Nothing is more basic to the Christian faith and life than prayer. Indeed, prayer is the very voice of faith itself and the primary good work of the Christian life, an act of love for both God and the neighbor. St. Paul writes, therefore, that prayer, intercession, supplication, and thanksgiving be made on behalf of all people, in the name and for the sake of Christ Jesus, who died for all and desires that all be saved. So are you to pray at all times, without ceasing, and not to lose heart.
How, then, shall you pray? Christ Jesus Himself teaches you by His Word and Holy Spirit, else you would not know how or what to pray as you should. Not only has He commanded you to pray and promised to hear you, but He has given you the very Words with which to pray in His Name. What is more, He not only teaches but exemplifies the practice of prayer in His own life, from the waters of the Jordan to the Garden of Gethsemane, from His Transfiguration to His Crucifixion. And having sacrificed Himself for you and for all people on the Cross, He has also risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, where He ever lives to make intercession for His Church and for the world as our merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.
This is your sure and certain confidence in prayer, that Christ and His Spirit pray with you and for you. Each and all of us Christians pray to our Father in heaven as those who are baptized into Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son. His God and Father is our God and Father, and His prayer is our prayer. It is for this reason that you are able to ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and that you may do so in faith, without any doubting.
That voice of faith with which you approach the throne of grace with all boldness and confidence, as a little child asking your own dear Father, arises in your heart and from your mouth by the hearing of the Word of Christ. Christian prayer necessarily begins, therefore, not with your speaking, but with that hearing of Christ Jesus, your Savior. For He is merciful to all who call upon Him in truth, but how shall you call upon Him whom you have not heard?
Prayer goes hand-in-hand with the Word of God, and you cannot pray without it. The prayer of the entire Church belongs inseparably to the teaching and fellowship of the Apostles, who devoted themselves to prayer and the Ministry of the Word. So it is that all things are sanctified for you by the Word of God and prayer. You do not have the one without the other. It is the Word of the Lord that opens your lips to pray, praise, and give thanks. Before it is ever a petition or request, therefore, prayer is first of all the confession of what God has spoken; and already in asking for what He has promised, you give Him thanks and praise in the sure and certain confidence of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the Father’s answer is always “Yes” and “Amen.”
You pray, then, in the expectation that every good and perfect gift is from the Lord, our God and Father in Christ Jesus, including all that you need for both body and soul, for this life and for the life everlasting. All that He has created and given to you is thus to be received with thanksgiving, and again, sanctified by means of the Word of God and prayer. In this way His Name is kept holy among us, the very first thing for which He has taught you to pray. So, too, you sanctify each day as a Sabbath rest in Christ — not simply Saturday or Sunday, but all your days and nights, all your evenings and mornings. Of course His Name is holy in itself, and every day is holy to the Lord; but these sacred things are made holy for you by the speaking and hearing of His Word in faith.
This rhythm of daily prayer is simply a daily catechesis in the Word of God. As you hear and confess His Word, as you are instructed in the way of faith and love by the Law and the Gospel, and as you are thereby taught to pray, His Holy Spirit is actively present and at work to bring you daily to repentance. He calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies you in the faith, and preserves your life in Christ Jesus. All of this the Spirit does by the Word, which puts the old Adam in you to death and raises you to newness of life in and with the Lord Jesus.
That is the rhythm of life for every baptized believer in Christ, but it never is by your own reason and strength. Even in the weakness of your faith you simply cry out, “Kyrie, eleison!” “Lord, have mercy and help me!” “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” Thus do you avail yourself of His Word and Spirit, and you pray. You rely on the Ministry of His Gospel in His Church, and you likewise give daily attention to His Word and prayer throughout the week. Indeed, the stronger and more healthy your Christian faith becomes, the more you gladly hear and learn the Word of God — and, along with that, the more frequently and fervently you pray and call upon His Name.
There is no time of the day or night when a Christian is not crying out from the heart unto the Lord in repentant faith. Faith itself is already the inward groaning of the Holy Spirit, longing for Christ Jesus. But as you believe with the heart, so do you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord. For as you have heard, so do you believe, and so do you speak in confession and prayer.
To call upon the Name of the Lord is your daily sacrifice of thanksgiving, both in the morning and at the close of the day. With such prayer, whereby you look to the Lord for all that you need, you worship and adore Him as your true and only God. Not only that, but in your love for Him you also pray and intercede for His entire Church and for the whole world, which He so loves by the giving of His only-begotten Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, in whose dear Name you pray.
In your prayers and intercessions for the world — for your neighbors near and far, for those you know and those you don’t, for friends and foes alike — you are united to Christ our Head, our great High Priest, within the royal priesthood of all those who are baptized in His Name. Praying for your neighbors in this way, as Christ Jesus ever lives to pray and intercede for you and for all people, is the most distinctive and definitive duty of your priestly vocation as a Christian.
As often as you pray the Our Father, and as often as you pray in the Name of Jesus, you are praying for His whole Church in heaven and on earth, and for as many as He will call to Himself from all the nations. In that same light, it is comforting to realize that His entire Church is always praying day and night for you, as well, and for each and all of us, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down. So it is that we, as Christians, have all things in common. And with our prayers and intercessions, our praise and thanksgiving, we love and serve each other to the glory of God.
As fundamental as all of this is to the Christian faith and life — as significant and necessary as the Word of God and prayer are to your spiritual health and strength — the actual practice of daily prayer does not come so easily or naturally to any of us poor sinners. How often have you tried, perhaps, to establish some routine, some discipline of prayer and devotion, whether on your own or with your family, only to find that it becomes harder and harder to keep up with it?
It is true that you are easily distracted by the worries of the world, by the deceitfulness of riches, and by the desire for other things, and that you are tempted to give away your time, attentions, and energies to every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles you. It seems burdensome to devote yourself, your heart and mind, your body and soul, to the Word of the Lord. Yet, His Word alone endures forever, while all of those temporal things that entice you will wither and fade like the grass and the flowers of the field. And the more you are distracted and captivated by those idols of this world, the more desperately you need the Word of the one true God in Christ!
Thankfully, He does not leave you tossed about and helpless, but in compassion He shepherds you. By His grace and tender mercy, He encourages you and assists you in the discipline of daily prayer, first of all by His commands and promises. For He Himself has commanded you to pray and has promised to hear you. And again, along with His exhortation and admonition, He has also given you the very Words with which to call upon the Name of God: “Our Father, who art in heaven.”
He has taught you how to pray, not only by His Holy Scriptures, but even before you could read He put His prayer upon your lips, and thereby into your heart and mind, by the teaching and example of your parents and pastors. The Second and Third Commandments, too, not only expose your sin, but also serve you as a curb and a guide, as a rule of faith and prayer. The Second Table of the Law helps to protect your neighbor from the harm that you would do to him, but the First Table of the Law is for your own protection and benefit, that you should not neglect to hear the Word of God and call upon His Name in prayer.
Your earthly parents taught you to eat your vegetables, even before you learned how to enjoy them. So does your Father in heaven command you to listen and to pray, even when you would rather not. And then, by His living and active Word He brings your heart and mind along in repentance.
To this day, even now, and throughout your life, the Lord Jesus continues teaching you to pray, and His Holy Spirit daily continues to help you in your weakness. He does so by the ways and the means of His Word, by the agency of His Church on earth, and by the preaching and ministry of His Holy Gospel. As you thus hear and receive His gracious Word, in which He and His Spirit are actively present and at work to give you faith and life, so does He gather you up in Himself and bring you like sweet incense, as a pleasing and acceptable sacrifice, into the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens, to be well received by Our Father.
Amen, Amen! That is, Yes, Yes, it shall be so!
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.