by Pastor Mark
One of my favorite Christian documents to read (outside the Bible of course), is the Heidelberg Catechism. It was published in 1563 and is contemporary with another great Protestant catechism (it was Luther, by the way, who put out the first catechism–a Protestant), the Westminster. I enjoy reading both (along with Luther’s), but the Heidelberg is by far my favorite (Founders Ministries has a “baptized” version now–even better!) While it has much of the same content as the Westminster, it has a different concern. The Heidelberg, while doctrinally rigorous and thoroughly orthodox, is designed with a great devotional quality.
For example, the first question is “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” With the answer being:
“That I am not my own,
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.”
While it addresses the same concerns as the Westminster, it approaches the same ideas from a different angle. One might say that it is filled not only with orthodoxy (straight glory–aka right teaching), but also Doxology (a word of glory-”worship”) in which the student is focused not only on the doctrine but is brought into a sense of awe and thankfulness to God.
It is this kind of response that the Heidelberg drew out of me last Thursday night at my home Bible study. We’re at the end of the third and final section of the catechism (the life of gratitude) dealing with prayer. I was barely able to maintain my composure as I taught this lesson as I was so awestruck with the goodness of God. It is these thoughts I wish to convey in this post.
Question 116 asks us: “Why do Christians need to pray?” The first part of the answer is “Because prayer is the most important part of th thankfulness God requires of us”. Up until this point, we had been going through why the Christian needs to be obedient and what that looks like (vis a vis the 10 Commandments) to show our gratitude for the great gift that we have been given. I initially did not agree with the statement in my preparation, until I thought through Romans 1 where an indictment is laid on the human race because we refused to acknowledge or give thanks to our creator but gave it to that which was created instead. It struck me, that in prayer, we not only show our thanksgiving–we say our thanksgiving. How many of you feel a gift is unappreciated if they use it and do nice things for, but never say “thank you”. Exactly! It is in this, that our ultimate demonstration of thankfulness to God for His goodness is shown–we express our thanks with words.
Now, that is just the beginning. Let’s take a look at a couple of scriptures that the Heidelberg references. We have Psalm 50:14-15 and Psalm 116:12-19. The latter we say about every other communion service at our church, and I hadn’t noticed the implication (all references taken from the ESV–verse numberings removed for readability).
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.
What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!
Take notice what has been emphasized. Psalm 50 is a command to offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and to perform your vows, and Psalm 116 is has to do with what shall we (I) render to the Lord for all of his benefits toward us (me).
It hit me like a lead brick that a major aspect of our expressing gratitude has not only to do with saying thank you, but asking the Lord to show you more benefits. The Psalmist says, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord (OT Speak for saying to God–HELP!) and again says (from God’s point of view), and call upon me in the day of trouble. If we are grateful to God for His goodness, of course we mush say and show our thankfulness, but equally so, we express it by asking Him to continue to take care of us! To ask him for His care is no burden to God, but a delight for Him! Peter exhorts his readers to “cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you.” God cares for His children and it is of great glory to Him when we show that our confidence is in Him and not in ourselves. I remember many years ago I ran into some trouble and tried to get myself out of it (college student credit cards). When my mother found out, she was not mad at me for getting into trouble, she was hurt that I didn’t ask her for help. As Jim Eliff says, “God delights to vindicate the confidences of His children”.
There is no shame in having to ask God for help. In fact, to not ask for help is to deny God the thanks that is due to Him. It’s not a trouble to Him nor does it weary Him. In fact, we do a great honor to Him when we set out to show that we depend upon Him and Him alone. It’s not that this was new to me, it’s that I believe I had forgotten that truth and put it on the back-burner in favor of other things. I was delighted to be reminded of this and pray that I (and our church), will keep this ever before us.
I close the story of George Meuller. Mr. Meuller was famous for the orphanages he had set up. Children were taken care of and the gospel was preached to them. He was equally famous for his way of financially supporting the ministry–the only person he ever once asked for help from was God. It was through prayer that He set out to see that this orphanage would succeed. D.L. Moody once inquired of Mueller how he raised all the money and talked about his own endeavors and ingenious ways of raising the funds for supporting his minsitry. Mueller responded by simply saying, I pray.
However, as Jim Eliff points out, he did not start an orphanage simply for the purpose of starting an orphanage. He wanted to start it in order to demonstrate the sufficiency of God and that our confidence need only be in Him. You see, he wanted to show the world that Yahweh indeed God. And looking back, we see that God did demonstrate himself.
I leave with this challenge, when things come our way, whether they be calamities, challenges or new opportunities, let us be sure that we thank God for his goodness to us, by saying it, living well, and also by making prayer our first resort, not the “if all else fails” fallback we often treat it as. Remember, “cast your cares upon Him, for he cares for you.”
Pastor Mark Bahr
Good Shepherd Community Church
July 27, 2009