‘Jesus and Prayer’
Rogate | 29 May 2011
It is good that this Sunday, the fifth Sunday after Easter, is set apart for us to consider prayer, and we will consider the theme of prayer under three topics: the command to pray, the promise of prayer, and the privilege of prayer.
First, the command. Prayer is not optional, God commands it. In fact, prayer is what the Second Commandment is getting at: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use Satanic arts, lie or deceive by His name, but call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.
There is something really wonderful here. The Ten Commandments are there, among other things, to give shape to our Christian life. Now imagine I asked you to describe the Christian life, what it looks like. I suspect we might say the Christian loves their neighbor, cares for their family, goes to church. All true, but the very first characteristic the the law gives after faith in God (the First Commandment) is prayer (the Second Commandment). Prayer is the most fundamental acts of the Christian. It is, as one theologian explained it, the breath of faith. If you are alive then you are breathing; if you have faith, then you pray. If you are a Christian (and here is the simple guys of the command) you should pray.
There are also promises that go with prayer, promises that the Lord will hear our prayer and answer our prayer. Here are the two most famous verses regarding this, which are good for us to memorize and write on our heart:
Psalm 50:15 and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
It might seem, at times, like our prayers are not heard, like they get no farther than the ceiling and then are batted down by the demons. Or that even if our prayers make it through, they don’t matter; God doesn’t pay attention. Walking by faith, and not by sight, we trust the Lord’s Word; He hears and answers our prayers.
Our confidence here brings us to the third point, the privilege of prayer. This is what Jesus is teaching His disciples and us in the appointed text from John 16. To get us started thinking about this text I’m going to suggest to you that in one way we think wrongly about prayer, and it is this: we think that prayer is simple for God and complicated for us.
There’s a lot for us to do when it comes to prayer. We have to find the time, set the priority, sort out the words, fight against the devil and our lazy sinful flesh that don’t want us to pray. We’ve got to get our devotion books out, remember the list of people who requested our prayers, find a comfortable and yet humble posture, try to concentrate and keep our mind from wandering, and who knows how many other things; all God has to do is listen.
I think that’s how we think of pray, if we stop to think about it. We’re the active ones, God is passive. We do the work, God listens.
Now it could be that we really don’t think about prayer that much, and really I think that quite wonderful. When I’ve preached about prayer before so of you have said, “Pastor, that all seems so complicated. I just talk to Jesus and tell Him what I need.” That’s really wonderful, and I’m not trying to make things more complicated than they need to be. It’s true that prayer is very simple for us, it’s not this big complicated ordeal. We, like children, ask our dear Father for the things that we need.
But prayer is a quite complicated thing for God. We think that prayer is complicated for us but simple for God, but the opposite is true. If we can speak like this, prayer is simple for us but complicated for God. Prayer involves a lot more for God than just sitting in heaven and listening, in fact, there are a lot of things that have to happen before God can hear us, before He can answer our prayers.
Let’s get at it this way, I’ll ask you a question: Does God hear the prayers of unbelievers? We know that God hears everything. He heard the cat scratching at the back door this morning. But are the prayers of the unbelievers prayers? We all seen the dramatic scenes in the movies of someone looking up to heaven saying something like, “If you’re up there, I could use some help about now.” Is that a prayer? Or what about the prayers that are being offered down the street at the synagogue or the mosque? Prayers?
Here’s the question and answer from the explanation of the catechism: “196. Whose prayers are acceptable to God? Only those who believe in Jesus Christ may pray to God and expect to be heard.” The texts provided are John 14:13-14 and John 15:7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Isaiah gives the warning, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:15)
The prayer of the unbeliever is not a prayer at all. God doesn’t hear it. And this, right away, lets us know that there is something more to prayer than a human talking and God listening.
This is what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel text, how prayer works, not from our perspective, but from God’s. How it is that our prayers get from our unholy lips to the holy ears of God?
John 16:23-28 [Jesus says,] “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. 25I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
Jesus makes prayer possible. Remember how we said last week that when Jesus says “going to the Father” He is indicating the cross, the empty tomb, the clouds on the Mount of Olives. It is by His incarnation and life and death and resurrection and ascension He makes our prayers possible. (This does not mean that people in the Old Testament could not pray. They, like us, had the promise of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and they believed it, and they were holy, and they could pray.)
When Jesus us to prayer “Our Father,” we realize that He has to do something to actually make God our Father, and that means dying in our place on the cross, suffering the wrath and forsakenness of God, being the propitiation of God’s wrath, the appeasement of His justice, and then sending to us the Holy Spirit by the preaching of the apostles so that this forgiveness would be ours. Jesus establishes His Church and institutes His baptism to put His name on us and wash away our sins and adopt us into His family. His family, where He is our Brother and God is our Father!
We were born children of the devil, slaves in the kingdom of darkness, children of wrath, but we have been rescued, purchased with the blood of the holy Lamb of God, redeemed by His death, transferred from the kingdom of darkness into His light. Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God, and we are! Holy, because we are forgiven. Righteous, because we are declared righteous. God children, because we are baptized.
And as His children, God our Father has given us the wonderful and undeserved gift and privilege of asking Him for all the things that we need. Jesus has won for us the gift of prayer. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO