Archive for February, 2014

Lord’s Day 45: The Most Important Part

Catechism and Psalter

Today in URC Psalmody’s series we enter the last section of the Heidelberg Catechism, which provides a comprehensive devotional model based on the Lord’s Prayer.  Lord’s Day 45 begins by explaining why Christians are called to pray—and more than that, why they need to pray.

116 Q.  Why do Christians need to pray?

A.  Because prayer is the most important part
of the thankfulness God requires of us.
And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit
only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly,
asking God for these gifts
and thanking him for them.

117 Q.  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.

118 Q.  What did God command us to pray for?

A.  Everything we need, spiritually and physically,
as embraced in the prayer
Christ our Lord himself taught us.

119 Q.  What is this prayer?

A.  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 evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory, forever.
Amen.

Suggested Songs

299, “O Lord, Thou Art My God and King” (Psalm 145)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and Grace URC in Dunnville, ON)

“Prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.”  From beginning to end, the Scriptures are replete with commands and encouragements for us to call on the name of the Lord.  “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22, ESV).  “Pray to your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6).  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).  Psalm 145, a lofty song of praise, resounds with the greatness of God and the wondrous privilege of calling on him in prayer.  Below are selected stanzas from the Psalter Hymnal’s versification:

O Lord, Thou art my God and King,
And I will ever bless Thy Name;
I will extol Thee every day,
And evermore Thy praise proclaim.

The Lord is greatly to be praised,
His greatness is beyond our thought;
From age to age the sons of men
Shall tell the wonders God has wrought.

Upon Thy glorious majesty
And wondrous works my mind shall dwell;
Thy deeds shall fill the world with awe,
And of Thy greatness I will tell.

Thy matchless goodness and Thy grace
Thy people shall commemorate,
And all Thy truth and righteousness
My joyful song shall celebrate.

The Lord our God is rich in grace,
Most tender and compassionate;
His anger is most slow to rise,
His lovingkindness is most great.

43, “Unto Thee, O Lord Jehovah” (Psalm 25)

“We must pray from the heart to no other than the one true God.”  Psalm 25 exalts the Lord as our only strength and refuge:

Unto Thee, O Lord Jehovah,
Do I lift my waiting soul.
O my God, in Thee I trusted;
Let no shame now o’er me roll.
On my enemy be shame,
Oft without a cause transgressing,
But all those who trust Thy Name
Honor with abundant blessing.

Yea, the secret of Jehovah
Is with those who fear His Name;
With His friends in tender mercy
He His covenant will maintain.
With a confidence complete,
Toward the Lord mine eyes are turning;
From the net He’ll pluck my feet;
He will not despise my yearning.

50, “O Lord, to Thee I Cry” (Psalm 28)

“We must acknowledge our need and misery, hiding nothing, and humble ourselves in his majestic presence.”  In addition to exalting the Lord, prayer also serves to remind us of how small and weak we are before him.  Yet even in the depths of despair we can cry out to God and know that our prayers are heard, as the author of Psalm 28 realized:

O Lord, to Thee I cry;
Thou art my rock and trust;
O be not silent, lest I die
And slumber in the dust.

O hear me when in prayer
Thy favor I entreat;
Hear, while I lift imploring hands
Before Thy mercy-seat.

119, “O All Ye Peoples, Bless Our God” (Psalm 66)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and West Sayville URC on Long Island, New York)

“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.”  Psalm 66 proclaims the comforting truth that not only does God hear our prayers, he answers them by working out his all-wise purposes for our lives.

O all ye peoples, bless our God,
Aloud proclaim His praise,
Who safely holds our souls in life,
And stedfast makes our ways.
Thou, Lord, hast proved and tested us,
As silver tried by fire;
Thy hand has made our burden great
And thwarted our desire.

Come, ye that fear the Lord, and hear
What He has done for me;
My cry for help is turned to praise,
For He has set me free.
If in my heart I sin regard,
My prayer He will not hear;
But truly God has heard my voice,
My prayer has reached His ear.

117, “Before Thee, Lord, a People Waits” (Psalm 65)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

What can we glean from this Lord’s Day’s study of prayer, the “most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us”?  In short, we serve a faithful God who will provide “everything we need, spiritually and physically.”  This is cause for humility, but it is also a cause for joy.  Psalm 65 expresses it well:

Before Thee, Lord, a people waits
To praise Thy Name in Zion’s gates,
To Thee shall vows be paid;
Thou Hearer of the suppliant’s prayer,
To Thee in need shall all repair
To seek Thy gracious aid.

How great my trespasses appear;
But Thou from guilt my soul wilt clear,
And my transgressions hide.
How blest Thy chosen, who by grace
Are brought within Thy dwelling-place
That they may there abide.

On Thy sustaining arm depend,
To earth and sea’s remotest end,
All men in every age;
Thy strength establishes the hills,
Thy word the roaring billows stills,
And calms the peoples’ rage.

–MRK

Lord’s Day 44: Only a Small Beginning

Catechism and Psalter

The Heidelberg Catechism expounds upon the Ten Commandments uniquely by demonstrating how they encompass every area of moral living.  Even the tenth commandment, which we’ll study today, relates to the whole law by stating “that not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in my heart.”  Such an interpretation is devastating because it condemns every one of us.  But Lord’s Day 44 digs deeper than the mere prohibition of this commandment by asking and answering a difficult question: Why do the Ten Commandments still matter if we can’t obey them perfectly?  As always, the answer points to the glory of our gracious God.

113 Q.  What is God’s will for us in the tenth commandment?

A.  That not even the slightest thought or desire
contrary to any one of God’s commandments
should ever arise in my heart.

Rather, with all my heart
I should always hate sin
and take pleasure in whatever is right.

114 Q.  But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?

A.  No.
In this life even the holiest
have only a small beginning of this obedience.

Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose,
they do begin to live
according to all, not only some,
of God’s commandments.

115 Q.  No one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly: why then does God want them preached so pointedly?

A.  First, so that the longer we live
the more we may come to know our sinfulness
and the more eagerly look to Christ
for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.

Second, so that,
while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit,
we may never stop striving
to be renewed more and more after God’s image,
until after this lie we reach our goal:
perfection.

Suggested Songs

237, “How Shall the Young Direct Their Way” (Psalm 119)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON, and by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“Not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in my heart.”  Like the apostle Paul, we realize that the law condemns us without exception.  “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Romans 7:18 ESV).  But like Paul, we as Christians also “delight in the law of God” in our inner being (v. 23), and attest that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12 ESV).  We gladly echo the words of the psalmist in Psalm 119:9-16, as versified in the blue Psalter Hymnal:

O blessed Lord, teach me Thy law,
Thy righteous judgments I declare;
Thy testimonies make me glad,
For they are wealth beyond compare.
Upon Thy precepts and Thy ways
My heart will meditate with awe;
Thy Word shall be my chief delight,
And I will not forget Thy law.

248, “How I Love Thy Law, O Lord” (Psalm 119)

“With all my heart I should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.”  Psalm 119:97-104 expresses the joy of those who make God’s law their delight:

While my heart Thy Word obeys,
I am kept from evil ways;
From Thy law, with Thee to guide,
I have never turned aside.
Sweeter are Thy words to me
Than all other good can be;
Safe I walk, Thy truth my light,
Hating falsehood, loving right.

152, “Remember Not, O God” (Psalm 79)

(Sung by Trinity URC in St. Catharines, ON, and by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience.”  Let’s be honest: the Catechism’s analysis of the Ten Commandments can be profoundly disturbing.  Can anyone fulfill the expectations of God’s law?  Even as we understand that we are saved by grace, not by works, what kind of obedience does Christ expect of us?

Thankfully, the answer the Catechism provides rests in God, not in us.  The Ten Commandments, it says, are to be preached so pointedly “so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.”  And, as the end of Psalm 79 reminds us, God will not remember those sins against us.

Remember not, O God,
The sins of long ago;
In tender mercy visit us,
Distressed and humbled low.

O Lord, our Savior, help,
And glorify Thy Name;
Deliver us from all our sins
And take away our shame.

Then, safe within Thy fold,
We will exalt Thy Name;
Our thankful hearts with songs of joy
Thy goodness will proclaim.

272, “Out of the Depths of Sadness” (Psalm 130)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON)

The Ten Commandments bring us face-to-face with the spiritual battle each of us must fight.  Our sinful natures have been conquered, but they have not yet been annihilated.  The Christian life is a constant struggle against vicious enemies on every side, including our own fallen flesh.  But we serve a gracious Savior who “will redeem Israel from all his iniquities,” as Psalm 130 teaches.  “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:56, 57).

Out of the depths of sadness,
O LORD, I cried to Thee;
Thou who canst fill with gladness,
Lend now Thine ear to me.
O Fount of consolation,
Attend unto my cry,
Hear Thou my supplication
And to my help draw nigh.

If Thou shouldst mark transgression,
O Lord, who then could stand?
For evil and oppression
Are found on every hand.
But Thou dost pardon fully
All our iniquity,
That we may serve Thee truly
And fear Thy majesty.

I wait for God to hide me;
My soul, with longing stirred,
Shall hope, whate’er betide me,
In His unfailing word.
My soul waits for Jehovah
With more intense desire
Than watchers for the morning
To dawn of day aspire.

Hope in the Lord, O nation!
For with Him there is grace
And plenteous salvation
For all who seek His face.
He shall redeem His people,
His chosen Israel,
From all their sin and evil,
And all their gloom dispel.

–MRK


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