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Perspectives Journal
4500 60th St. SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49512
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December 2012: Not My Own: Reflections on the Heidelberg

Ending and Beginning

by John Hulst

Question 129: What does that little word "Amen" express?

Answer: "Amen" means, This is sure to be! It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer, than that I really desire what I pray for.

Many years ago, when I was serving a congregation in northwest Iowa, the pastor of the local Assembly of God church would often attend the afternoon service—the larger of our two services. During the sermon he would call out, "Amen!" This proved to be uncomfortable for some of the members. I believe the reason we were uncomfortable with his saying "Amen" was not just because of our Dutch reticence, but also because we didn't think about what "Amen" means.

In 2 Corinthians 1:18–22 we learn from Paul that Christ is the "Amen," Christ is the "Yes." Will the Word of God stand? Will the promises of God be fulfilled? Christ is the answer, God's "Amen." That's what "Amen" means. It means "Yes! It is so! This is sure to be." Christ is the confirmation, the fulfillment, the guarantee of the Word of God.

But to what does the "Amen" in the catechism refer? It follows the instruction Christ gave in the Lord's Prayer. Often we make a distinction between the prayer's first three and last three petitions—the first having to do with God and his praise, the last having to do with us and our needs. Actually, all of the petitions are about God and all of them are about us. First, we ask God to use us in bringing praise to his name, advancing the cause of his kingdom, and accomplishing his purpose; and then we ask God to supply our physical needs, graciously forgive our sins, and preserve us in his grace so that we are able to praise him. When we say "Amen" we indicate that we are sure God will listen to our prayer and grant us what we ask.

I particularly appreciate the final question of the catechism at the end of an old year, the beginning of a new. When I was a boy I thought "Amen" meant the end—the end of the long congregational prayer or the even longer sermon. I would ask my dad, "When is the preacher going to say, 'Amen'?" But "Amen" is not simply the end. It does mean that at the end of the year we can look back with gratitude and say, "God has been with us and blessed us." But it also means that at the beginning of the coming year we can count on God, knowing that his Word is sure and nothing can separate us from his love.

So it's fitting that the catechism concludes with the statement, "This is sure to be! It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer, than that I really desire what I pray for." That's something to celebrate and something to which all God's people can say "Amen."

John Hulst is president emeritus of Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. He now resides in Pella, Iowa.