Revised from a sermon written in 2007.
What’s the first thing you do when you hear good or bad news? You might jump for joy. You might hug or kiss someone or, to be civil, pat someone on the back or shake their hand. You might cry. A hug could be appropriate. Even holding someone’s hand goes a long way in sympathy.
What happened to prayer? Many Christians don’t pray because they haven’t been taught. Some Christians won’t pray because they think God isn’t listening or God has better things to do. Others forget to pray because it’s the last thing on their minds. They might think the situation is so hopeless that God isn’t able to help.
Unbelievers put us to shame. You have seen a movie or TV show featuring someone who cries out: “If there is a god, help me!” When trouble comes, they lift up their voice in prayer to a god that might exist hoping their god might save them. Perhaps you have prayed that prayer.
You are not the first. Job says, I cry out to You [Lord], but You do not answer me; I stand up, and You regard me. But You have become cruel to me; with the strength of Your hand You oppose me. King Solomon laments [Lord,] You have covered Yourself with anger and pursued us; You have slain and not pitied.
You’ve dropped to your knees in prayer asking for something or praying on behalf of someone. If the Lord answered the way you want, you rejoice and keep asking Him. If He answers otherwise, you might wonder if the Lord has gone deaf. Forgetting or neglecting to pray makes the devil jump for joy. The devil is a scoundrel who sneaks up behind us to see if he can somehow divert us from prayer (Luther). There’s always something better to do; something more urgent than taking a few minutes to talk with the Lord.
You spend hours on the telephone. You type your fingers sore with e-mails. You get writer’s cramp writing letters. You remain in constant contact with friends and family. The Lord, however, gets a quick “Our Father” under your breath at bedtime if you don’t fall asleep first. The Lord gets a little face time in the liturgy and hymns if your mind doesn’t start to wander.
Then there is this excuse: God didn’t answer my prayer the way I wanted. You act like a spoiled brat. You take your toys and go home in a huff. You quit praying like the abbot in a monastery who visits Lourdes expecting a miracle and instead finds a tourist trap.
Let me rephrase the question. When trouble comes, what is the first thing you are supposed to do? Do you recognize these words? Have we trials and temptations?/ Is there trouble anywhere?/ We should never be discouraged/ Take it to the Lord in prayer./ Can we find a friend so faithful/ Who will all our sorrows share?/ Jesus knows our every weakness/ Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Jesus said 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. What are you waiting for? PRAY! Pray to the Father in Jesus’ name! Don’t procrastinate! PRAY! Don’t be faithless! PRAY! Martin Luther says, next to preaching the Word, the greatest devotion Christians can render to God is to pray.
Apart from Christ and His atoning, redeeming work, God is no one’s Father (Nagel). He gives not according to your wants, but according to your needs. Maybe you don’t really know what you need. The heavenly Father does. When we pray for our salvation for Jesus’ sake, God has to give it to us. When we pray for earthly things, we tell our Father what we would like and are confident that He will give it to us. If it is for our good and He does not grant it when and how we like, we know that He gives us what is better for us (Nagel). The elephant is off our back because our Lord gives what we need, whether in plenty or in want.
Praying in Jesus’ name means to pray as if Jesus Himself is doing the praying. Just as faith is created in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, so by the Word we are given guidance and example in the art of prayer (Nagel). If it’s been so long since last you prayed that you’ve forgotten how to pray, ask the Lord to teach you again how to pray. He will draw you into Scripture, where the Word will inform you how to pray. The word “inform” means more than brief you on the facts of prayer. Scripture will form your insides. Scripture will mold your words in line with God’s Word. You may not be King David or King Solomon or even Saint Paul, but your words will begin to sound like theirs once Scripture informs your prayers.
When you cry out for forgiveness, His Word says your sins are forgiven. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer before receiving Holy Communion, we pray the Table prayer that our Lord teaches us to pray. Here at His Altar He gives us more than daily bread. He gives us the Living Bread that comes down from heaven. He forgives our trespasses so we may forgive others their trespasses against us. He leads us not into temptation, but into His courts where He feeds us with His Body and gives us to drink of His Blood. The Lord’s Supper of forgiveness, life, and salvation delivers us from the evil one into the kingdom, power, and glory of the Kingdom not made by hands.
When you pray in the name of Jesus, Jesus prays your prayer too. He is your Great High Priest. The Helper sent from heaven will give you the words to pray. Our heavenly Father is all ears. He will answer in the way that is best for you. As the psalmist prays, so do you: O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.