Monday, August 8, 2022

“Why Pray?” Psalm 50.15 & Matthew 7.7 Pentecost 9C Aug. ‘22

1.                Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The message from God’s Word, as we continue our sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, is taken from Psalm 50:15 and Matthew 7:7, it’s entitled, “Why Pray?” Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

2.                If God is sovereign, how is it that my prayers are going to make any difference? And, if they don’t make a difference, what’s the point? Why pray if God is just going to do what he wants regardless of my prayers? As a pastor, I find that I’m confronted with a form of this question on a regular basis. The questions arise for a variety of reasons, and many of those reasons are very personal, so I hesitate to try and give a “one size fits all” response. As with all theological questions, it’s necessary to understand why the question is asked in the first place. But, generally speaking, the questions arise either from a place of theological confusion (How can God be both sovereign and responsive?) or as a result of some personal crisis or frustration (Why are my prayers not being answered?). So, when the question arises, “Why pray if God is sovereign?” The first response is always, “Why do you want to know?”

3.                To help us understand why we pray, we’ll turn to that unfailingly pastoral theologian, Martin Luther, for guidance. I would suggest that Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms are among his greatest contributions to Christianity. His teaching on the Lord’s Prayer is second to none. His introduction to the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism offers four reasons which address the “why” of prayer. It is to those reasons we turn now.

4.                REASON #1 GOD SAID SO—Simply put, we are to pray because God says so. Luther writes, “The first thing to know is this: It is our duty to pray because of God’s command. For we heard in the Second Commandment, ‘You are not to take God’s name in vain.’ Thereby we are required to praise the holy name and to pray or call upon it in every need.” (Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2000). 441.)

5.                Luther finds such a command to be a sufficient answer to those ever-wise theologians who think they can outsmart God and pit his sovereignty against his willingness to answer our prayers. “Prayer, therefore, is as strictly and solemnly commanded as all other commandments lest anyone think it makes no difference whether I pray or not, as vulgar people do who say in their delusion: ‘Why should I pray? Who knows whether God pays attention to my prayer or wants to hear it?” (Ibid.)

6.                It must be remembered that this is a command that comes from a kind Father who knows that his children rely upon him for everything in life and salvation. Apart from God, we can do nothing. To ignore this command and say, “Well, God will do what he wants regardless of my prayers,” is to tempt God, demanding that He act on your terms. Further, to despise prayer because of the sovereignty of God is to misunderstand the term. It is to look upon God as a stoic, immovable force whose work is fatalistic. This imposes a definition of sovereignty upon God and the Scriptures rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the way our sovereign God works. As we think about prayer, it is better for us to begin with the commands and promises of the sovereign God, rather than with a presupposed definition of sovereignty. He doesn’t say, “I’ll do what I want, so your prayers are superfluous,” but rather, “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you” (Ps. 50:15). And Jesus promises, “Ask, and it shall be given to you.” (Matt. 7:7). “This God requires of us; it is not a matter of our choice. It is our duty and obligation to pray if we want to be Christians,” says Luther. (Ibid) To be sure, God is almighty and sovereign, but he is the almighty, sovereign God who demands your prayers. What is more, he promises to answer!

7.                REASON #2: THE PROMISED ANSWER. In characteristic “law/gospel” fashion, Luther begins with the command to pray, but then follows with the promise of prayer. Without God’s promise to hear and answer, prayer ceases to be a gift and becomes an attempt to bargain with God, an attempt to manipulate him into doing our will. But, the promise frees us to ask with confidence. Luther writes, “In the second place, what ought to impel and arouse us to pray all the more is the fact that God has made and affirmed a promise: that what we pray is a certain and sure thing.” (Ibid, 443). Consider again Psalm 50:15. There we hear the clear command to pray, “Call upon me in the day of trouble.” But, to such a command, God adds this promise, “and I will deliver you.” “Such promises certainly ought to awaken and kindle in our hearts a longing and a love for prayer,” so writes Luther (Ibid).

8.                Luther goes on to point out that God delights in such prayers. He commands you to pray because he loves hearing from you! You never seem too needy or weak to God. You are weak and you do need him, and he delights in caring for you, hearing your cries, and giving you his good gifts. As wonderful as this promise is, at times it is hard to believe. After all, we’ve all experienced the problem of unanswered prayers. I’ve always hated Garth Brooks song, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.” It seems so pious. Anyone who has gone through the pains of cancer, broken relationships, or job loss knows how false such sentiments are. So, how can we understand the promise of answered prayer in lives where we experience the opposite?

9.                The hardest part of faith is trusting God’s word over and against our eyes and experiences. But God has promised, and part of praying is faithfully putting God’s promises back in his ears—to pray continuously and to never give up (Luke 18:1). He will answer according to his will and for your good. Though we will see some of our prayers answered in what we deem a timely manner, the truth is we must view these promises from the perspective of the resurrection. We may not see our loved ones healed until Christ raises them from the grave. But the day will come when all tears are removed and our prayers will turn to praise. It is a promise—a promise that drives us to pray.

10.             REASON #3: JESUS GIVES THE WORDS God commands us to pray and promises to answer. But, there are still those who do not know what to say. Jesus solves the problem for us by giving us the words to say. As we saw in the introduction, Jesus gives us the gift of the Lord’s Prayer. Martin Luther writes, “God takes the initiative and puts into our mouths the very words and approach we are to use. In this way we see how deeply concerned he is about our needs, and we should never doubt that such prayer pleases him and will assuredly be heard.” (Ibid).

11.             It is worth noting that when Jesus promises that the Father will hear and answer our prayers, he does so in the context of giving us the gift of the Lord’s Prayer. The promise of answered prayer is not a promise that God will do whatever you demand. Rather, it is the promise that he will always answer in your favor when you pray for his kingdom to come to you, his will to be done for you, and so on. By giving you his prayer, it is as though Jesus is saying, “Friend, take these requests to the Father and it will be done!”

12.             REASON #4: OUR NEEDS Finally, Luther says, “[Prayer] has been prescribed for this reason also, that we should reflect on our need, which ought to drive and compel us to pray without ceasing.” (Ibid) When Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer, he opens our eyes to our most pressing needs. Too often, we define our needs by our desires and cravings. But our heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask, so, in giving us the Lord’s Prayer, he tells us what we should ask for. “But where there is to be true prayer, there must be utter earnestness. We must feel our need, the distress that drives and impels us to cry out . . . This need, however, that ought to concern us—ours and everyone else’s—is something you will find richly enough in the Lord’s Prayer.” (Ibid, 444).

13.             As we pray for God’s name to be kept holy, his kingdom to come, and his will to be done, we are reminded that, though these things happen of God’s accord without our prayers, we need him to accomplish them in us and for us. We learn that we depend on him for our daily bread and all we need to live in this world. Our sins are not forgiven apart from his mercy. And we cannot overcome temptation and the devil without God leading us and delivering us. The prayer Jesus taught us to pray names our needs and places them on our lips and in the Father’s ear.

14.             Why do we pray if God is sovereign? The question misses the point. We pray, as R.C. Sproul once said, “because God is sovereign!” More to the point, he is gracious and loves to hear and answer our prayers. Why pray if God is going to carry out his will anyhow? Because it is his will to answer our prayers. We pray because he commands us to pray, he promises to graciously answer us, and he gives us the words to say. We also pray because our needs drive us to our Father who loves to hear us pray. Why do we pray? Let’s let Luther have the last word, “For whenever a good Christian prays, ‘Dear Father, your will be done,’ God replies from above, ‘Yes, dear child, it shall be done indeed, in spite of the devil and all the world.’” Amen. (Luther, The Large Catechism, 444). Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, until life everlasting. Amen.


“Who Should Pray…” John 17.20 & Rom. 8.15, 26, 34, July ’22, Pentecost 8C


1.                Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer. Amen. The message from God’s Word as we continue our sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer is taken from John 17 and Romans 8. It’s entitled, “Who Should Pray?” Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

2.                Before we get into why anyone should pray or what prayer should look like, it is appropriate for us to contemplate the question: Who prays? Or, to put it more personally, should I pray? After all, what gives us the right? If you think about it, prayer is quite presumptuous. We’re talking about approaching the almighty God of creation! He is perfect in holiness and righteousness and can’t abide sinners in his perfect presence. So, on what basis do you presume to go before him with your needs, wants, and cares? Who do you think you are, going before God in prayer?

3.                There are two dangers that arise when it comes to this sort of questioning on prayer. The first is that we take such questions too lightly. We are presumptuous in thinking we have the right to go before God. To use William Placher’s phrase, too many are guilty of the domestication of transcendence. (William Placher, The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking about God Went Wrong (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996). We treat God as being too familiar, our buddy who wants to do us a favor, or worse, a genie who must grant our wishes.

4.                Eugene Peterson corrects such flippancy with his delightful anecdote, “One of the indignities to which pastors are routinely subjected is to be approached, as a group of people are gathering for a meeting or a meal, with the request, “Reverend, get things started for us with a little prayer, will ya?” It would be wonderful if we would counter by shouting William McNamara’s fantasized response, “I will not! There are not little prayers! Prayer enters the lion’s den, brings us before the holy where it is uncertain whether we will come back alive or sane, for it is a fearful thing to fall in the hands of a living God.” (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1987). 46.

5.                Yes, prayer enters the lion’s den. No sinner can presume to come before God on their own. But, this gets us to the second danger which I encounter as a pastor a great deal. It comes when people say, “I’m too sinful to pray. God wouldn’t listen to someone like me.” This is a lie that Satan pours into a guilty conscience in an effort to keep a smoldering wick from the invigorating flames of mercy.

6.                To be sure, sinners can’t approach the Holy One on their own. But—and here is precisely the joy and power of prayer—we don’t! Prayer isn’t a conversation God is open to having with us based on our worthiness. It’s a gift from Jesus, who himself, along with the Holy Spirit, prays for you, and now invites you to join him with your prayers and supplications before the throne of your listening, gracious Father. You can pray because Jesus prays for you.

7.                First, we will look at GOD IN PRAYER—I still can’t get over the fact that Jesus prays. It seems odd to say it. After all, prayers are directed towards God. Jesus is God. So, how in the world would it be that God prays? We get a beautiful peek into the way the three persons of the Trinity relate to one another, and the way they deal with us, when the Holy Spirit pulls back the curtain and shows us that, right now, God the Son prays to God the Father. In John 17, just before Christ is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners, he prays. He prays for his apostles and the ministry they will carry forth. Then, Jesus prays for his church: “I do not ask for these [the apostles] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20). Here we’ll find our Lord praying to our Father for our unity so that, through us, the world might know that the Father sent the Son in love. Later, we’ll find Jesus praying for those who are responsible for his death when he cries, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34).

8.                We can see throughout the New Testament that this is the very sort of prayer Jesus prays for us. The Apostle Paul promises, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34). The author of Hebrews also points out, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). Jesus is before the Father making intercession for you. Jesus prays for you!

9.                This is part of Jesus’s great priestly work for the people of God. In the Old Testament, the priests had the job to offer up sacrifices to God and to pray on behalf of the people. Because Christ has given his life as the perfect sacrifice, he enters the throne room of heaven. And, since his sacrifice was made on our behalf, he goes before the Father to intercede for us. It is as if Christ points toward us with his nail-pierced hands and says, “Father, forgive her, forgive him. I have paid for their sins.” Christ prays to his Father for you. But, he won’t stop there. He who prays for you invites you to join him!

10.             Second, when we think about who should pray, we learn WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS—Jesus is your great High Priest. He is also your King who rules over you. Such a title can be awfully intimidating. On first blush, upon hearing that we have Jesus as our monarch, we might begin to identify ourselves as his subjects or even servants. Though there are places in Scripture that will use such language, the Lord Jesus informs us that there is a deeper level to this relationship. He calls us friends! “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:13–15). Jesus calls us royal friends and then connects this title to our prayers: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give it to you” (John 15:16). John Kleinig says, “In the ancient world, the person who was closest to the king, his personal confidant and advisor, was called the friend of the king.” (John Kleinig, Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today (St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 2008). 154.

11.             In baptism, Christ, your great High Priest, has cleansed you with his blood, giving you access to the Father. By calling you his friend, the Lord brings you in as a confidant and advisor, telling you God’s will and inviting you to present your prayers and petitions before the Father in his name. There’s more. On our own, we are sinners who have no business entering into God’s holy presence. But, being baptized into Christ, we are made priests through His blood and friends through his promise. Even with all this, our faith can waver, and we find ourselves utterly weak. So, Christ Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit to help us in prayer, and—get this—to even pray for us!

12.             St. Paul writes to the Romans, “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). The Holy Spirit is at work interceding for us in our needs and in our weaknesses, even driving us to pray! “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). Through Christ, you have been adopted into the family of God and have been given the Holy Spirit, who both prays for you and teaches you to pray to the Father!

13.             So, who should pray? Dear saint, you should! You can! Though we never presume upon prayer as a right that we have as sinners, we shouldn’t be prevented from praying. After all, Christ Jesus shed His blood in order to give you access to God. He is your High Priest who prays for you and makes you a priest. You are a baptized, royal friend of the Lord who is brought into the Father’s confidence. And, you are an adopted child of God who has been given the Holy Spirit who leads you to pray and even prays on your behalf! All of this, God has done so that you will pray! Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, until life everlasting. Amen.