Lessons: Numbers 21:4-9, James 1:22-27, John 16:23-33
Hymns: LSB 668, 663, 774, 766, 548
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Prayer. Every year at this time the Church hears our Lord’s teaching on prayer. Prayer is a blessing. Yet prayer is often misunderstood.
Here are two common misunderstandings concerning prayer: First, some think prayer is a way to get God to do what we want—as if God’s plan is bad or wrong and then we use prayer to change God’s plan to something that is good and right. An attribute of God is that He is immutable, meaning He does not change. His will is good, and it is perfect. We cannot use prayer to manipulate God or force Him to change His ways. God knows what is best for us and He does what is best for each one of us.
Second, some teach prayer must only come from the heart. In fact, some churches forbid their parishioners from praying written prayers—even the Lord’s Prayer. If you visit a church and the Lord’s Prayer is not prayed, it is possible that that church actually forbids her members from praying the Lord’s Prayer. It sounds crazy, but it is true. Why do they teach this? The reason is simple. They say prayers must come from the heart—come from inside—from your feelings. They say prayers are not genuine if they are written in a book—even the Bible.
True prayer begins, not in the heart, but in the Word of God. Consider it this way. If a mother has a daughter, she will teach her daughter the things she likes. If the mother loves raising a family, going to work, gardening or sports or craft or some other hobby, that mother will teach her daughter those things. She wants her daughter to love what she loves. And when her daughter takes interest in those activities, the mother is quite proud of her daughter.
It is similar when it comes to prayer. You see, God teaches us His Word. He loves to show us His will, work, and ways. He invites us to pray. And so, when we pray, we speak back to God many of the things He has taught us. God is delighted to see we learned from Him. Prayer is essentially speaking back to God the things God has spoken to us. God teaches. We hear, listen, and receive. We then speak to Him in prayer what we have heard and received.
That’s why the Lord’s Prayer serves as a model prayer. God taught it to us. One day, the disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1-4). Jesus replied, “When you pray, say ‘Our Father…’” It is a privilege for us to be given this prayer. And it is a privilege that we have the opportunity now to speak this prayer back to the One who taught it to us.
We pray for a few reasons. First, God taught us to pray and invites us to pray. His invitation to pray should be enough to cause us to want to pray. Knowing that He has given us this opportunity, our desire as Christians should be to pray. Why would we want to pass up such a wonderful invitation from God?
Second, we pray because God promises to hear us. This is an amazing promise God attaches to prayer! God promises to listen intently to every prayer we bring before Him. What a blessing to be given God’s promises! We can go to our dear Father in prayer, just as dear children can ask their dear parents!
Third, we pray because God will answer our prayers in accordance with His good and gracious will. We pray to commend all things to God. We pray because we believe and trust in God.
It surprises me when Christians do not take time to pray before meals. Many Christians do not begin their days with prayer or end their days in prayer. We really have no good reason for refraining from prayer. That’s what the godless do. If we are not praying before meals and at least one other time each day, we need to repent. We need to confess our sin of neglecting prayer. And we need to amend our lives and take time to pray.
If you aren’t sure what to pray, begin by praying the Lord’s Prayer. Pray the table prayers. Use your Catechism for morning and evening prayer. Use prayer books to guide you in prayer. Stop by my study and I can show you some fine books. There’s one prayerbook that’s used in Sunday services but often neglected in Christian homes—the Psalter. Those 150 psalms in the middle of the Bible are the Bible’s prayerbook. The more you pray them, the more you’ll rely on them and love them.
And you may also pray from the heart. Your prayers should not be limited to these, but you can certainly bring the cares and concerns of your heart to our Lord in prayer. If you aren’t sure how (or if you find yourself too distraught to pray), simply say, “God bless …” and list the people that wish to pray for or say, “Lord, have mercy on …”
Also use the Ten Commandments, Creed, and Lord’s Prayer as a basis for your prayers. In 1535, a barber named Peter asked his friend, Martin Luther, how to pray. Luther wrote a letter directing him to the Ten Commandments, Creed and Lord’s Prayer. Luther gives a guideline on how to focus on each commandment, article, or petition and then pray.
It’s a wonderful little booklet. Costing only $4 and very easy to read, it shows very simply how to bring your petitions to the Lord. When praying the text of the Ten Commandments, Luther divides the prayer into four parts. 1) Instruction. 2) Thanksgiving 3) Confession 4) Prayer. ITCP.
Luther’s little letter was translated by our Synod President who included a nice introduction. Matt Harison wrote, “Find a place to meditate. Find a quiet spot. A comfortable kneeler focuses the attention well, but you will probably find yourself at a table, a desk, or a favorite easy chair. Take a few deep, clearing breaths, and continue to breathe deeply. Recite the Lord’s Prayer. Clear your mind. Pray for clarity of mind and a receptive heart. Now, read the text again, slowly. What words are beginning to jump out at you? What words trouble you? Encourage you? Disturb you? Comfort you? What does the text teach you? What do you have to be thankful for in the text? What can you confess? Pray.”
Let’s go through this 4-part prayer when considering the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.”
First, instruction. What is God teaching? Pray His teaching on the First Commandment back to Him. Please pray with me. “Lord, You teach me to fear, love and trust in You above all things. You do not want me to trust in my possessions, honor, wisdom, power, or anything You have created, but to trust in You alone. Amen.”
Second, thanksgiving. Give thanks for the blessings found in the first commandment. Please pray with me. “Father, You are merciful to me. You have come to me in love and given me life. For that, I give You thanks. Thank You for being my consolation, protection, help, and strength. Thank You for saving Me. Amen.”
Third, confession. “God, it is difficult for me to fear, love and trust in You. I find myself distracted by all the world has to offer. My love for You has faltered. I fear others more than I fear You. My love and trust are often in my possessions, not You. For that I am sorry. Please forgive me. Amen.”
Finally, prayer. Pray for God’s blessings and His help. Give Him your requests and petitions. Please join me in prayer. “O my God and Lord, by Your grace, help me to follow the First Commandment and give it sincere attention. Guard my heart so that I no longer forget and become unthankful or seek consolation in any goods on earth. Help me to cling to You alone as my only God. I pray this all in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
This is Luther’s ITCP—Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession, and Prayer. As you practice this, it will become natural to you and a great blessing for your meditation and prayer.
Our Lord Jesus teaches that whatever you ask the Father in Christ’s name, He will grant you. That is, Jesus invites you to pray in faith—as a believer, trusting that God will answer in the manner that is best.
And He grants you what you ask in His name. That is, He grants your petitions according to His will. It is not His will to give you everything you want. But as you pray in His name, trusting in His promises, you recognize that He will give you what is best.
And that’s exactly what God does. He loves you and invites you to pray. He always hears your prayers. He always grants you what we need. He loves to hear your prayers and loves to answer them. So pray without ceasing. Let your complaints be replaced with prayer. Be thankful and grateful. Speak to your Lord what He has taught you.
After all, God is for you God. He made you. He redeemed you by the blood of the Lamb. He has given you all that you need to support your lives. He has given you the gift of salvation. Jesus died on the cross and rose for you so that you now have access to our Heavenly Father. He delights in you when you offer your petitions to Him.
God is generous. He loves you dearly. He hears your pleas for mercy. “God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear fathers.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen