02 March 2016

The Lord Jesus Teaches You How to Pray

It is in His fatherly divine goodness and mercy toward you — because He knows what you need and daily and richly provides it — that the Lord your God has taught you and invited you to pray and has given you the very words with which to call upon His Name.  Such prayer is not by your own design, nor is it a matter of your ingenuity or cleverness.  It is a good and perfect gift from the Father of Light, who speaks to you by His Son in order to bestow His divine Wisdom upon you in fulfillment of His good and gracious Will for your life and salvation.  So does He teach you to come to Him as your own dear Father, boldly and confidently, through Jesus Christ your Savior.

Sharing His Cross and Resurrection by your Holy Baptism in His Name, your life is hidden with Christ in God.  In His Body and with His Blood you enter the Holy of Holies in the midst of His true Jerusalem, eternal in the heavens, and you stand before the true Ark of the Covenant to pray, praise, and give thanks to your God and Father in the confidence of His Word and promises.  That is where you stand at all times and in all places by faith in His Gospel, as a beloved child of God.

Because you thus pray to the Father in virtue of your Baptism into Christ Jesus, the Lord’s Prayer — like all Christian prayer, properly understood — is never a private prayer.  There is no such thing as a private Christian or private Christianity.  Even when you take it to the Lord in prayer in the solitude of your own home, you do so as a member of the Body of Christ, as a member of His holy catholic Church in heaven and on earth.  It is always our Father, and never simply my Father.

The use of the Our Father, in particular, along with other standard prayers, such as those in the Catechism and in the historic rites of the Liturgy, is a confession of the Church’s catholicity and of your connection to it.  The Our Father is part of our common language as Christians, that is, the special language we all speak as fellow citizens of our Father’s Kingdom.  For the Words we use — even before we begin to “understand” them intellectually — these Words that God has spoken and given for us to pray and confess — are Words that every Christian has received and speaks, a confession of the one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all.

The catholicity of the Our Father is demonstrated in the special importance attached to the Fifth Petition, that we be forgiven, as we forgive those who trespass against us, which Jesus reiterates in His teaching of the Our Father.  Since you pray in communion with the entire Church, in the unity of Christ, your relationship with others, especially with your fellow Christians, is an integral part of your prayer.  And, as a Christian, your relationships are defined chiefly by forgiveness.

You come before the Lord in prayer with repentance and a humble recognition of your sins; for you know that of yourself you are not worthy to stand in His presence, and that you do so only by His tender grace and mercy.  Each and every prayer that you bring to Him, therefore, presupposes and depends upon His forgiveness.

Thus do you fear the Lord your God in the true wisdom of repentant faith.  Which means that you live by listening to His Word, by calling upon His Name, and by relying on His gracious gifts and promises for all that you need.  And in this fear and faith of God, in His forgiveness of all your many sins, you are likewise called to forgive and gladly to do good to those who sin against you.

In much the same way, the Lord teaches you to pray the Our Father as a kind of discipline, as part of your ongoing catechesis and Christian discipleship.  For this prayer lifts your heart and mind above and beyond your own selfish cares and concerns to intercede for the whole Church, for all the baptized children of God, for all your brothers and sisters in Christ, wherever they may be in His vast Kingdom.  Everything you pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, you pray not only for yourself, but for all who call upon God as their Father, and for all whom He would call to be His children.

Indeed, the Our Father is truly an all-encompassing prayer.  Along with the forgiveness of sins, which you need the most, it includes everything you need for this body and life and for the life everlasting.  Nothing is excluded.  There is no situation or circumstance for which the Our Father is not ideally suited, nothing you might face which is not addressed in these seven Petitions.

Whenever you find yourself at a loss for words — and to be sure, you do not know of yourself how to pray as you should — yet, you have divine wisdom in this Prayer that your Lord Himself has given you.  For though your heart and mind are never as pious or as focused as they should be in this life on earth, your lips are here guided by the Word of God Himself.  So does the Holy Spirit also pray with you in this Word of Christ, as He is always praying for you in your sinful weakness.

When you pray and intercede for others, too — for your family and friends, for the Church, for those who are sick — again, the Lord’s Prayer is always most appropriate, a prayer for all seasons.

By no means should you ever suppose that you have nothing to say, nor worry that you aren’t creative or clever enough to pray.  Rather, in the humility of repentance, and in the confidence of faith, pray and speak as the Lord Jesus has taught you:  “Our Father who art in heaven. . . .”

In such wisdom, the Lutheran Church has always included the Our Father in all of her orders of service — whether simple or elaborate, both short and long alike.  And you should know from the Small Catechism that Dr. Luther instructs the head of the house to include the Our Father in the daily prayers of his family — in the morning and at night, and both before and after every meal.

In short, as God’s own child, baptized into Christ, you cry out, “Abba! Father!” to your God and Father in heaven.  Do not take offense at the comparison, but you are thus like an infant or toddler learning how to speak, babbling “Dadda, Dadda, Dadda,” over and over throughout your days with the grateful affection of a little child for the very dear Father who loves and cares for you.

After all, the same Lord has actually called you to become like a little child and, as such, to receive and enter into His Kingdom by His grace alone through faith in His Gospel.

So, too, in praying the Our Father with your own sons and daughters, and by teaching them to pray in this way, you pass on more than just a single prayer.  You actually teach them how to speak the Word of God with the language of faith.  You teach them the most basic pattern of true worship.

In fact, the Our Father encompasses the entire scope of Christian worship.  It is the gracious Word of Christ to you and to His Church on earth.  Hence, it is His good work and gracious gift.  For this precious thing is not of your own fabrication or design, nor is it anything that you could ever have thought up or imagined.  Like all Divine Service, it comes to you from God.  And when you pray in this manner, it does not cease to be His Word and His work in you.  Not that your praying is the Gospel or a means of grace, but the Word itself — with which the Lord Jesus opens your lips to call upon the Father in His Name — it is a gift of His pure Gospel and His grace.  He thus bestows His righteousness upon you from heaven, in order to raise you up in faithfulness from the ground.

Your praying of the Our Father, in turn, is therefore a genuine good work of faith, a sacrifice of repentance and thanksgiving, and an act of worship in Spirit and Truth.  That is to say, you worship God the Father in the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, His Son, by means of His Word of Truth.

You entrust yourself to Him, your body and soul and all that you have, as a whole burnt offering.  You give thanks for all His gifts and benefits in the sure and certain hope of the Gospel.  And you gather up your neighbors in love to share with you in the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God.

So it is that the Our Father functions as an integral part of the Church’s morning and evening sacrifice, arising before the Lord as the holy incense of faith, which is pleasing to Him.  And in the daily prayers of your home and family, it is likewise the summary and conclusion of all your petitions and intercessions, covering all for which the Lord your God would have you pray.

And in the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar, it is a sacrifice of thanksgiving for our Lord Jesus Christ, and a petition that our Father in heaven would pour out His Spirit upon His people, His Church; that by His grace we would believe His Word, and recognize the Body and Blood of Christ in the bread and wine, and so receive this Bread of Life and His Cup of Salvation in true faith and to our abundant blessing, and bring forth the fruits thereof in our lives.  Indeed, we pray in this way in the confidence that He does all these things according to His Word and promise.

Bear in mind, in all of this, that Christian prayer is not a button or a cord that you push or pull for service from the Lord, as though He were a household servant instead of your dear Father in heaven, or as though He were not already (even without your prayer) daily and richly providing you with all good things — solely out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you.  Surely He gives daily bread to all people, even to the wicked, and He causes His sun to shine and His rain to fall on both the evil and the good.  But as for you, pray that He would grant you the wisdom of a listening heart to recognize His fatherly hand in all His gifts of body and soul, and to rely on Him alone, trusting not in yourself but in Christ and His mercy.

Pray to your Father in heaven, as the Lord Jesus has taught you to pray, for much the same reason and with the same mind that you go to Church and receive His Holy Sacrament.  Not because you feel like it, but also and especially when you don’t!  Not because you thereby do some great favor for the Lord.  And not as though you were somehow worthy of yourself to stand before Him.

But pray to Him — and pray the Our Father, in particular — because He has commanded you to pray in this way; because He has promised to hear and answer your prayer with a resounding “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ Jesus; and because you need His gracious mercy and forgiveness every day.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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