22 March 2017

To Pray by the Word and Promise of God in Christ

God has commanded you to pray and has promised to hear you.  Because of His command, prayer is not an option but a fundamental aspect of the Christian life.  It is your duty to pray, not only for yourself, but for the whole Church, and for the entire world for whom God gave His only Son.

Because God has also promised to hear your prayer, and has not only invited you to pray but has taught you the very words with which to pray, and has taught you to come to Him as your dear Father in Christ, you pray not only as a duty, but as a matter of faith: In the joyful confidence that our Father in heaven hears your prayer and answers you in love for Christ Jesus’ sake.

Prayer really is the voice of faith.  As you believe in your heart according to God’s Word, so do you pray with your lips.  You pray, trusting and believing that what you ask in Jesus’ Name, it is God’s desire to grant in His love for you.  Not because you deserve it, but because He is merciful; because He is your Father, and you are His dearly-beloved and well-pleasing child.

Prayer really begins, not with your talking, but with God’s talking.  Your Father speaks to you by His Son.  He speaks to you through the Holy Scriptures and by the preaching of His Word.  Prayer thus begins, not with your mouth, but with your ears: Hearing what God has said to you, receiving His Word into your heart, and then confessing what God has spoken.

Prayer is a confession, first of all, of what God has said, what He has promised, what He has done.  And then prayer also petitions Him; it asks Him for things according to His promise.  You ask Him for those things which He has promised to give and do for you.  Such prayer is sure and certain, and it will be answered, because it is according to His good and gracious will.

In the Our Father, in particular, God has given you exactly the words that you are to say; so that, even though your heart and mind are never exactly right, the words that you speak are.  Exactly right.  They ask God for what you need the most, including especially the forgiveness of your sins.

And your prayer is not all by its lonesome.  It is not your quiet little voice alone that ascends to your Father in heaven.  He cares about you; He does hear your voice.  But He receives your prayer in and with Christ Jesus.  Your prayer of faith is joined to the prayer of Christ Himself, who prays for you.  And it is carried to the throne of grace by the Holy Spirit, who also intercedes for you: with groaning too deep for words, but so also with these words that He has taught by the mouth of Christ.  You pray to God your Father in and with Christ Jesus, in and with His Holy Spirit.

Really, your prayer is lifted to God with Christ on the Cross.  As He is there lifted up for you in love, so does your prayer rise to God in and with the Sacrifice of Christ, by which all of your sins are forgiven and your faith is perfected.  For it is by His Cross that you are reconciled to God and at peace with Him.  It is by the Cross of Christ that God calls you to Himself as His own dear child.

You are united with Christ in His Cross and Resurrection, because you die and rise with Christ Jesus through Holy Baptism in His Name.  And so it is that, by your Baptism, you also share His Sonship.  The Father of Jesus is your true Father in Him.  That is how and why you pray to God as your Father, just as dear children ask their dear fathers on earth — only ever so much better.  When you pray to Him, you curl up in your Daddy’s lap and hide yourself entirely in Him.

To be sure, none of us earthly fathers are perfect.  In fact, the Lord cuts us to the quick when He says, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit.”  But so does Christ Jesus affirm that His God and Father is indeed the perfect Father, by whom all fatherhood on earth is named.  He does not learn from us how to be a proper Dad, but we all learn from Him who loves us, who hears and answers your prayer and provides for all your needs of body and soul, now and forever.

He does it all for Jesus’ sake.  Like everything else in the Christian life, it all depends on Jesus.  It is by the mouth of Jesus Christ that God has taught you and invited you to pray the Our Father.  And it is in and with Christ Jesus that you pray, that is, by the faith and confession of His Name.

Not only that, but Jesus Himself is also God’s answer to your prayer.  In fact, He is God’s loud “Yes” and “Amen” to all that you ask of Him, to all that you need.  In giving you His only Son, God does not withhold any good thing from you, but rather, for Christ Jesus’ sake, He gives you grace, and life itself, and every blessing, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul.  Thus do you also say “Yes” and “Amen” to the Word and promises of God in Christ, knowing that, in Him, all things are yours, and you are His forever and ever.

Because everything depends upon Jesus and His forgiveness of your sins, when you pray in Jesus’ Name, you do so as a member of His Body, a member of His Church, from within that communion of saints, which lives in the unity of faith and love.

You are obliged, therefore, to love and forgive your neighbor, as God in Christ loves and forgives you.  It is right there in the middle of the Our Father.  As you pray that God would forgive your sins — and everything depends on that forgiveness — so do you pledge yourself and obligate yourself to forgive your neighbor who trespasses against you.  For Christ Himself forgives both you and your neighbor.  And as you pray through Christ Jesus, so do you forgive your neighbor.

He teaches you to pray like this:  “Our Father.”  “Give us this day our daily bread.”  “Forgive us our trespasses.”  Such prayer is not selfish.  It is not private, isolated, or insulated against others.  It is set within the context of His Church, and it belongs to the entire household and family of God.

Whenever you pray the Our Father — whenever you pray as a Christian, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ — you pray not only for yourself, but for the whole Church; for all of your brothers and sisters in Christ; for all of your Father’s children, wherever they may be in His vast Kingdom.  Not only for those brothers and sisters in Christ whom you know; and not only for those particular needs that you know and mention before God; but for all of your fellow Christians, wherever they are in the world, whatever their needs may be.

By the same token, all around the world, every day, morning and evening, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down, your brothers and sisters in Christ are praying for you, even though you may never know each other here on earth.  Your Father knows each and all of you by name, and it is His good and gracious will that His children pray for their whole family in Him.

This is part of what it means to be the Body of Christ.  This is what it means to be joined to Christ, our Head, who is our great High Priest.  As by His death He has reconciled you to God, so by His sacrifice has He brought you into the true Holy of Holies with Himself, in His own Body.  And as He has risen and ascended to the right hand of His God and Father, where He ever lives to make intercession for you — so are you and His whole Church always praying together with Him.

The Church prays for herself and her needs, especially here on earth under the Cross.  The Church also prays for her neighbors in the world, for all of those people for whom Christ Jesus died, which is of course to say, for everyone without exception.

So that is how you are taught to pray: With love in your heart and forgiveness for your neighbor, as Christ loves you, and has forgiven you, and continues each day to forgive you all your sins.

You pray in confidence that God your Father desires to give you good things, and that He does so, even without your prayer; that He will continue to take care of you in His love and mercy for you.  By such faith and trust in God, whether you see it and feel it at any particular time, you do not begrudge any good thing to your neighbor in the world, but you gladly do what you can to serve and help your neighbor, beginning with forgiveness of his sins against you, but so also with food and clothing, and by whatever other ways or means you may be given opportunity to serve.

Thus do you live as God’s dear child.  As you pray, so do you live.  Really, the Christian life begins in prayer, in hearing God’s Word and confessing His Word.  And as you hear and receive what He speaks and gives to you in Christ, your whole life as a Christian proceeds as a continuous prayer of faith and love, in the way that Christ Jesus never ceases to pray and intercede for you.

Now, when you consider how often your prayer falters; when you think about your life and your days, and you realize how often you fall short; when you realize how often you fail in your faith and in your love — do not for that reason despair, and by all means do not stop praying!  Do not suppose that first you must get your faith right and get your life together before you can start to pray; if that were the case, you never would be able to pray.  Rather, remember that God has commanded you to pray, and so, to begin with, you pray on the basis of that commandment.

Among those things for which He has taught you and commanded you to pray, you ask that His Name would be hallowed in your life, that His Kingdom would come to you also, that His will be done in your life, and that He would forgive your sins.  And all of this He does, by His grace, by His Son, by the Ministry of His Gospel.  Thus, by His Word and Holy Spirit, and especially by His forgiveness of all your sins, He brings forth true faith in your heart, He strengthens and nurtures that faith, and He calls from your lips the prayer of faith that characterizes your life as His child.

Therefore, keep on listening to His Word.  And as you hear, so also speak as you are spoken to.  Pray what He has said to you.  Ask Him for what He has promised.  Pray at all times, and do not lose heart, knowing that your Father hears your prayer with divine mercy and tender compassion, and for Jesus’ sake He answers you in love.

Prayer is the voice of faith, that is true.  But prayer does not finally depend upon your faith.  No, your faith and your prayer alike depend upon your God and Father in Christ.  Your prayer is not answered because you have believed well enough.  Your prayer is not answered because your faith is good enough or strong enough.  Your prayer rests entirely on Christ, your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  Though you falter and fail, He never does.  Risen from the dead, He ever lives to pray and intercede for you.

God has spoken through His Prophet Isaiah, that even before you pray, He has already heard and begun to answer your prayer and your every need.  You see that especially in the Cross of Christ; for while you were yet a sinner and God’s enemy, Christ died for you, the Righteous One for the unrighteous and ungodly, that you might be reconciled to God and justified by His grace.  There in His Cross and Passion you behold the love of God, who has become your Father in Christ Jesus; and in His Resurrection from the dead you find that all of your prayers have already been heard and answered with that resounding “Yes” and “Amen,” which is indeed Christ Jesus Himself.

Not only does the entire Church all over the world pray for you each day; Jesus prays for you each and every day, and all through the night.  He prays for His whole Church; He prays also for you.  And rest assured that God withholds no good thing from His beloved Son, who is your Savior indeed, your own dear Friend, and evermore your great High Priest.  As He prays for you, so does God answer, and so are you sustained and strengthened in the one true faith, unto life everlasting.

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

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