April 27, 2008

Rogate + John 16.23-33

“A Christian is never safe from the devil and his own flesh, from falling into sin and shame” [Luther]. These words from Luther show why we must pray always, pray without ceasing. 

You also should pray because God commands you to pray. But why? He commands you to pray not in order to burden you. He commands you to pray because He desires to hear your prayer. Without the command, we would have no reason to expect we would be heard. It is difficult—nearly impossible—to get an audience with or submit your requests to the president or governor. But if he summoned you into his presence, you would surely go; if he told you to ask for whatever you need, you would be a fool to not respond. 

But what did our Lord Jesus say to His disciples? “Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.... Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” The Lord has commanded you to pray, because He wishes to give you what you need. The prayers of the saints are like sweet-smelling incense rising before Him; they give the Lord delight. We have the promise: “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me” [Ps. 50.15]

“The day of trouble” shall surely come - and thank God for it, because it is the day you are driven to prayer. When all goes well, we are prone to haughtiness, pride, arrogance. We suppose it is by our own reason and strength that we have gotten success. Since the Lord chastens those He loves, we see in the chastening a gift - an invitation to call upon the Lord, an invitation to be heard by Him. And His delight is in hearing your petitions, and answering them in the way that is best for you.

But mark well: “The devil is a scoundrel,” says Luther, “who furtively sneaks up behind us to see if he can somehow divert us from prayer. So, we must prepare ourselves to oppose him and allow nothing to deter us. When he prompts you to think, there’s something else I must do first, then you must say, No, not so; as soon as the need arises, I shall pray; for when I have need to call upon God, that is the right time to do it.” Since a Christian is never safe from the devil and his own flesh, we must constantly pray.

Ah, but what shall we say? Pay no heed to those who say your prayers should begin in silence, listening for the voice of God. That is a lie - the only voice you will hear is the voice of the devil, or your own wicked, perverse flesh. Prayer indeed begins by listening, but not to some internal voice. The voice inside your head, the voice of your flesh, will lie to you. Listen instead to the Word of God. Prayer begins with the Words God has spoken to us by His prophets, the Word that came by the Holy Spirit.

So even the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And when the Lord taught them to pray, He gave them the prayer we still use today, the Lord’s Prayer. Only, let not those words be mindless repetition. Instead, consider what they mean and build, if you will, your own personal petitions on the foundation of the petitions the Lord Jesus has given us to say. The Lord’s Prayer gathers up all the things the Lord wants us to pray for, and He urges us to pray it, because, again, we are never safe from the devil and our own flesh.

So we begin, “Our Father.” Even when we are alone, we say, Our Father.” For we always pray not as isolated individuals, but as members of the Holy Christian Church. And we are bidden to pray often with the Church and for the Church. As the Lord has put each of us into families, and commanded us to love our spouses, parents, children and siblings, so we are to love and take care of each other as the family of God.

When we say in the first petition, “Hallowed be Thy name,” we pray first for the Gospel, that the pure teaching of God’s Word would be preserved. So we pray for pastors, that they would be faithful. We pray against heretics and schismatics - those who divide the church by false teaching or failure to show love and patience. Finally, we pray that God’s name would be hallowed by the Word bringing sinners to repentance, and comforting the repentant sinners with the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins in the atoning death of Jesus.

Then, “Thy kingdom come.” Here we pray for an end to the kingdom of death and the devil; we pray that God would establish His kingdom in us and in all men by His Word and Spirit.

And so we pray, “Thy will be done.” This is to ask for the undoing of everything opposed to God’s will; it is to pray against ourselves, asking for submission in our own minds and hearts to God’s desire for us. When we ask for God’s will to be done, we are asking for the quenching of the fires of our passion, the soothing of our anger, forsaking the insistence on doing things our way; in sum, we are asking that our lives, wills, hearts, and minds would be conformed to the Word and will of God.

Only after we have considered the name of God and asked for His kingdom and will do we then pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Here we pray for everything we need in this life - not only food but our family, our rulers, our country and our vocations. God, in His loving-kindness, gives daily bread to all people, even the wicked; but when we pray this, we are acknowledging that everything we have and need comes from God, and we are giving Him thanks for it. By asking just for what we need day-by-day, we are asking at the same time for contentment. Our Father is inviting us to be content, to trust Him to provide for what we need. If He clothes the grass of the field, and provides food for the ravens, will He not much more care for you, O you of little faith?

In thinking about our daily bread, our heart is drawn also to the Sacrament, where we receive bread from the Lord’s table, and with it, forgiveness. Thus immediately on the heels of asking God to care for our bodies this day is the petition to care for our souls: “And forgive us our trespasses.” In other words, “Do not give us what we deserve, but show us Your mercy, dear Father.” Yet mark how this is joined with a prayer to grow in holiness, to receive grace to do what is so hard: “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

We know this will be difficult, and that the devil will plot against us, the world will distract us, our flesh will seek to pull us away; therefore we plead, “Lead us not into temptation,” - for the Christian is never safe in this life; we walk in danger all the way.

Finally, we pray that God would be with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world. “Deliver us from evil,” do not abandon us to the grave, drive away from us the evil one, take us from this vale of tears to Yourself in heaven.

And all of this we pray “in the name of Jesus,” even when the formula is not used, as in the Lord’s Prayer. What does that mean? When we pray “in the name of Jesus,” we are making our prayer rest not on our own worthiness, goodness, or piety, or the eloquence of our words. Everything depends on the standing of Jesus before the Father.

So pray this prayer every day, together with the prayers in the Catechism: the Morning and Evening Prayers, and the prayers at mealtime. Pray because you are not safe. Pray because God commands it. But remember why God commands it: because He delights in hearing your prayers; He delights in giving to you what you need.

He may not give you what you want; but that is because you may not want what is best for you. He may not answer when you wish - but that is because He will answer when you need it. Cast all your cares on Him knowing that He cares for you; call on Him in the day of trouble, the day of sin and death, and He will answer you; ask, in the name of Jesus, for the forgiveness of your sins and deliverance from the grave and hell – ask and you will receive, and your joy will be full.

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