How to Pray
Rogate Sunday| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| May 4, 2013| St. John 16:23‑30
“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. These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” His disciples said to Him, “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.”
We take it for granted. We do it without even thinking. We pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” What gives us the right to do so? Where do we get the right to call God Father? Who do we think we are to address the Creator of the universe, the almighty, omniscient, and everlasting Judge of all mankind as “Our Father”? We are children of God. That’s what gives us the right to call God Father. We are children of God.
Who are “we”? Are all people children of God? Some of you might remember the folk songs of Peter, Paul, and Mary. They sang a song to the tune of “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” that featured the line, “Because all men are brothers.” They chose the melody of a hymn that so beautifully captures what Christ did for us all on the cross to promote a false humanistic doctrine that denies the cross and dismisses the vicarious suffering of Jesus as unnecessary! If all people are brothers and sisters regardless of whether they believe in Jesus Christ, clearly faith in Christ is not necessary. But if faith in Christ is not necessary, then Christ is not necessary. If Christ is not necessary, he wasted his time and suffering to come into the world from the Father and to leave the world and go to the Father. He might as well have remained hidden in glory and not stooped down to us to bear our humanity and in his assumed humanity to suffer and die for us on a cross. If we don’t need Christ to be God’s children, what he did was no more than a gesture.
This is the spirit of our day. People claim the benefits that Christ alone can give while rejecting Christ who gives them. The right to pray is cheapened and distorted. The purpose for prayer is upended from the hallowing of God’s name and the coming of his kingdom and the doing of his will into the hallowing of our name, the triumph of our power, and the vindication of our desires. If we do not see our need for Christ, what do we want from God? If we don’t need any spiritual benefits, what do we need? Whatever our sinful flesh craves, that’s what!
Why do we ask for nothing in Jesus’ name? Why do we turn God into a heavenly vending machine to give us the stuff our appetites crave while ignoring God himself as our greatest good? It is because we have adopted the spirit of our day. We have pains and we want a god who will kiss our owies and make them go away. We have cravings and we want a god who will satisfy them. When he doesn’t, we complain that God doesn’t answer prayer.
But God does answer prayer. Jesus says so. Jesus teaches us about prayer by teaching us about the Father. No one has ever seen God. God is a spirit. He is not a bodily being as we are. We are not mere bodily beings. God has made us in his image, in his likeness, as creatures created to love God and to know God and to live before God. We are not like the animals that live by instinct and for whom there is no moral compass or standard of holiness. We are moral creatures with both body and soul.
But God is not a bodily being. He has no body. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman he met at Jacob’s well, “God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) God has no body. He is a spirit. But God has a Son. As the Father is so the Son is. The Son receives his essence from the Father. The Son is therefore equal to the Father. Whatever we can say about the Father we can say about the Son. They are one.
The Father did not become a human being. The Holy Spirit did not become a human being. The Son became a human being. God became one of us in the person of his Son. This is a wonderful mystery. When God joined the human race he did so to win for all of humanity what no human being had ever been able to achieve. Adam and Eve fell. They were innocent and they fell. All of their children have been infected by the sin, that original sin, where the holy man and the holy woman decided that they wanted to be like God and so they obeyed the devil and rejected the word of God.
This has been human nature ever since. We reject the word of God and listen to lies. This affects the way we look at everything. Consider prayer, the topic addressed by Jesus in our text. Is prayer the means by which we get God to do what we want him to do? If that were the case, why would we pray, “Thy will be done”? We should be praying, “My will be done!” Is prayer the means by which we gain more and more stuff that will make our lives in this world comfortable and financially secure? If that were the case, why would we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”? We should be praying that God make us wealthy. But of the seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us only one that pertains to the needs of the body and for those needs he teaches us to rely on God day by day for everything we need.
People use prayer as a means to empower themselves and to manipulate God. In fact, to pray in Jesus’ name is to come before God on God’s terms, not our own, and to claim what God wants to give us, not what our fallen, sinful, selfish, self-serving, and idolatrous nature desires.
What does God want to give us? In whose name are we to pray? For whose sake does God answer our prayers? Is it not in Jesus’ name? Is it not for Jesus’ sake? Why? Why not for the Father’s sake? Why not for the Holy Spirit’s sake? Why not for the sake of our Christian loved ones who have taught us the faith? Why not for the sake of the holy Christian Church in heaven where the saints are confirmed in bliss and glory? Why we do pray for Jesus’ sake and in Jesus’ name?
Jesus tells us why:
In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”
We pray in Jesus’ name, we pray for Jesus’ sake, we pray appealing to Jesus because it is Jesus who has won for us the right to pray. It is Jesus who has brought us God’s favor. Only in Jesus do we have God’s love. Jesus says it as strongly as words permit when he says, “For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” These words sound rather shocking because we know that we love God because God first loved us, but here our Lord Jesus is saying that the Father loves us because we love Jesus. What kind of talk is this? Our Lord Jesus would have us know and believe that there is no other location for the love of God than in him, in his coming from God and returning to God, that is, in his birth, his life of obedience, his suffering and death on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into glory to sit at the right hand of the Father from whence he intercedes for us.
That Christ intercedes is a given. That’s why he says, “I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.” Of course, he will. That goes without saying. But when we have Christ we have even more than an intercessor who pleads for us before God. We have God. We have access to him at all times.
It is from this truth that we can understand what Jesus is saying to us when he says, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” When we are suffering from a lack of money, a bad job, a guilty conscience, deteriorating health or any other misery that would tell us that God doesn’t really know or care about what we’re suffering, we pray to the Father in Jesus’ name. We tell him our troubles. We ask for his help. We ask in Jesus’ name. Our Father in heaven hears our prayers and gives us what we ask in Jesus’ name.
To ask in Jesus’ name is not necessarily to say the word “Jesus” when we are praying to the Father. When Jesus taught his Church the Lord’s Prayer he did not teach us to say his name but there is no question that we pray the Lord’s Prayer in Jesus’ name.
To pray in Jesus’ name means two things. First, it means that we believe Jesus came from Father and returned to the Father. We believe that he is true God and true man in one person. We confess the true deity of Jesus. He is the Son of God. He is not the Son of God as we are children of God, by adoption. He is the Son of God by nature, receiving his very essence from the Father in eternity so that everything the Father has belongs to the Son as well. This is what we confess when we pray in Jesus name. Jesus is our Lord and our God.
Secondly, to pray in Jesus’ name is to pray for what Jesus provides. If you don’t want what Jesus provides, find some idol to worship and see if it will give you what you want out of life. Bow down to mammon. He’ll never give you true satisfaction. Seek out the approval of the crowd. They’ll turn on you when it suits their own self-interest. Worship your own body and then watch it grow old and sick and die.
When we pray in Jesus’ name we confess that we need what he alone can give. The true joy, the full joy that Jesus promises is the joy of knowing that God sees us at our very worst and loves us, accepts us, and forgives us for Christ’s sake. Jesus came from the Father and returned to the Father in order to reconcile us to the Father by his holy obedience and his innocent suffering and death. Every time we pray to God we do so as Christians who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. Jesus lived for us. He died for us. He offered his holiness up to the Father to replace our sin. He offered his obedience up to the Father to replace our disobedience. He won the Father’s approval. For Jesus’ sake we are righteous. The Father sees no sin in those who are covered by the blood and righteousness of his Son. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray as saints wearing the white robes of innocence purchased by Christ’s blood.
We pray that God would hallow his name among us because his words are more precious to us than all the money in the world. We pray that God would bring his kingdom to us by filling us with the Holy Spirit and establishing us in the true faith. We pray for God’s good and gracious will, knowing that he knows our needs better than we do and he loves us more than we can imagine. We pray, not for wealth, but for what we need day by day. We pray that God will forgive us all our sins for Jesus’ sake and we know he will and we forgive others to express that confidence. We pray that God would keep temptation from leading us away from him and that he would protect us from an evil death, keeping us trusting in our Savior Jesus until he returns to call us home. For Jesus’ sake, our heavenly Father will answer all our prayers. Amen