Today is Mother’s day to the world. A great gift God has given to be sure. But in the church, today is Rogate Sunday. It means prayer Sunday. Later we will combine the two and pray for mothers and families. For now, let’s look at this thing called prayer.
Mocked by the unbeliever. And Satan always has the upper hand in convincing you it does no good. If you pray for something and it happens – would have happened anyway. If not – God wasn’t listening, prayer is useless. But what is prayer?
You often hear of the power of prayer. Prayer has no power!!! Nowhere does God’s word say that prayer has power. We are told that the prayer of a righteous man is effective, and Jesus tells us in our Gospel reading that the Father will answer our prayer, but prayer has no power in and of itself. If it did, then praying to idols and false Gods would be as effective as praying to our loving heavenly Father. The prayer of a righteous man is effective because your Father has promised to hear your prayer. It is Our Father that has power, not the prayer itself. A request, a prayer is only as effective as the one you are praying to.
To Whom do we pray?
Jesus gives us the answer – Our father. Pray directly to One God, the father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. Just so there are no questions about who that is – Jesus tells us he is “Our Father, who art in heaven” There is no need for us to pray to anyone else. There is no need for us to pray to saints, either in heaven or earth, whether Peter or Paul or even the Blessed Mother of our Lord. These are all fine examples to us of faith, and they have been gifts which God has given the church. But no where are we even told by God that the saints hear our prayers, and God is not more impressed with our prayers because we know their name. There can be no better name than Christ himself, and there can be no better prayer than directly to the one who sent him- our heavenly Father. Jesus tells us this himself, “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you.” If you want a mediator, there is one mediator between God and man – the man Jesus Christ. He himself tells us that because of his work, and because we believe on his name for our salvation, we can pray to the Father directly. You have been joined to Jesus through Baptism, and so your sin is taken away and His righteousness is given to you, and your prayer is seen as his prayer. So we cry out, “Abba, Father” Our Father who art in heaven.
We are not good enough to go to our own heavenly Father. We need Christ’s work for us. And if Jesus work wasn’t good enough to get us access to our heavenly Father, then what good was that work, and what promise do we have that God is not still angry with us for our sin? If he is still angry over sin, what good was Christ’s sacrifice on the cross? But Christ is raised from the dead, and now our Father sees only our righteousness through Christ, and he hears our prayer.
But why pray to him?
First – because he commands it. That should be reason enough. In many religions they pray only for this reason, to satisfy the command of their god, because he is angry with them if they don’t. If our Loving heavenly Father, the one true God, who created haven and earth, wants us to pray to him, then so be it. He has done so much for us already, the command itself should be enough reason. Just like it would be enough reason to baptize if it were just because of a command, or it would be enough to hear absolution because of God’s command, or it would be enough to celebrate the Lord’s Supper because of God’s command. But in all of these there is more than command. We have God’s promise. The promise of the Spirit given in Baptism, of the Absolution as forgiving sins, the Lord’s Supper as the medicine of immortality, and when we pray, He has promised that he will hear us, and that our prayer is effective. We have been given an audience with the king of kings, and been told to ask anything we wish.
What do we pray for :
Everything we need – what do we need? New transmission for the car, and that raise at work, and maybe some free time to spend with the kids, and a way to stretch that last paycheck, in this economy some job security would be nice…etc. we have been given an audience with the great king of kings, he has said ask whatever you need of me, and we ask for a bowl of cold mush or a loaf of stale bread. All of the amazing riches at God’s disposal and we ask for such silly and paltry things. How horribly we misunderstand the gifts God gives us. He has given us the richness and beauty of his only Son for our salvation, he has given us a way of escaping death, hell, and the devil. What do we pray for, everything we need – what do we need? forgiveness from our sins, an increase of faith, deliverance from temptation, help in the face of suffering and in the face of the crosses which God sends us. Be careful praying for a stronger faith. There is only one way to get a stronger faith – it’s not some magic gift that comes in the mail, or descends on you one day. An increased faith comes because we have nothing left to hold onto. As you stand at the rim of the Grand canyon with a rope in your hand, it does no good to say “I believe this rope can hold me. There is no faith there. But as you hang over the rim of the Grand canyon, with only that thin rope between you and three thousand foot drop into the gorge below, you grab hold of that rope with your whole life. We pray our heavenly Father that he would increase our faith, and then we complain when he sends us the suffering that makes us rely more and more on him. Do not pray for something unless you really want to get it. You only get increased patience by having your patience tested. You only increase in love by being given the opportunity to love those who are unlovable. You only get increased faith by being shown that against the attacks of Satan and the world, you have only your Loving heavenly Father to rely on, and you have only our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to cling to.
So how should we pray?
Jesus himself has answered that question for us. “Our Father, who art in heaven…” We are to pray to our loving heavenly Father, and we are to pray for those things of which we have need. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus shows us in a very simple way those things we need the most. we ask that we would be given the strength to keep our Father’s name holy. That God would grant us grace that his kingdom would come among us, that we would be given the strength to do his will, on earth as it is in heaven. We pray that God would provide for all that we need to support this body and life. We ask that we would be forgiven our sins, saved from temptation, and delivered from the clutches of Satan. There can be no righteous prayer that is not already contained in this prayer. And so this prayer becomes the prayer of prayers, the highest prayer, the prayer our Lord himself has taught us.
But there are other prayers. We pray on our own, “with groanings that words can not express” This does not mean some sort of Pentecostal gibberish ramblings, but that we pray with yearning hearts, that when our hearts are so overwhelmed with grief and sorrow, that we can not even find the words to pray, when we are at our lowest, and we fold our hands, and bow our heads, and no words come to mind, and we can not even form a prayer, then The Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and Our loving heavenly Father knows what is on our hearts and minds. And the words do not even need to be there.
And at times like that, when everything is so very wrong, in those times we bring our prayers to the church. A loved one who is ill, a family member who has departed in peace, a country, or even a synod at war. Whatever is on our hearts, and whatever grieves us, we bring together as God’s holy church. If the prayer of a righteous man is effective in the sight of God, how much more so the prayer of the Whole church of Christ. If one righteous person is heard, how much more so will we be heard when two or three are gathered together, with God in our midst? We pray together and for each other, not because our prayer is effective in itself, but because our loving heavenly Father has promised to hear our prayer for Jesus sake. Prayer doesn’t depend on us any more than Baptism does. Of our own power, we can offer nothing of value to God. But he has promised to hear us. Just as he has promised to forgive us in baptism, to feed us with his Supper, and to be with us always.
We pray to a loving heavenly Father, not because we have to, but because we can. Not because we are good, but because he is. Not because our prayer has any power, but because the one to whom we are praying is all powerful. We pray in his name, and as he has taught us.