The Lord your God has commanded you to pray, and He has promised to hear you. He has also taught you how to pray, and what to pray, so that you may approach Him and call upon His Name with all boldness and confidence. And it is meet and right that you should do so, because your need for Him is great: He is your life and salvation, your help and hope at all times, in all places.
Pray to Him in faith, according to His Word, that is to say, in the way that He has taught you, and in the confidence of His promises. Because He has so tenderly invited you to do so, look to Him as your own dear Father in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son. And rely upon Him for all good things, for all that you need in body and soul, trusting in His mercy, His grace, and His forgiveness.
This way of prayer is the way of true wisdom: in the fear, love, and trust of the Holy Triune God. It is your acceptable and pleasing sacrifice, and your sweet-smelling incense, in the presence of the Lord your God. And it begins, not with your speaking, but with your listening to His Word.
You know how and what to speak, both to and about God — you know how and what to confess and to pray — first of all, by hearing what God the Lord says to you, and then by speaking, to and about Him, as He has spoken.
“Righteousness looks down from the sky,” and then, “faithfulness springs up from the ground.”
God speaks His justifying Word of the Gospel to you, and then, by faith, you pray to Him as He has spoken. For His Word does not return to Him empty or unfruitful, but, as the Lord gives the seed, the sunshine and rain from heaven, and thus brings forth a bounteous crop from the earth, so does He raise you up, a new creation, and open your mouth and your lips to show forth His praise.
It is from a heart of faith in Christ Jesus that you pray: The Son of David, who is the incarnate Son of God, the true King of Wisdom and of Peace, He is the One by whom you pray and are heard. He is God’s Word to you — the Word of the Father, in the flesh of His Son — who has become your sure and certain Word of Prayer to God.
For this Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished and fulfilled the good and gracious will of God for you and your salvation. He has overcome death and the grave, and He has defeated the devil, by atoning for all your sins with His holy and precious blood, with His own sacrificial death. In His Resurrection from the dead, and in His preaching of the Gospel of His Cross, He has brought and established the Kingdom of God in His Church on earth. And in your Holy Baptism, He has not only made you a free citizen of that fair and glorious Kingdom, but He has made you a member of the household and family of God, a dear child of His Father, by naming you with His Name.
All of this, for which you pray, He has done for you by His Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection, and He now gives to you by His Ministry of the Gospel, by His preaching and His Sacraments.
Thus, He teaches you to pray, first and foremost, for the Gospel; which He delights to give you, and to do for you, by His grace. He teaches you to pray for what He is already doing and giving!
The Gospel of Christ Jesus is the most important “daily bread,” without which you have no life. Therefore, He teaches you to pray, that you would learn to know your need for it, and that you would look to Him alone to save you, and that you would receive the Gospel with thanksgiving. He does not force it upon you, but He desires you to have it from Him, so that you may live.
Worldly riches, earthly power, human fame, and temporal success: all are attractive and enticing, but all of these are empty of real life, and altogether unable to save you. To be sure, they are gifts of God, to be received and used with thanksgiving, and sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. But everything depends upon His Word and Spirit, lest His good gifts become your deadly idols.
It is rather with the Gospel that the Lord your God gives you every good and perfect gift, and all that you need, already here in time, and the more so for your body and soul hereafter in eternity. With the Gospel, God Himself is yours, by His grace; and His Kingdom and His Righteousness are yours through His forgiveness of all your sins. Purchased and won for you, and for all, by the giving of the Son of God, even unto death upon the Cross, and by the raising of Christ Jesus from the dead, who ever lives to make intercession for you before the throne of His God and Father.
Everything depends upon the forgiveness of sins. For all that you deserve is only punishment, now and forever. But the Gospel is entirely by the grace and mercies of God in Christ, by the divine and perfect charity of the Father in His Son. For His sake, He forgives you all your sins. In Him, the Father speaks peace to His people. And with that grace, He freely gives you all good things. For it is in Christ Jesus, by your Baptism into Him, that God the Father is your God and Father.
He is your true Father, and you are His own dear child. But He is not your Father only. He is the Father of all who are baptized into Christ Jesus, the beloved Son. He is the God and Father of all who belong to Christ by His grace, through faith in Him.
Therefore, as often as you pray, you do so in the fellowship of the whole Christian Church, both with and for your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. You pray to one and the same God and Father of all Christians everywhere, in the holy Name with which each and all of you are named.
And all those many brothers and sisters of Christ, all those children of the heavenly Father, they all pray for you, and with you, in the one Lord, Jesus Christ, and in the Life-giving Holy Spirit. Really, there is that one Prayer of Christ and His Spirit, to which your prayer, and the prayer of all the baptized faithful, is united. Christ Jesus Himself, crucified and risen from the dead, and the Holy Spirit, are the uplifted hands and holy incense of your prayer, of your evening and morning sacrifice, which ever ascend to “Our Father who art in heaven,” and are gladly received by Him.
As this great fellowship of the Church depends upon the forgiveness of sins, so does the Church on earth live in the mutual forgiveness of sins: each and all of you, one for the other, confessing your sins to one another, and freely forgiving each other.
The faith that lives before God in Christ, dwells in love with the neighbor in Christ. And as you pray to your Father, in faith, for His forgiveness of all your sins each day, so do you live in His love and forgive one another, for Christ Jesus’ sake.
A refusal to forgive those who trespass against you, is a rejection of the very forgiveness of sins that you yourself need and depend upon. And that refusal of your neighbor, that rejection of the Gospel, wrecks your faith and ruins your prayer.
You cannot pray in the peace of Christ while refusing to forgive.
For this reason, your Father calls you daily to repentance. He does so in His great love for you, His own dear child, so that you do not grow hard and cold and die in your sin, but that you would be turned to Him in faith, to receive from Him the forgiveness, life, and salvation of Christ Jesus.
He performs a kind of open-heart surgery, cutting you open and piercing your flesh to its core, in order to expose and deal with your animosity and enmity, your bitterness and grudges, and your stubborn rejection of grace: for that is what your refusal to forgive your neighbor actually is.
This painful process, which threatens to kill you — and in a sense, it does, laid open there on the operating table — is the discipline of a loving Father for His beloved child. He opens you up and exposes your sick and sinful heart this way, in order to speak tenderly to your heart by His Son.
He allows you to be tempted and tried, and He puts you to the test, in order to restore your faith, and strengthen your faith, and teach you to pray. For surely your need and your hurt, your poverty and suffering, bring you to your knees, and turn your ears and heart back to God, to listen to Him; and then also your mouth and your lips, to pray, to call upon His Name for mercy and salvation.
He teaches you not to despair, but to pray in this way, and He also answers your prayer, by the way and the means of His Gospel. He hallows His Name in you by the preaching of His forgiveness. And He protects your faith and life within His Kingdom, by His Holy Spirit, through this same Holy Gospel. So, too, according to His good and gracious will, He thwarts the wickedness of the devil, the world, and your own fallen flesh, and He preserves you steadfast in His Word and faith.
He daily and richly forgives you all your sins — by His Gospel in His Church — and He daily and richly provides you with all that you need for this body and life on earth.
And by this same grace and mercy, by the Word and Spirit of His Son, and by the strong protection and sacred service of His holy angels, He guards and keeps you in the midst of temptation, and He delivers you from every evil of body and soul.
So it is, that trial and tribulation, temptation and tragedy, are not able to destroy you, but rather serve to drive you back to God your Father in Christ Jesus: in Whom you endure — in Whom you have peace and rest — unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.
That dear Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, your Savior, is the true King Solomon, the real Prince of Peace, and the very Wisdom of God the Father.
By Him God speaks to you — His Perfect Peace and His Sabbath Rest for your body and your soul — and in Him, you speak to God: You pray, praise, and give thanks, and you call upon His Name.
As He speaks to you by His Son, so do you pray to Him by the Same. What is more, dear child of God the Father, your prayer is heard by Him, it is acceptable and pleasing to His ears, and it is gladly answered in love with a resounding “Yes” and “Amen,” which is Christ Jesus Himself.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A sword in the hat is better than a foot in your mouth. All the better if it is that double-bladed sword that slices and dices between bone and marrow. But I have always liked to sort things out by thinking out loud with friends and colleagues. And since my opportunities to do so are limited, I figure I can multiply my thinking and sorting here.
Married 31 years, my wife and I have had ten children born to us (six boys, four girls); we have another son and daughter by marriage (and will soon have another daughter by marriage), a son who went ahead of us to heaven from the womb, six grandchildren and counting. I was ordained in 1996, and have been the pastor of Emmaus since then. I have a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame (2003), and an S.T.M. from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana