And this is what I preached to the saints in Wheatland this past Sunday:
Today’s theme is prayer. Jesus encourages and commands us to pray, and attaches promises to prayer. Over the years a lot of myths have grown up about prayer, a lot of false thoughts have crept in, and so it’s good to review each year what prayer is and isn’t. It’s also a chance to remind ourselves what a great gift prayer is, and encourage each other to a more active prayer life, in honor and praise of God, and for the good of our neighbor.
So let’s dive into the text, and see what Jesus says here, and what God teaches throughout the scriptures about this thing called prayer. First, we are told by Jesus that we can go to the Father with our prayers. Jesus is the one intermediary between God the Father and man. But Jesus work of mediation is finished. He paid the debt we owe. Jesus has reconciled us. He still intercedes for us – but now he does so as one who has completed the work and paid the debt. This means now we are able to go to the Father directly. We know this because Jesus says so. When we ask in Jesus name, we don’t need him to go for us to ask. We ask directly because of the love of the Father. Through Baptism, God the Father places his name on us. We were his enemies, now we are his children. And so the church rejects all attempts to add middle-men to the process of prayer, as if we need some big name to ask on our behalf. Jesus says, “the Father himself loves you”. Some churches disbelieve Jesus word here. But Jesus says the very reason for our access to the Father is “Because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” If we truly believe Jesus is who he says he is, then we must believe him when he says “because of my work, you have direct access to the Father in your prayers”.
And of course we all know the prayer Jesus gives us as the model of prayer. The Lord’s prayer is prayed directly to “Our Father, who art in heaven.” So, we have the direct word of Jesus about how we can approach the Father, and we have Jesus example in teaching us the Lord’s Prayer. The testimony of Holy Scripture is clear. Let no one lead us astray on this point: Our Father in heaven desires that we come to him directly, him alone, with our prayers and supplications.
This makes all true prayer Trinitarian. We approach the Father, because of Jesus work as the only-begotten Son and in his name, and our prayer is heard when we pray in faith – a gift given by the Holy Spirit, and not our work or decision. Prayer prayed according to faith in the Trinity – the same Holy Trinity into which we are Baptized – is the only true prayer. But it is true prayer.
We have the command and example of Jesus regarding prayer. The command and example are certainly enough. But there is another reason to pray. But God attaches a promise and blessing to prayer. He promises to hear our prayers, and to answer them for our good. Prayers prayed to our heavenly Father in Jesus name are not worthless or a waste of time. Scripture tells us the prayer of the righteous man is effective. It isn’t that our praying has power or our prayers have power in general. It is not as if our act of speaking to the aether as some mystic incantation moves the universe in a certain way. Rather, we pray to the creator of all things. God the Father has power, and he has promised to hear and answer our payers for Jesus sake. Our Father – the one we pray to – is what gives our prayers their power and their effectiveness.
If a small child asks his teddy bear for dinner, it doesn’t do much. But asking mother or father for food is effective. Mother and Father have the power and duty to feed their hungry child. So if we pray to various idols that can not hear, we do nothing but offer prayers to demons. Prayers offered to our father in heaven are effective, because we pray to one who has the power to help, and has promised to do so.
Today the world mocks prayer. When tragedy strikes, and people say their thoughts and prayers go with the afflicted, the world makes fun of such gestures. Thoughts don’t do much unless action is behind them. But prayers are an action. When we pray to God the Father in faith, he loves us and promises to hear our prayers. We need only consider how important it was to the world that the church stop praying in the recent pandemic, and how many other godless activities were allowed to continue, to understand how critical and how beneficial our prayers are. Since then, people praying silently and quietly for others in public have been arrested. Satan and the world want to stop our prayers, to make us afraid to pray, or to get us to discount the importance of prayer. But like an army that sees an opposing force massing for attack, we can see what is happening, and we know that if prayer is where Satan and the world are focusing their attacks, it is because everything scripture teaches about prayer, everything Jesus promises us about prayer, is true. And we must redouble our efforts to be faithful in our prayers.
This is difficult for us. The world and Satan try to distract us from prayer. Our flesh is weak and often forgets to pray, or is tired, or runs out of time. This is why it is important for us to plan ahead – set aside time for prayer. In the Small Catechism, Luther outlines a basic pattern of private prayer, in addition to the weekly pattern of churchly prayer in the Divine Service. Luther offers simple prayers when we wake and when we go to sleep, and also when we take a break from our work during the day for our meals. This gives even the busiest among us 5 built in chances to pray each day. In addition to the prayer for morning and evening, and the prayer at mealtime, we can add whatever we have heard throughout the day that requires extra prayer – a sick friend or relative, perhaps a co-worker with a difficult situation, a family member who is having a rough time or facing a big decision. Jesus already tells us that our prayers do not need to be long to be heard and answered by our heavenly Father. If you can think of nothing else to say, pray the Lord’s prayer for their situation, thinking during each petition how God can help them in their need. Or if there need is specific, pray for them using whichever petition of the Lord’s Prayer applies to them. There are prayers for various occasions in the hymnal. If nothing else seems to work, just lay out honestly before God what is wrong and in need of his aid – this person is distressed, or sick, or out of work, or whatever. God knows how best to solve the problem.
We must remember, all of this flows from the love the Father has for us. Like an earthly parent, he wants to hear from his children how things are going, what needs you have, and what he can do to help. This love is shown by our Father first and foremost in sending his Son to bear the penalty for your sins on the cross, so you would be reconciled to Him and no longer a stranger or enemy to God. He is the one who brought you into his family as a beloved child. In Jesus, and because we believe that he is the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father, we can pray to the Father because of the love he has for us, as Jesus says in our Gospel. By faith, we are given all that Jesus earned for us on the cross and all that he won for us in his resurrection. And perhaps the most underrated is the ability to go to him in prayer at any time for any need.
This is the promise and gift of salvation given through Jesus Christ. Salvation from sin death and devil opens to us the promise that our prayers are heard and answered by our heavenly Father. Jesus promises that, although we have trouble in this world he has overcome the world. He overcame the world by the word of his testimony and the blood he shed for you on the cross. Jesus also reminds us that when he leaves, he is going to the Father – which we heard last week when we heard the ascension. Jesus has returned to the Father, and he now reigns above all powers and principalities. He has taken away the sting of death and the power of the devil. This means nothing can harm us. It also means there is no crisis – no matter what Satan says about this or that problem. Jesus reigns at the right hand of the Father, and promises we can go to the Father with anything that troubles us. The problem – whatever it is – has already been taken care of. The troubles we have in this world already have an outlet – we can go to our heavenly Father. And they will be brought to an end, in God’s good time and according to his gracious will. That doesn’t mean life in this world will be all butterflies and flowery fields. This world is passing away – it is a world of sin and decay. This is why we need the strength God promises in his Holy Word and Blessed Sacraments to make it through this world. But he also gives us the ability to come to him in prayer for every need. And according to his gracious will, which is always bent toward our repentance and salvation, not necessarily our comfort and convenience, our Father will deliver us from all evil, as he has promised. Sometimes that may mean a time of discomfort in this world to return us to him. Just as a parent must in love discipline a child, so our heavenly Father promises to discipline those whom he loves. But even then, he hears our prayers, he wipes away our tears, and he and all the angels in heaven rejoice at a sinner who repents.
And remember, when our Lord Jesus returns all the sadness of this world will be undone in the joy of the resurrection. All of the accumulated pains will go away, all of the troubles will not even be remembered – if they are, it will be like a dream that has ended and soon forgotten in the bright sun of a new day. This is our hope and our comfort. In this world, our prayer is that we would remain steadfast in him all the days of our life, that God would gently return us when we wander, and bring us at our end from this veil of tears to himself in heaven. And finally, the prayer of the church is always, “Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly, and take us to be with you.”
And so we pray, “Grant this Lord unto us all.” In Jesus name.