It never fails. In every class I’ve taught on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, someone will ask the question: “How is this practical? How does this apply to my life?” This question is usually asked around the time we get to the doctrine of the Trinity, though some resolute souls will hold out until we’ve reached God’s decrees or the Hypostatic Union.
In all honesty, it’s a good question! It’s one that we should be asking every time we think about God’s Word, and it’s one that is implied in the Bible itself. For example, consider the prologue to the Ten Commandments:
“And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.'” Exodus 20:1-2
Usually, when we teach the Decalogue, we forget about this portion – and that to our detriment! The prologue is all-important for the people of God; it gives the theological basis for the commandments. The Westminster Divines understood this, as questions 43 and 44 of the Shorter Catechism take up this section of Exodus.
Q43. What is the preface to the Ten Commandments?
A. The preface to the Ten Commandments is in these words, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Q44. What doth the preface to the Ten Commandments teach us?
A. The preface to the Ten Commandments teacheth us, that because God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments.
In other words, without this theological foundation, the building that is our practice (in this instance, obedience to the moral law) is on shaky ground. Our theology – what we believe concerning God, ourselves, etc. – affects every aspect of our lives. We live according to what we believe. Thus, it’s important that our practice is founded on solid Christian doctrine, on God’s revealed truth. Dr. Lloyd-Jones writes:
“If we go astray in our doctrine, eventually our life will go astray as well. You cannot separate what a man believes from what he is. For this reason doctrine is vitally important. Certain people say ignorantly, ‘I do not believe in doctrine; I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; I am saved, I am a Christian, and nothing else matters.’ To speak in that way is to court disaster, and for this reason, the New Testament itself warns us against this very danger. We are to guard ourselves against being ‘tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine’ [Eph. 4:14], for if your doctrine goes astray your life will soon suffer as well.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose: An Exposition of Ephesians 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 118)
The Apostle Paul certainly knew this to be the case; for the most part, his epistles can be divided into exposition of doctrine followed by teaching on practice. I recently preached through Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians; one could almost feel the connections begin to be made when we moved from the doctrine section to the practice section. For example, why does the church seek unity among its members? Not because it’s a nice idea, or we’re sweet people. No, we seek to live in community, “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-3) because we are united to Christ, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility”(Eph. 2:14), so that now we are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19).
Doctrine matters. And even what seems to be the most “impractical” of doctrines is a truth which we live. Over the next several weeks, I hope to show you that the doctrines we believe as Christians are not simply nebulous ideas for seminary students to argue about between classes. I have chosen to limit myself to discussing how doctrine applies to prayer, and that for a very practical reason – if I were to show you how doctrine applies to every possible practice, I would die from old age long before I reached the end!
My hope is that, in considering the application of these doctrines to the discipline of prayer, not only will you be more informed about God’s truth, but your prayer practice will find new life as you begin to pray according to the Scriptural rule.
May God bless our endeavors, for His glory and our greater joy in Him!