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Why do We End Prayer with Amen

Last week, we talked about how we end our prayers. The focus is on our attitude when we pray. Are we praying in a spirit of humility and thankfulness, or are we treating prayer like it is the money we put in the vending machine? Like if we do the right amount in just the right way, we will get what we want. These are obviously not the only two options, but they are kind of the opposite ends of the spectrum. As we have talked over the last several weeks about prayer, from the content to our attitude toward prayer, one thing that I have been reflecting on is the internal contradiction we all have with prayer. On the one hand, many of us have, at some point, prayed what I would call rote prayers. This could be the whole prayer or simply parts of the prayer. The idea here is that we do something simply because it is what we learned or because we do not know what else to say. An excellent example of this would be my children's prayers before we eat. Usually, two or more of my children will pray a short prayer as we come to the table, and it typically consists of "Thank you God for the food, amen." Not a bad prayer, but it can become something we say just because we think we should say it. On the other hand, we have an often deep discomfort with prayer. We know that we should pray, but we struggle with all the aspects of prayer. We struggle with the what, how, when, and why to pray. As we talk today about how we are taught to conclude our prayer, my hope is that you will obtain some measure of comfort in your prayers.

Question #129

The final question of the Heidelberg Catechism is a fitting one. It asks simply, "What does the word Amen mean?" It answers

Amen means: It is true and certain. For God has much more certainly heard my prayer than I feel in my heart that I desire this of Him.[1]

The answer goes beyond simply giving the meaning of the word, but why we use it. To start with, the word amen is a Greek word that is often translated as true or truly. For example, in John's gospel account, you will repeatedly find statements such as in John 3:5: "Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." This is why the catechism simply states that the word means it is true. When Jesus uses the word in his teaching, he is saying that the statement is trustworthy. It is similar to Paul's statement to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:15. Out of the 129 uses of the word throughout scripture, 99 of them are translated truly or something similar. When we pray and finish our prayer with the word amen, we are not simply using a closing word, but we are making an affirmation about our prayer.

Trusting the lord

One thing that has been clear as we have gone through the Lord's prayer has been our dependence on God. This is true not only of the content of the prayer but of the prayer itself. There is nothing about our prayer in and of itself that makes it worthy of God. There is nothing about us that makes our prayer meaningful to God. Yet, in spite of our unworthiness, the Lord commands us to come to him, and he will listen. His hearing our prayer is a promise that he has made, and his promises are sure. The catechism points this out in somewhat clunky language. To rephrase the last sentence, it says, I can be more confident that God hears my prayers than I can be of my own desire for these things to happen. As we mentioned in the opening, we have this fear of prayer. We feel like we do not do it right. The catechism addresses this fear by pointing out that prayer ultimately depends on God and not on us. Praise the Lord for that. In a sense, when we pray and close our prayer with amen, we are praying the prayer of the man who said, I believe, help my unbelief. Prayer is an act of belief, and yet, we are often doubtful in our prayers. We can trust that the Lord, who has never failed to cause the sun to rise and for the grass to grow, will not fail to hear your prayers.

Closing out the Catechism

As we close out this overview of the Lord's prayer, I want to address one final point. That is the different ways that the Lord hears our prayers. On the one hand, we have hearing in the sense of awareness. The Lord is all-knowing and knows what you need even before you ask. He hears your prayer and is aware of your needs and desires. On the other hand, there is hearing in the sense of acting. Oftentimes, we will start to think that the Lord has not heard our prayers because they have not been answered the way we wanted them to. Perhaps you have prayed for a loved one to be healed from a sickness, and they were not healed. We need to understand that the Lord will always do what is best. Sometimes, we disagree with what is best for use. We do not have to look very far for examples of this. And yet, I have said and heard many others say that they are immensely thankful that God answered no to a prayer. Surely, the Lord who created the earth and all that is in it knows what is best for his creation. When we come to the Lord, let us remember our limited nature. Let us remember that the Lord is good and gracious to his people. Let us remember that he will do what is most wise. Most of all, he is working out all things for his own glory and the good of those who have been called according to his purpose. So pray. Pray without ceasing, knowing that the Lord hears all your prayers and will do what is right.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Is. 65:24; II Cor. 1:20; II Tim. 2:13.

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