Q. 117. How does God want us to pray so that he will listen to us?
A First, we must pray from the heart to no other than the one true God, who has revealed himself in his Word, asking for everything he has commanded us to ask for. Second, we must acknowledge our need and misery, hiding nothing, and humble ourselves in his majestic presence. Third, we must rest on this unshakable foundation: even though we do not deserve it, God will surely listen to our prayer because of Christ our Lord. That is what he promised us in his Word.
I have often heard it said, “There is no right or wrong way to pray.” I understand the intent behind such a statement, namely to encourage everyone to move beyond the external formulas of language, style and posture, but the authors of the Catechism understood a deep truth that though the external formulae of prayer didn’t matter, the internal content and posture of the heart does. God wants to hear prayers and answer prayers that meet certain criteria. First, they must be directed to God Almighty, the God of Scripture for he alone created and saves. Read Isaiah 45:18-25.
Read 1John 5:14-15. In addition to knowing whom we pray unto, we must pray for those things within the will of God. How exactly do we come to know the will of God? We learn his will through the study of the Scriptures and listening prayer. Some things are clearly declared in the Word. God desires to save people. The Lord desires to conform us to the image of Christ, to root out sin and grow the fruit of the Spirit. It is never wrong to pray these prayers and God is delighted to answer them. But how often are our prayers filled with such requests? When we start praying for the physical needs we have, we step into a grey area of what God’s will is for each of us. Though we are urged to pray for our physical needs by Christ himself, these prayers we must offer us with great discernment and wisdom.
The Beatitudes declare that those who mourn will be blessed. But what kind of mourning is encouraged? Read Psalm 51:17 and Isaiah 57:15. God desires to dwell with and listen to those who are broken, who understand their sinfulness and utter need for a savior. When we humble ourselves, declaring our true stature before God, he is faithful and will hear, listen, forgive and birth a new life and joy within us. Pray to God in honesty about your great needs and great sins, he alone can set you free.
Read 2Chronicles 7:11-16. God instructs Solomon in the way he will deal with the covenant people in the future. When they sin, first they recognize it and acknowledge it before the Lord and then God can save them. Confession precedes restoration for the covenant people. The concept is not hard to grasp, we teach it to our children as they grow. When you hurt someone, you apologize by admitting the fault and asking for his or her pardon. God is instructing Solomon in the same course of action with the divine-human relationship. Our prayer life must be permeated by confession as well, which will lead to the Lord hearing our requests. Read James 5:13-16.
Read Daniel 9:4-19. In this prayer we find a wonderful example of the points taught by the catechism. First the prayer is directed to God, second it is in God’s desire to redeem his people and be worshipped, third it declares the sin of the individual and the nation and finally it rests on faith in God’s mercy. This final aspect of prayer is imperative. As individuals, we do not deserve anything on our own merits, but strictly because of God’s mercy, shown to Christians in Christ. Christ alone is acceptable to God and we are clothed in his righteousness. It is Jesus whom God listens to. Let us always present our prayers in his name at his feet to sift and sort the good and the bad, trusting that Christ alone can make proper sense of our needs, wants and desires.
We have a Father who wants to be found and wants to relate to us. Let us earnestly believe and put our faith into practice. This is the promise of the gospel that if we seek God he will hear. Read Galatians 4:6 and Hebrews 11:6 and Romans 8:26-28.