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.[1]

[1] Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4.

Prayer Journal: Week 45

You shall find this to be God’s usual course: not to give his children the taste of his delights till they begin to sweat in seeking after them. (Richard Baxter)

This Week’s Scripture

  • Genesis 28:10-19
  • Psalm 139:1-24
  • Romans 8:12-25
  • Matthew 13:24-43

Adoration

Romans 8:16-17

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Victory in Jesus (verse 1)

I heard an old, old story, how a Savior came from glory,
how he gave his life on Calvary to save a wretch like me;
I heard about his groaning, of his precious blood’s atoning,
then I repented of my sins and won the victory.
O victory in Jesus, my Savior forever!
He sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood;
he loved me ere I knew him, and all my love is due him;
he plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood

(Eugene Bartlett)

Take time now to offer God your praise and worship.

Confession

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!(Psalm 139:23-24)

Thou whose mercy is without measure, whose goodness never fails, grant us the forgiveness of what is past, and a perfect repentance of all our sins; that for the time to come we may with a pure spirit do thy will, O God, walking humbly with thee and charitably with all men. In Christ we pray. Amen. (The Book of WorshipforChurch and Home)

As David did in Psalm 139, ask the Lord to search you and know you through and through. Confess the sins God brings to mind, knowing you are forgiven and that He will cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Thanksgiving

Heirs with Christ – Sons and daughters of God – Adopted into the family of God through the work of the Lord Jesus – Led by his Spirit – The reality that as we suffer with Christ we will also be glorified with him. Gracious God, this is too much to comprehend. The joy that wells up in our hearts as we consider all of this, for even a second, is beyond measure. Thank you for your goodness in not turning away from us, but bringing us to yourself, that we might not only know you but also be your children, redeemed by your love. Help us, therefore, by the power of your Spirit, to not lead lives of fear and sinfulness. Instead, enable us to live lives marked by ever-increasing righteousness, so that the world will see us and give you glory in heaven. In your most holy name we pray. Amen. (based on Romans 8:12-17)

Spend some time reflecting on the prayer of thanksgiving above and then thank God for who he is and the many ways he has poured out his goodness and grace in your life.

Supplication (Petition – prayers for yourself)

  • Help me to mature in my faith and to increasingly please God by my thoughts, words, and deeds.
  • Particular struggles in various relationships
  • My activities for this day
  • Other needs

Supplication (Intercession – prayers for others)

  • My Family
  • My local church 
  • My denomination
  • Para-church ministries, particularly Christian education and discipleship  
  • Evangelistic ministries 
  • Other needs

Faith is a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God. (John Stott)

Ten Commandments: Lesson 2, One God Only

From my new book, The Way of the Lord: A Study of the Ten Commandments. Click here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about the way of the Lord.


There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. (The Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church)

That for the sake of my very salvation I avoid and flee all idolatry, witchcraft, superstition, and prayer to saints or to other creatures. Further, that I rightly come to know the only true God, trust in Him alone, submit to Him with all humility and patience, expect all good from Him only, and love, fear, and honour Him with all my heart. In short, that I forsake all creatures rather than do the least thing against His will. (The Heidelberg Catechism)

The first commandment embraces faith, hope, and charity. When we say ‘God’ we confess a constant, unchangeable being, always the same, faithful and just, without any evil. It follows that we must necessarily accept his words and have complete faith in him and acknowledge his authority. He is almighty, merciful, and infinitely beneficent… Who could not place all hope in him? Who could not love him when contemplating the treasure of goodness and love he has poured out on us? Hence the formula God employs in the Scripture at the beginning and end of his commandments: ‘I am the LORD.’ (The Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Introduction

God begins his commands to Israel with a reminder of who he is and what he has done for them. He is not just a god who exists. He is the covenant God of Israel. He is the one who created them, called them as his people through Abraham, and promised them he would be their God and they would be his people. This covenant relationship is the defining mark of who Israel was as God’s people and it continues today for those who are in Christ Jesus. God has once again rescued us, this time from sin, death, and despair. Our covenant God has given us the supreme gift of his Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. When we trust in Christ alone, we enter a covenant in which God says he will never leave us nor forsake us but instead, will be with us forever.

God’s covenant people have been rescued, redeemed, and reconciled by God’s grace. God continues his work of reshaping us in his image as we obey the commands he has provided for our good. Thus, we must not divide our loyalty, for there is only one God worthy to be believed in, worshipped, and obeyed. This lesson will help us better understand what that means and its ramifications for our lives.


Bible Study (Each chapter in the book is followed by an in-depth Bible study)

Ten Commandments: Lesson 1, The Law of God

From my new book, The Way of the Lord: A Study of the Ten Commandments. Click here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about the way of the Lord.

God’s moral law is abundantly set forth in Scripture, the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments), other Mosaic statutes, sermons by the prophets, the teaching of Jesus, and the New Testament letters. It reflects his holy character and his purposes for created human beings. God commands the behavior that he loves to see and forbids that which offends him. (J.I. Packer)

…the Ten Commandments represent the pathway out of our own self-orientation and into a whole new orientation that puts God, ourselves, and others in their rightful places. (Timothy Tennent)

I should understand the Ten Commandments as God’s righteous rules for life in his kingdom: basic standards for loving God and my neighbor. In upholding them, I bear witness with the Church to God’s righteousness and his will for a just society. (To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism)

Introduction

Jesus commands us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This, he declares, summarizes the law and the prophets. The Apostle Paul, too, taught that obeying God’s commandments was an expression of love for God and others. In other words, Christian love has a shape to it. It is not a mere feeling. That shape is a way or pattern of life that reflects the very character of God because it comes from him and is commanded by him. Not only does the Law of God reveal God’s character to us but it is also for our good and the good of society.

In this lesson you will discover and meditate upon what the Law of God is and why we have it. God’s Law is not a list of arbitrary rules and regulations designed to oppress our freedom. Instead, these commands are life-giving because they are given by One who loves us and desires the best for us.


Bible Study (Each chapter in the book is followed by an in-depth Bible study)

Honoring the Truth

The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 43

112. Question: What is required in the ninth commandment?

Answer: I must not give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words,  not gossip or slander, nor condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and  unheard.[1] Rather, I must avoid all lying and deceit as the devil’s own works, under penalty of God’s heavy wrath.[2] In court and everywhere else, I must love the truth,[3] speak and confess it honestly, and do what I can to defend and promote my neighbor’s honor and reputation.[4]

 [1] Ps. 15; Prov. 19:5, 9; 21:28; Matt. 7:1; Luke 6:37; Rom. 1:28-32. [2] Lev. 19:11, 12; Prov. 12:22; 13:5; John 8:44; Rev. 21:8. [3] I Cor. 13:6; Eph. 4:25. [4] I Pet. 3:8, 9; 4:8.

Prayer Journal: Week 43

When our requests are such as honor God, we may ask as largely as we will. The more daring the request, the more glory accrues to God when the answer comes. (A.W. Tozer)

This Week’s Scripture

  • Genesis 24:34-67
  • Psalm 72   
  • Romans 7:15-25    
  • Matthew 11:16-30

Adoration

Psalm 72:18-19
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory!

My Hope Is Built (verse 1)
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand.

(Edward Mote)

Take time now to offer God your praise and worship.

Confession

 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:22-25a)

Blot out, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord, our past transgression; forgive our negligence and ignorance; help us to amend our mistakes and to repair our misunderstandings; and so uplift our hearts in new love and dedication, that we may be unburdened from the grief and shame of past faithlessness, and go forth to serve Thee with renewed courage and devotion; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Author unknown)


As David did in Psalm 139, ask the Lord to search you and know you through and through. Confess the sins God brings to mind, knowing you are forgiven and that He will cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Thanksgiving

God of compassion, so often I am restless, stressed, and without peace in this world. Like Martha, I often find myself worried about a great many things. Yet I know this is not your desire for me. Moreover, you have provided for me all the resources of heaven to give me far better that that. That’s why I am so grateful for the words of my Lord Jesus who told me to come to him for he will give me rest. He commands me, even today, to take his yoke and learn from him, for he is gentle and lowly in heart and in him will my soul find rest, here and for all eternity. I praise you, O God, for his easy yoke and light burden. Please teach and enable me to live in them this day and everyday throughout the rest of my life. Amen. (based on Matthew 11:28-30)


Spend some time reflecting on the prayer of thanksgiving above and then thank God for who he is and the many ways he has poured out his goodness and grace in your life.

Supplication (Petitions – prayers for yourself)

  • My personal mission field
  • Help me to identify those people who make up my personal mission field.
  • Enable me to begin sharing the gospel with those who do not yet know you.
  • Empower me to disciple those who are young in their faith.
  • Allow me to encourage those who are struggling in their faith.
  • Please give me perseverance in all areas of ministry.
  • Today’s events and interactions with others, planned and unplanned
  • Other needs

Supplication (Intercession – prayers for others)

  • My family
  • For missionaries throughout the world
  • For those seeking to faithfully minister to loved ones at home
  • For those who share the gospel in the inner city
  • For those who bear witness to Christ in places of power
  • Other needs

All men desire peace, but very few desire those things that make for peace. (Thomas A Kempis)

The Ten Commandments: Introduction

The Shape of Love

Love is love. This unhelpful tautology has seemingly won the day with Christians and non-Christians alike. It works well as a slogan but offers little substance for how God calls us to live a life of love. Instead, the Bible teaches us there is a shape to love. The love God calls us to looks like something. It has content to it. It is first and foremost received from God, then directed back to God, and then, lived out toward neighbor. It’s sacrificial, others-centered, joyful, and obedient. This life of love is the Way of the Lord, and the reason for the title of this study.

The Ten Commandments are an expression of the love Jesus commands in his summary of the Law. The great commandment is to love God with our whole being and the second commandment is like it, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But even that word from our Lord Jesus is general, and even vague. Yet he could speak in such a way because he knew he was summarizing something more detailed and specific, something his first-century audience would have understood.

In speaking of the two great commandments, Jesus was really summarizing the moral Law of God, the Ten Commandments. The first table of the law, for example, which contains the first four commandments, focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on our love for God. The second table addresses the nature of neighbor-love, which as we learn throughout Scripture, is also an expression of our love for God.

In other words, the way of loving God and neighbor looks like something specific. The commandments are not platitudes. They are concretely helpful. And the rest of Scripture is a commentary on what this love for God and neighbor looks like. The prophets, Jesus, and the apostles all shed light on the height, width, and depth of what it means to love God and others in the way God has prescribed in the Ten Commandments.

More Than Meets the Eye

By the time of the first century, many in the Jewish religious community had reduced the Ten Commandments to external rules and regulations that could be manipulated. But Jesus came along and reminded them that obedience to the Law had always involved the motives of one’s heart. It was not merely about behaving in the right way. It had always been about doing the right things, in the right way, for the right reason, with the right attitude.

Of course, a standard like that immediately leads one to self-discovery, or at least it ought to. When you come to understand, for example, that “not murdering” another person is more than not taking the life of another person, but includes not hating them or being unrighteously angry toward them, you begin to realize how far you fall short.

Furthermore, when you consider that each commandment carries with it a positive side, such as desiring that same person’s best interest and doing what you can to help them, then a legalistic framework really begins to crumble. Such a realization ought to cause us to run to the grace of God found in the work of Christ, for he was the only one who faithfully lived out a perfect life of righteousness. His sacrificial love on the Cross paid for our inability to live a life of perfect obedience to God’s Law.

Morality Revealed by God

What we learn as we study the Ten Commandments is that morality is fundamentally theological. That does not mean irreligious people cannot live moral lives, but it does mean when they do so, they are borrowing from a theistic framework. For their worldview cannot justify their way of living. There are secular forms of ethics. But those systems are usually forms of utilitarianism. They base their view of what is right and wrong on whether something works (whatever “works” means) for the common good (whatever “common good” means).

A secular ethic is not grounded in that which is immutable, transcendent, and objective. It is not a revealed ethic. It is dependent on king or crowd. What is considered normal, or even good, is determined, so to speak, in the voting booth of public agreement and alignment. Absent from such a worldview and ethic is an objective standard, revealed by an immutable and transcendent Creator, who not only created the universe, but also each and every person, in God’s own image.

Christians believe that having such an ethical standard is good, not only for individuals, but for families, communities, workplaces, societies, and ultimately, the world. A commitment to such an ethic does not mean every moral decision is clearly understood or that every command is easily interpreted and applied in every situation. But it does mean we have a firm foundation from which to start as we seek to faithfully live in this world.

Real Freedom

Contrary to popular notions, freedom does not mean being untethered to any moral restrictions in one’s life. Nor is desiring to obey God a form of legalism. Instead, we should understand that obedience to God is true love. And this kind of love produces real freedom, which is the ability to live the life for which we were created.

That is not a life of legalism or bondage. The Law of God provides freedom to become all that God created and redeemed us to be, as well as delivering us from a path of self-destruction and potentially hurting others along the way. We don’t live this way in order to earn points with God, but such a life is evidence that God is doing a great work in us. God is molding and shaping us into something we cannot possibly imagine – his grand masterpiece – the very likeness of his Son. How could such knowledge lead us to anything but joyful and grateful obedience?

The Heart

The heart is the heart of the matter. God gave us his moral law to reveal to us his character and will for our lives. God’s Law does provide structure and rails to keep us safe. God revealed this way of life for us because he has our best interest at heart. He really does want what is best for us and thus has revealed the way for us to live.

But more than that, in and through Christ, God has recreated us once again in his image. His very Spirit indwells us. God not only wants us to live this way because it is best for us. God wants our hearts. He wants us to desire to live this way because we love him, want to please and glorify him, and because we love others. He wants us to love what he loves.

It is God’s sanctifying process for helping us become like him… in what we desire, the way think, how we speak, and in the manner in which we conduct ourselves in this world. And not only is this what is best for us here and now, but God is also training us for eternity. Thanks be to God.

A Word About Each Lesson

It will not take you long to see that some of the study questions have many Bible verses to look up. You might even say an obnoxious amount of Bible verses. And that’s true. But they are there for a few important reasons.

First, they are included to show you how widely the Bible speaks on the particular commandment of each lesson. These Ten Commandments are not isolated only to Exodus and Deuteronomy. They are repeated, interpreted, and applied throughout the rest of Scripture.

Second, the verses are there to reveal that God’s commands are not to be understood and applied in a simplistic fashion. The Ten Commandments are not only prohibitions. That is, they are not only forbidding us to behave in certain ways, but they also point us to the birthplace of those behaviors. Our desire for sin festers in the human heart and sometimes finds its ways into our thought-life, as well as the words we speak and the actions we take.

Third, the variety of Scripture is there to remind you that there are positive, godly ways to live out the commands. The Ten Commandments are not merely a list of things not to do. They also guide us in a God-honoring, life-affirming, Christlike way of living in this world.

The Last Reason for All the Scripture

And that brings us to the last reason for all the verses, which is also why we have the Law in the first place. The first time I read the Sermon on the Mount, with a level of maturity and understanding, I immediately understood how far short I fell of living according to this standard that Jesus had set before me. And frankly, I was distraught. What hope did I have of faithfully and consistently living in this way, even if I tried my best every single day? And who among us does that?

But that was also a key moment in my life for understanding grace. It’s the point of the Law, at least a part of the point. We cannot perfectly live this prescribed way of the Lord. Yet it is still the standard. So, what do we do? We turn to Christ, who did perfectly live it out. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior of the world, Lord of all creation, and Light of life did perfectly fulfill all righteousness in his life, death, and resurrection.

His sacrificial and substitutionary life, death, and resurrection is what we trust in. We trust in him, not only to forgive us for our sins, but to impute his righteousness to our account. We died with Christ in his death and were raised to new life with Christ in his resurrection. And now, not only are we forgiven; not only are we new creatures in Christ; but the very Spirit who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead lives in each person who trusts in him. Therefore, Christ can live his life in and through ours.

And When We Stumble

We are not called to live the way of the Lord in our own strength. But Christ guides and empowers us through his gracious Spirit. The reason God has revealed this way to us is for us to become like Christ. It’s the path by which we are progressively molded and shaped into his likeness by the Spirit of love.

We will stumble along the way. But even the grief and conviction we experience when we fail is the gift of a loving Father disciplining those he loves. His discipline is gracious correction to get us moving along the right path once again.

My Advice for Each Lesson

Thus, my advice is to answer each question however you see fit. You can write down your reflections for each verse of Scripture. Or, you can read all the verses and write down your summary statement of what they all mean. Or, you can read half of them, a third of them, or even a fourth of them. It’s up to you. My goal is not to provide you with a legalistic framework in a study which hopes to show you why legalism is neither godly nor livable.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least encourage you to go the extra mile and try to read as many verses as you can in each lesson, and to think deeply about this way of the Lord prescribed for us. If you think about the character of God and the ways he has worked throughout redemptive history, then you recognize that even though we may not understand all the things God has included in his Word, we should realize that there are no “throw away” verses. They are all there for a reason, especially when they relate to who he his is, his way of salvation, and his path to holiness.

My Prayer

Ultimately, we are here to glorify God. We want to please our loving God so that when others see our good works, they will give praise to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). My prayer is that this study will enlighten, encourage, and equip you to know God’s will, the way of the Lord, and that by it, God’s Spirit will carry on to completion the great work he has already begun in you until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).


You can order the study, The Way of the Lord: A Study of the Ten Commandments, by clicking here.