Rogate Sunday Sermon
April 27, 2008
“Praying in Jesus’ Name”
And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
St. John 16, 23-24
We live by word and prayer. The word is God’s. The prayer is ours. God’s word comes first. Without faith we cannot pray. God’s word is the means by which God creates faith. Faith is not a human decision. It is a divine work. From the pure word of God faith is born. Faith expresses itself in prayer. What is prayer? It is the exercise of faith.
Genuine prayer has five features: First, it has God’s promise or permission to speak to him. Second, it trusts in God’s promises. Third, it is prayed in Jesus’ name. Fourth, it does not dictate to God just when and how he will answer the prayer. Fifth, it brings the fullness of joy
Genuine prayer has God’s promise or permission to speak to him. Jesus reveals the Father to us. Jesus said to Phillip: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” It is Jesus who gives us the Father’s permission to pray. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7, 7-11)
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says:
Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14, 13-14) If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. (John 15, 7) You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. (John 15, 16)
And again, in the words of our text for this morning:
Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. John 16, 23-24
Our Lord could not have made it any clearer than this. Whatever we ask the Father in Jesus’ name he will give to us. We who know Jesus by faith have God’s promise and permission to pray to him.
Second, genuine prayer trusts in God’s promise. Faith is trust. God promises that he will hear all of our prayers for Christ’s sake. Jesus Christ himself has told us this repeatedly. God promises to hear our prayer. To pray in faith is to pray believing that God hears us just as he has promised. To doubt that God will hear and answer our prayer is to question his truthfulness. God does not promise to answer prayers that are not offered in faith. St. James writes:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord. (James 1, 5-7)
But where do we get the faith to pray? If faith is not our own creation but God’s, where do we go to get faith? There are few theological topics on which there is greater confusion than this. And the confusion can drive us into a vicious circle of faithless and futile prayers. If I doubt I should pray for faith but if I pray for faith while doubting God won’t answer my prayer. But how can I pray for faith in faith when it’s precisely faith that I am lacking? One thinks of the prayer of the Roman soldier who, in response to Jesus’ question whether he believed that Jesus could help him, replied: “Lord I believe, help me with my unbelief!”
Where does God give us faith? In his word! But specifically, where in his word does God engender faith in our hearts? How does God raise us up and give us confidence that whatever burdens our heart is the concern of our Father in heaven? How can we, as we set about to pray, be confident that God is our loving Father who sincerely desires to hear us talk to him and sincerely intends to give us what we ask? We pray in Jesus’ name.
Third, genuine prayer is prayed in Jesus’ name. This is not a magical incantation. You don’t attach the words “In Jesus’ name” at the end of a prayer to sanctify the prayer and so make it acceptable to God the Father. No, when we pray in Jesus’ name we are praying by his authority. We are praying according to the gospel.
A prayer offered in the name of Jesus is a prayer offered in faith. Do you need the faith to pray? Go to where Jesus is! Faith is born where Jesus enters in. Jesus came from the Father to this world. He went back to the Father. What did he do in between? He established our right to pray. How did he do that? He established peace with God. He reconciled the entire human race to God. Sinful humanity remains for the most part estranged from God but that does not mean that Jesus did not bring about reconciliation. He did. The Bible says: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.” (2 Corinthians 5, 19) The reason the world remains estranged from God – even at enmity against him – is because they do not know Jesus. Not knowing Jesus, not trusting in Jesus, they cannot pray. For to pray to the Father is impossible except in Jesus’ name.
Jesus removes the barrier between God and sinners. No one else has done so. No one else could do so. This is why we pray in Jesus’ name. It is Jesus who makes us fit to pray. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14, 6) Since apart from Jesus we cannot come to the Father, apart from Jesus we cannot truly pray. We can speak words and of course God will know what we are saying because God knows everything. But God will not accept the prayer. God will not answer the prayer. God is gracious only through Jesus. Apart from Christ and his holy obedience and vicarious suffering and death God is a consuming fire that no one can approach.
There was a time when, among nominal Christians, this went without saying. Nowadays this is not the case. Many who call themselves Christians insist that Jesus is not the only way to the Father. Several years ago a so called Lutheran congregation in Grand Forks invited a Jewish lady who was not a Christian to their church to teach them how to pray. She was alleged to be some kind of expert in spirituality (whatever that means). Imagine that! Christians asking non-Christians to teach them how to pray! As if prayer is possible without faith in Christ. It is not.
Fourth, genuine prayer does not dictate to God just when and how he will answer the prayer. Jesus himself prayed “Thy will be done” and entrusted himself to his Father’s will. A prayer that specifies to God just how he must answer it is not really a prayer at all. We pray to the One who can do what we cannot do. We pray in our weakness. The power of prayer is not in the prayer. It is in the promise of God. It is in Christ who grants us the right to pray. It is in God’s word that establishes us in the true faith and gives us the confidence to pray. So we don’t boss God around in our prayers as if we know better than he what we need. We pray in faith, trusting God’s promise, confident that for Jesus’ sake he will answer us in the best way and at the best time. He knows our needs better than we do. And he will do for us far above what we can even put into words to ask.
Finally, genuine prayer brings the fullness of joy. Jesus says, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” That’s his promise. We take him at his word. He will keep it.
Christian joy should not be confused with a surface happiness that we feel one day and don’t feel the next. It is much deeper than our feelings. It defines what we are as Christians. We live in communion with our Creator. Facing every sort of difficulty a fallen sinner living in a fallen world faces, we do so in fellowship with the One who created us in his image and this world as our paradise.
Prayer brings us joy because as we pray we entrust ourselves to the source of all joy. Prayer brings us true joy even when we must face suffering. We learn that our suffering is not divine retribution, but fatherly blessing. As we persist in prayer God shows us that he answers our prayers. It may appear that he hides his face from us. It may appear that he is ignoring us or that he cannot even hear us. But appearances are quite deceiving when it comes to the Christian’s prayer. God disciplines us through prayer. But he always answers. He answers us and fills us with joy.
Prayer is abused when it is used to sanctify sin. People will often say, “I’ve prayed about it” as they give a rationalization for doing what is clearly wrong. God won’t be mocked. Prayer doesn’t entitle you to defy God’s word or to ignore your duty to your neighbor. We should never appeal to our prayers as license to do what we prayed about doing. God’s word – not our prayers – determines for us what we should do and believe.
And it is from God’s word that we learn to pray. So we pray in faith, holding on to God’s promise, trusting in the merits and mediation of Christ, asking God to answer the prayer as he knows best, and confident that through our prayers our joy will be full. In Jesus’ name.
Rolf D. Preus