A Simple Way to Pray

 

Fifth Sunday after Easter
Rogate
John 16:23-24
May 1, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of + Jesus.

“And in that day, you will inquire nothing of Me,” says Jesus. “Amen, amen, I am saying to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name He will give to you. Until now you ask nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, in order that your joy would be filled up.” We take for granted what a marvelous thing prayer is, how it was unheard of to come to God and address Him as Father. But the Son changes it all for us. He gives us access to God directly, not as stern judge but as a loving Father.

This is how Jesus’ own prayer begins. Our Father, who art in heaven. When you pray, say the same thing. This is what Jesus’ name, the gift given you at your Baptism, allows you to do. Prayer in the name of Jesus is to pray as Jesus prays; simply uttering the words, “In Jesus’ name,” does not a prayer in the name of Jesus make.

It’s a simple way to pray. It doesn’t require a great deal of eloquence. You don’t need to heap up sentences to make your prayer more impressive. You don’t need to include everything under the sun; When you pray, don’t prattle on like the Gentiles—they think that because of their many words they will be heard, but your Father knows what you need before you ask Him (Mt 6:7-8). So let the name of Jesus—that is, the way Jesus prays—be your guide.

The Name of Jesus Weaves a Prayer Out of Four Strands: Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession, and Prayer

I.

The first strand in this string of four is instruction. It’s where prayer begins. Thing of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus begins by addressing God in a way that says something about him. Our Father, who art in heaven. He is the heavenly Father, and we can pray to Him because He loves to give gifts to His children. The next three petitions are also more about what God does than what we want. God’s name is holy, His kingdom comes, and His will is done without our prayer, but we pray that these things would happen among us also. To begin prayer with instruction means that prayer begins not in my own heart, but in God’s Word.

One of the problems with prayer is that many Christians assume that it begins with themselves, that they initiate the conversation with God. But this will result in one of two things: either you won’t have a clue what to say or you’ll babble on and on and on and on.

Our nature, fallen as it is, is always turned in upon itself, and so we naturally begin prayer by searching our hearts and minds for the appropriate words. But Jesus warns, From within, from the heart of man proceed evil dialogues: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, greediness, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, an evil eye, slander, arrogance, foolishness. All of these evils proceed from within, and profane a man (Mk 7:21-23). These do not make for good prayer.

The most true and sure prayer is one that begins with that which is most true and sure—God’s Word. It grows out of God’s Word. The first strand of a godly prayer is what God would have us know of Him and His work. Prayer begins with a confession of faith.

If you’ve ever been asked to pray, and couldn’t figure out what to say, it’s probably because you were looking for words in all the wrong places. God Himself provides the words for prayer. Not just the Lord’s Prayer, which you should be saying every day, but also every other prayer. Begin with what Scriptures says about God the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Begin with what Scriptures says. For instance, a way to start a prayer based on today’s Gospel is: Heavenly Father, You have promised to give to us whatever we ask in Jesus name, so that our joy would be full. That’s it. That’s what He teaches. It’s as simple as that.

II.

The second strand woven together with the first is thanksgiving. Throughout Scripture, prayer and thanksgiving are virtually synonymous. St. Paul writes to the Colossians, Be devoted to prayer, being watchful in it, in thanksgiving (Col 4:2). Prayer is the means of giving thanks to God.

But we are a thankless people. It doesn’t come naturally. This is why you have to train children to say, “Thank you.” The old nature again gravitates inward and neglects the neighbor. Thanksgiving has to be drilled into your head, and even then, most of the time it’s only a reluctant thanks.

When have you been most thankful? It’s when you’ve gotten a great gift. Thanksgiving isn’t something that you produce; it’s a product of the one who gives the gift. That’s why thanksgiving always follows God’s Word. There is no greater gift than the free gift of grace. Thanksgiving is generated by the teaching of the first part of the prayer.

Thanksgiving has a way of engendering love. Jesus commands us, Love your enemies and pray on behalf of your persecutors (Mt 5:44). This doesn’t mean imprecatory prayers (that means prayers for judgment on your enemies). It means also giving thanks for your persecutors. And it’s pretty hard to be angry with someone you’ve just given thanks for. Besides, it’s trials and persecutions that drive us to prayer. The three ways a theologian is made are meditation, oratio, tentatio: meditation on Scripture, prayer, and trails and persecutions.

So give thanks. Like St. Paul, learn to give thanks in all circumstances. Thank God for the gifts that He gives. Based on today’s reading, a thanksgiving might read thusly: Thank You for Your Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, and the name of Jesus you gave to us in Holy Baptism.

III.

But the lattice is yet incomplete. The third strand is a confession. By now in your prayer you will have realized your many faults. The instruction of God’s Word not only reveals God’s Word and work, but also our own inabilities, our sins and rebellions. What God commands, we naturally hate. What He expects, we naturally fail to do. Our thanklessness is revealed. A confession reminds us that we receive everything for which we pray by grace. There is no merit or worthiness in me that caused God to act. He loves the unlovable.

Confession is also something that does not come naturally. Only the powerful working of God’s Spirit through His holy Word can cause us to realize the depth of our depravity. Sure, we’re quite comfortable in admitting our little sins, sins we think we’ve got quite control over. But we fool ourselves. St. John writes, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 Jn 1:8). But God is not so easily fooled.

One of the keys to understanding the proper distinction of God’s Law and Gospel is to understand the nature of sin and forgiveness. There is no sin that is unforgiveable because of its magnitude. There is nothing you can do that is so bad that it disqualifies you from salvation. Not rape, not murder, not homosexuality, not transition genders. No one’s sin has ever exceeded the power of the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. Little sins, big sins, disgusting sins, middling sins. Every one alike is forgiven for the sake of Jesus. The only sin that is unforgiveable is denying forgiveness itself. It’s refusing to let Jesus bear a sin because you don’t think it’s a sin.

This is why you should confess boldly, and happily. Because it means that the sins are yours no longer. What Jesus forgives, He has taken away forever. As far as the east is from the west. Based on today’s reading, a confession could be: We confess that we have profaned the name of Your Son by our lives and by our speech; do not deny our prayer because of our sins.

IV.

Lastly, the fourth strand of a godly prayer is…a prayer. Now that God’s Word has instructed you, you have given thanks for things you may not even have been aware were a gift, and you have confessed your sins and looked to God’s forgiveness, now you are prepared for a petition.

When God’s Word has its way with you, it will supply you with the prayers that you need. It may not be eloquent, but you don’t need eloquence. The Holy Spirit intercedes for you with groanings too deep for words. It may not be long or complex, but simple prayers are usually the best. The prayer the follows instruction, thanksgiving, and confession will be a prayer that is in Jesus’ name in the truest sense. Not just by uttering those syllables, but for praying according to the Father’s will, praying for that which the Son has promised, praying for the one thing needful that is given by the Holy Spirit—the forgiveness of sins. Father, fill us with the joy of the resurrection of Your Son, so that we might look ahead with joy to our own resurrection.

With this prayer of four strands—instruction, thanksgiving, confession, and prayer—you now have a simple way to pray in any circumstance. You can use this technique for any reading from Holy Scripture as well as when meditating on the Small Catechism. You will never be at a loss for words when you pray, because God supplies the words for prayer. This is truly prayer in Jesus’ name.

In conclusion, let us pray: Heavenly Father, You have promised to give to us whatever we ask in Jesus’ name, so that our joy would be full. Thank You for Your Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, and the name of Jesus You gave to us in Holy Baptism. We confess that we have profaned the name of Your Son by our lives and by our speech; do not deny our prayer because of our sins. Father, fill us with the joy of the resurrection of Your Son, so that we might look ahead with joy to our own resurrection.

In the name of + Jesus.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Image courtesy of flickr user