Rogate Sunday Sermon | Rev. Rolf D. Preus | May 21, 2006| John 16:23-24
“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)
Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray. In response to their request, Jesus taught them to pray the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer. It is called the Lord’s Prayer because the Lord Jesus gave it to us to pray. If we would like to know the things for which we should pray we need look no further than to this prayer. It contains seven petitions or requests. These petitions include all petitions.
To pray means to ask. It is to make a request. It is to plea, to beg, to petition God in heaven for what He alone can give. In our text for this morning Jesus invites us to pray. We see in His words four things that every prayer requires:
First, every prayer is prayed in response to the promise of God.
Second, every prayer is prayed in confidence that God’s promises are true.
Third, every prayer contains requests or petitions.
Fourth, every prayer is prayed in Jesus’ name.
Every prayer is prayed in response to the promise of God. Jesus gives the promise. He says: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” Prayer begins with God’s promise. Prayer does not originate with us. It begins with God. Without His invitation to pray and His promise that He will answer our prayers we would have no right to pray. We could expect nothing. To ask God for something without permission is to presume. Nowadays religion has become quite presumptuous. People have the idea that prayer is some kind of inalienable right like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s as if there is this weak-kneed god out there waiting to take orders from his demanding children.
The true God – the only God who exists – does not live to take orders from sinners. He lives in that unapproachable light that no mortal man can enter. No one can see Him in His naked glory and live to tell about it. Who would dare to come before this holy God and make demands of Him? And yet this is the same God who promises to answer our prayers. He binds Himself to this promise. He has given His word. He never goes back on His word.
Prayer needs God’s promise. Without God’s promise there can be no true faith and thus no true prayer. How can we pray with confidence unless we first know that God has invited us to pray and promised to give us those things for which we pray? We cannot. Those who presume to pray to God as if they are God’s boss do not really pray with confidence. Only those who trust in the promise can pray in faith. Prayer needs God’s promise. We don’t pray to the saints who have died and gone to heaven. Why not? There is no promise from God that they can hear our prayers or answer them. Without a promise faith is flying blind and is not faith at all but delusion.
Second, every prayer is prayed in confidence that God’s promises are true. Faith is confidence. It is trust. Faith is knowledge. It is a certain kind of knowledge. It knows that God cannot lie. When He gives His word it is as good as done. St. James warns us about praying apart from faith. He writes:
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 1:6-7)
To doubt God is to question His word. It is to take His name in vain. It is to call His faithfulness into question. We don’t base our faith on what we see. We may or may not see that God has answered our prayers. We base our faith on what God says. We believe that we will receive from God the things we ask because He has promised to give them to us. Jesus said, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” He makes no limitations. Whatever means whatever. This is Christ’s promise. It is true. Faith believes that God’s promises are truth. True prayer is offered in faith.
Third, every prayer contains requests or petitions. The perfect prayer contains seven petitions, which is appropriate because seven is the perfect number. We may pray a prayer with a single request. Or we may pour out our heart and list as many things as burden us. But prayer, by definition, asks God for things. When we ask we ask for specific things. A child is sick or in trouble. A marriage is suffering strain. Money is tight. Health is bad. Death looms. Sadness overwhelms. So we pray. We ask God for all sorts of specific things, throwing upon His mercy every concern we have.
Now when we ask for specific things we need to be ready to receive something perhaps a bit different from what we specifically asked for. But that’s simply because we cannot know as God knows. He gives us what we ask, but He must often revise what we ask to fit into what is best. We do pray according to God’s will, after all, and God’s will translates our specific requests into things far better than we could have put into words.
Fourth, every prayer is prayed in Jesus’ name. This doesn’t require that the name of Jesus be mentioned. The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t mention Jesus’ name. To pray in Jesus name means to pray in the faith that receives Christ and all His benefits. It is to pray with Christ as our Mediator before God, interceding for us. It is to pray with confidence that we are justified by Christ’s blood and that through faith in Him we have peace with God, access to the throne of grace, and eternal salvation. To pray in Jesus name is to pray knowing that Jesus has brought us into fellowship with God. By bearing our sins on the cross He has made us acceptable to our Father in heaven. Jesus has given us the right to pray. This is what it means to pray in Jesus’ name.
Jesus tells us the purpose of prayer. We pray in response to God’s promise. We pray trusting in His promise. Our prayers contain petitions or requests to God. We pray in Jesus’ name. Why are we doing this? What is the purpose of it all? What is the goal, the reason, the end for which we are praying? Jesus tells us: “That your joy may be full.” When we pray to God He answers our prayers and gives us the fullness of joy.
Prayer and God’s word go together. God’s word without our prayer is God talking as if to a brick wall. Our prayer without God’s word is empty talk without any understanding. In the prayer of the Christian, God joins in a beautiful way His own promises and our response of faith in those promises. St. Peter tells us to cast our cares on Him because He cares for us. So we do. We tell Him what bothers us, what troubles our consciences and brings us doubts. We confide in Him what we feel when nobody else could possibly understand. And He always hears us. He always understands. He always answers.
True, at times it seems as if He isn’t paying any attention. But what seems so isn’t so. The promise remains firm even when appearances conspire to contradict it. It is especially when it appears that God is paying us no mind that we must be persistent and stubborn in our prayers. This is a discipline. We discipline ourselves to set before God those things that we see as our specific needs. And as we do this, fighting against doubt, we go to God’s word. God’s word will then mold and perfect our faith. He will teach us to pray with more confidence and boldness. Prayer and God’s word go back and forth and form a conversation that lifts us up from our troubles and gives us true joy.
Jesus promises that through prayer our joy will be full. It will be a genuine joy. It won’t be the joy in accumulating useless things that will perish with the world. If we want to pray our way into material prosperity we don’t yet understand what prayer is. And it won’t be the joy of sinful pride that places us above others as if in some kind of a spiritual competition. It will be the joy of sins forgiven, of true peace with God and in true fellowship with one another. Prayer is the heartbeat of the Christian’s life, drawing its life from the pure promises of God’s word. God is always ready to hear and answer and give us more than we can ask, not because we deserve this from Him but because He has promised to do so for Christ’s sake. Our lazy flesh will claim that prayer does no good. The flesh is a fool. It isn’t the good that prayer does. It’s the good that the God to whom we pray does for us for Jesus’ sake. He is our Father and we are His children. So we with all boldness and confidence ask Him as dear children ask their dear father, in Jesus’ name.
In Jesus’ name we live and we will die;
If then we live, His love we will proclaim;
If we die, we gain thereby.
In Jesus’ name Who from heaven to us came,
We shall again arise to meet Him in the skies,
When at last, saved by His grace
We shall see Him face to face,
Live with Him in Paradise.