Rogate Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| May 1, 2005| John 16:23-30
Prayer is one of the greatest privileges we Christians have. God’s word and the prayers of Christians combine to keep and sustain the Holy Christian Church on earth. God speaks to us and by speaking He elicits faith in our hearts. He reaches inside of us and takes out our unbelieving heart of stone, replacing it with a believing heart of flesh. Then, and only then, do we speak words to God. He receives and hears our words with a fatherly attentiveness that is keener than the attention we receive from anyone else. Our Father in heaven does not sleep. He is not distracted. He doesn’t forget what we ask of Him and He never ignores us when we pray to Him. The privilege of prayer is one of the greatest privileges we Christians enjoy in this life.
What God’s word teaches us about prayer is clear and comforting, but prayer is often misunderstood. Some people think that we become Christians by praying a prayer in which we invite the Lord Jesus into our hearts to become our Lord and Savior. But we don’t become Christians by praying a prayer. We can pray only after God has brought us to faith in Christ. Others believe that if we learn the right formula for prayer we can name and claim specific blessings with which we want God to bless us. Prayer becomes a means of manipulating God’s will, amending the Lord’s Prayer from saying “Thy will be done” to say “My will be done.” But most tragically, many Christians sinfully neglect prayer as if Jesus’ promises mean nothing, as if God doesn’t even want to hear His children talk to Him.
I’ve learned something about my college and seminary sons. Their schedules don’t correspond to mine. While I’m often busy on a Saturday, they are finally finding some time to relax and call home. So when I need to finish a sermon, do a bulletin, or in some other way get ready for Sunday, the boys want call to talk to their dad. And how I love to hear their voices! What a joy to listen to them talk to me about what’s on their minds! The happiness of my children is more precious to me than all the money in the world.
If I love to hear my children call, how much more does our Father in heaven love to hear His children call on Him, day or night, and to ask for whatever it is they need from Him. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”
Jesus invites us to pray to God. Since we, through Jesus, have God’s undivided attention, there is no reason to pray to anyone but God. No one but God can hear our prayers. No one but God can give us those things for which we pray. So we pray only to God and we always pray by Jesus’ invitation.
Since we have Jesus’ invitation to pray, we can pray. While Jesus most certainly prays for us, He also invites us to pray. Jesus is the One who obtains all good things from God for you. He is the One who gives you the right to pray. Jesus does more than to pray for you, interceding with the Father on your behalf. He gives you the right to pray to God with the full confidence of a child who is praying to a loving Father.
You must never think that God won’t listen to your prayer. When you pray in Jesus’ name you know that He most certainly will listen to your prayer. Why would you think He wouldn’t? Because He doesn’t care what you need? If He didn’t care what you needed in life then why would He have sent His Son to you from heaven to come into this world of sin and to take upon Himself all of the sin and misery and pain of the entire human race? If He didn’t care about your needs He wouldn’t have given His most precious treasure to meet your most pressing need of all, the need of deliverance from your own sin and from the devil and from death and judgment and hell. Don’t even think that your Father in heaven doesn’t care about your needs!
Why else would you neglect to pray to God in Jesus’ name, pouring out your heart to Him, expecting Him to bring joy into your life? Could it be that you don’t believe you are worthy to pray to your Father in heaven? But, listen! You are not praying in your name. You are praying in Jesus’ name. That makes all the difference. Since Jesus came from the Father and returned to the Father you have an Advocate with the Father who pleads for you before the Father and for whose sake the Father is always willing to listen to and answer your prayers. Jesus says, “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.”
The Father Himself loves those who love Christ and trust in Him. The Father binds Himself in loyalty to those who claim Christ’s holy name by faith. The Father has given all things into Jesus’ hands and when we lay claim to Jesus – His merits, His obedience, His righteousness, His suffering, His intercession, His love – our Father in heaven is always gracious and propitious to us for Jesus’ sake. He cannot fail to be, for He has bound Himself with a holy and divine oath to be faithful to His promises He gives us in Christ. As we sing:
Jesus, in Thy cross are centered all the marvels of Thy grace;
Thou, my Savior, once hast entered through Thy blood the holy place;
Thy sacrifice holy there wrought my redemption,
From Satan’s dominion I now have exemption;
The way is now free to the Father’s high throne,
Where I may approach Him, in Thy name alone.
When you have Christ you have the Father. Do you love Jesus? Do you believe that He came from the Father and that He has returned to the Father? Then pray in His name to the Father. Pray in Jesus’ name and do not doubt but firmly believe that your Father in heaven will answer your prayers and give you whatever you ask. Ask, and you will most certainly receive. Your heavenly Father will fill you with joy as you pray in Jesus’ name.
To pray in Jesus’ name does not necessarily require the verbalization of His name. After all, Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father,” and the Lord’s Prayer never mentions Jesus’ name. But it is prayed in Jesus’ name. Praying in Jesus’ name is not simply a matter of saying the word “Jesus” or the word “Christ.” People use these names as expletives and people use these names as good luck charms. The power of Jesus’ name is not the magical power of a sound coming out of our mouths. The power of Jesus’ name is in what He did from the time He came forth from the Father into the world and the time when He left the world to go to the Father. He fulfilled the law for us all and He took away our sin. That’s what He did. That’s the power of His name.
Faith receives this and faith expresses itself in prayer. We call God Father because we can approach Him with the confidence of dear children in their loving father. We hallow His name because we bear His name in Holy Baptism and are mystically united with Him by faith. We pray for His kingdom so that He will rule and govern our lives by His grace, keeping us steadfast in the faith into which we were baptized. We pray that His will – not ours – be done among us and in us and through us. We pray for what we need to live here on earth, knowing that our daily needs are in His loving hands. We pray for forgiveness of our sins, promising to forgive others as we have been forgiven. We pray that the time of trial would not lead us into sin but would draw us closer to our Father in heaven who loves us. We pray that He guard and protect us from all evil and from the devil. And whenever we pray we pray with confidence that our prayers will be answered by our Father in heaven because it is Jesus Christ Himself who has taught us to pray.
We pray in Jesus’ name whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer and we don’t mention Jesus’ name. But we pray as God’s children because we have Jesus.
Christians often think that God doesn’t hear their prayers because when they pray they don’t immediately see an answer. Now I suppose this preacher could retreat into what might be called the “eschatological excuse” for God’s failure to answer your prayer. Eschatology refers to the end times and we can always argue that God will answer your prayers in heaven if He doesn’t do so here on earth. But I’m not sure that’s what Jesus means in our text when He says, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” He’s not talking only about heaven. He’s talking about our lives right now, here on earth. He is promising us full joy right here and right now.
Now don’t misunderstand. This fullness of joy will coexist with all sorts of disappointment, heartache, illness, tragedy, and pain. There’s no promise here to rapture us out of the world when the going gets tough. But true joy is not the absence of any kind of pain. True joy is in knowing that we know the true God and that He knows us. He knows our every fault and our every failure. In knowing this He forgives us all our sins for Jesus’ sake. He knows what we want and why we want it. In knowing this He gives us our heart’s desire and if our desire is wrong He patiently changes our will to conform to His own so that we learn to want what He wants. He knows what we are suffering and how much of it is our own fault. In knowing this He doesn’t chide us for our faults and throw our errors up in our face. He turns His face of judgment away from our wrongdoing and turns His face of love to us instead.
To have the fullness of joy in this life is to have both word and prayer: God’s word that places Jesus into our hearts and prayer that asks for whatever we need in life with confidence that our Father in heaven will provide it all in Jesus’ name.