7th Sunday after Pentecost (July 24, 2022)
I would have to say that without a doubt prayer is one of the most neglected and misunderstood spiritual disciplines in the church. How often haven’t you heard someone disparagingly remark, “Well, I’ve tried everything else, I suppose I can try prayer too.” I have had it happen to me more than once, that when I had gone to console someone who was suffering some loss, the individual responded to my request to offer a prayer by saying something like, “Go ahead, Pastor. I suppose a prayer wouldn’t hurt!” “Wouldn’t hurt”? Since when does prayer hurt? Is that why we are so often negligent of prayer because its a painful experience? It takes too much time from something else we would rather do? Whatever happened to seeing prayer as a privilege; a real blessing of God’s grace toward us?
Oh, and what about those infamous bumper stickers that read, “Try prayer. It really works!” How silly I am! All this time I thought prayer was a request of God to do some work. I didn’t know prayer saves, heals, or brings life totally independently of God. If prayer does the work then it would follow that it really doesn’t matter to whom you pray. Your prayer itself would have the power to bring about what you want like some kind of magical incantation!
Perhaps, most prevalent of all is that we all tend to treat prayer like it is some kind of crap shoot. Do you know what I mean by a crap shoot? Crap is a game of chance, gambling, whereby you roll dice in the hopes of turning up a certain combination of numbers that enable you to win. If you have ever watched a craps table in action, then you have observed how people come up with all sorts of creative ways of rolling those dice. But in the end skill has very little to do with it. It’s simply a luck of the roll, a gamble. Hence the phrase, “It’s a real crap shoot.”
We can treat prayer as though it were nothing more than a gamble… a crap shoot. We do so when we pray as though it is a 50/50 chance that God will hear us and/or favorably answer us. We will think or say things like, “Well, Lord, I don’t know if You are listening, but if You are, could You do this for me?” Or we think the more people we can get praying for us the better our odds of actually getting God to help us. Then, too, we often conclude that repeating our petitions over and over again will boost the odds in our favor. What are we doing if not treating prayer as a crap shoot?
To the contrary Jesus teaches us that prayer is anything but a chance or even some kind of manipulative ploy to use on God. Instead, Jesus teaches us that prayer is the natural conversation that occurs in a loving relationship with God. Prayer is simply the spoken yearnings and desires of faith which are seeking to tap into the favorable disposition that God already has toward us.
Jesus’ teaching about prayer comes as a response to His own disciples request to teach them not how to pray but simply to teach them to pray. They had just been observing Jesus once again spending time in prayer. They also knew of how John the Baptizer had taught his followers to pray. Perhaps they were seeing prayer as some kind of rigorous spiritual discipline that one needed to practice in order to make themselves worthy or ensure that God would be favorable to them.
Here’s the upshot of Jesus’ response: “Dear Disciple: God is already graciously predisposed toward His people. He does not need to be placated by us first. Neither do we need to treat prayer as some kind of spiritual shot in the dark; or crap shoot, wishing and hoping that God will hear us and answer us. Prayer is nothing but faith in the sure promises and grace of God put to words.
Jesus teaches us that prayer begins within the wonderful and loving relationship that God has already established with us in His Son. “When you pray,” Jesus said, “say, ‘Father, hallowed be Your name...’”
If you grasp nothing else but this important truth that prayer is done within the relationship of a father to his son, you won’t need anyone to teach you how to pray. If a son or daughter has a good relationship with their father; that is, they know he loves them, and cares for them, and wants nothing but good for them, they will have no reservation whatsoever about approaching their dad with their requests. They will ask without any fear and trembling, but confidently. They won’t think about buttering ol’ dad up so that he might respond to them favorably. They go to him already in the assurance that he will listen to them. And because they have that solid and loving relationship with their dad, they make their request knowing that even if he doesn’t grant it, he does so not out of spite or tiredness but because he wants what is best for them.
This is also your comfort and confidence when you pray. God has already graciously given to you His only begotten Son to be that atoning sacrifice for your sins. Jesus, Himself has given to you the privilege to address God as your Father. That’s truly mind-boggling isn’t it! Jesus has given you permission and privilege to call upon His Father as your Father.
If you were in any other religion you would not have that privilege. You would not have that loving, paternal, relationship with your God. That is because apart from Jesus your sins still would be separating you from your God and Creator. But on account of Jesus Christ, your brother, flesh of your flesh, Who has by His blood reconciled you back to God, you do not simply address God as Father, you are in the position of knowing that God is yourFather.
Such a relationship with God as your Father, then, has great implications for your prayer life. As Dr. Luther taught us in His Small Catechism, “With these words God tenderly invites you to believe that He is your true Father and that you are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence you may ask Him as dear Children as their dear Father.”
In that most precious relationship, just look at the things Jesus teaches you to pray for and the manner in which you ought to pray. The sky is the limit in your petitions to our Father: “Hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” These petitions encompass all that you need both spiritually and physically. As God’s children you need hold nothing back. Everything you need to support this body and life is within your purview to ask for. Every spiritual blessing, including the forgiveness of your sins, God’s very kingdom of grace and salvation, and even the ability to win against your struggle with temptation and evil in all that you say and do is yours for the asking.
It is interesting to note also that these petitions are in the form of imperatives, or commands, not wishes: hallowed... give... forgive...lead. As children of the Heavenly Father you do not speak these petitions like you are throwing up some dice, hoping that they will fall on favorable ears. Neither are they demands as from some spoiled, self-serving, little brat. Rather, these petitions are confident expectations that God desires to give you what you ask for, much like you might say at the dinner table, “ Dad, pass the potatoes.”
Now, to reinforce that God’s children can pray to their Heavenly Father with such confidence, Jesus draws on a real life parallel. He said, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mind on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you , though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.”
Obviously, Jesus presents this hypothetical situation, not so that you draw some kind of comparison between every aspect of the story to your requests of God and His answers, but rather so that you might learn some basic principles about prayer.
First, you are definitely struck with the utter ridiculousness that someone would be so bold as to expect a friend to feed him in the middle of the night. In fact, as a literal rendering of Jesus word here suggests, such behavior would be more than bold. It would be shameless!
Jesus uses the whole scenario to lead you from the ridiculous to the sublime. Note that the man goes to get the three loaves of bread from his neighbor in the first place because he is a friend. He has every confidence that even though his request will be a great imposition to him, as his friend he is already favorably disposed to him. Accordingly, he knows that if he is just persistent, it won’t be a matter of a battle of wills, but his friend, who has already retired for the night, won’t be able to keep himself from eventually helping him with his request. His confidence is in their relationship.
Jesus is telling you that you can be just as shamelessly persistent in your prayers not so as to wear God down but because of the relationship of love God has already established with you in His Son. You have God’s sublime promise after all: “Be asking and it will be given to you; be seeking and you will find; be knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Here’s the thing, unlike human friends, who might only do for you because they are tired of you and just want to get rid of you, or might renege on their friendship and not honor your request, or might even make promises to you they never have any intention on keeping, your Father in Heaven always honors His loving relationship with you, always responds out of His compassion for you, and never makes idle promises but always keeps them. You have no reason not to always pray with confidence.
I’m sure someone might ask that if God is so graciously predisposed to His children, then why would He even make us ask more than once? The answer could be the same reason why any loving parent might not immediately answer a child’s request. The parent knows that sometimes it might be necessary to test the sincerity of the child’s request, for often children ask for things just because other children are asking for them but they personally don’t even know if they want or need them. Secondly, sometimes it is in the best interest of the child not to answer right away so that the child might have more time to reflect on what they really need.
The same could be said for you in our relationship with your Heavenly Father. If He were to give you what you ask for immediately, you might have that which will do you more harm than good. More times than not we do not know what is best for us, only what we think we want. Have you ever noticed how your own prayers have tended to change in time, after you have had more time to evaluate your situation? Some have even said, be careful what you pray for. God might grant it!
Finally, Jesus encourages you to pray with confidence by directing you toward the good and gracious heart of your Heavenly Father. Again, Jesus makes a comparison from the inferior to the superior. He notes how even though all human fathers are “evil,” that is, are sinners and quite self-centered sometimes, still, generally they know how to give good gifts to their children.
They don’t give their son a snake if he asks for a fish... or a scorpion if he asks for an egg. “How much more,” Jesus says, “will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” In other words, your Heavenly Father can not possibly give you anything other than what is good for you. His nature is love. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him.
God’s gracious heart toward you is revealed in the fact that He stands ready to give you the greatest gift you can possibly have; The Holy Spirit Himself. When you have the Holy Spirit, you don’t need anything else. As the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son to bring God’s very presence with you. The Holy Spirit brings you through the Word of the Gospel and the Holy Sacraments all the blessings and gifts of grace that Jesus procured for you with His death and resurrection, most especially forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and every evil, and ever lasting life. The Holy Spirit gives you faith which is considerably more valuable than any other answers to your prayers. When you have the Holy Spirit you are guaranteed a gracious answer to every prayer. As St. Paul states, the Holy Spirit even intercedes on your behalf with the Father, always knowing precisely what to pray for because He knows perfectly the Father’s will and your truest need.
Now, how do you feel about praying when you know your Heavenly Father is so graciously disposed toward you?