Prayer is not an occasion when we instruct God about our needs. Prayer is God’s reminder to us of our needs and of the blessings He lavishly gives. Once you know the shift from prayer being our work toward God to God’s work toward us, you can see why Jesus ties prayer and joy together.
When Holy Scripture exhorts you to rejoice, it’s not a command. It’s a reminder of who you are in Jesus. You are redeemed. You are a new creation. You’re baptized. You’re bodied and blooded, washed and sanctified, grafted into the vine of righteousness that is Jesus Christ. All He is and all He wins is for you. Living in Christ is joy.
Now you see why prayer and joy run together. You might as well include faith in Christ. These three strands form a bold cord. Boldness can be a negative, but for a Christian boldness, especially in prayer, is a positive thing. When you were young living with Mom and Dad, you were bold to ask for the most outrageous things. If your parents were like my parents, the answer was usually “no” or “when you have your own job and make your own money, you can buy whatever you want.” As you grow up, you find that’s true. You also find that your money won’t buy whatever you want.
So you learn not to be so bold in asking for the things you want or need. The first place where boldness and confidence drops is speaking to our Father in heaven. You get lazy. Your conscience makes all kinds of accusations about not being worthy enough to speak to God about your affairs. You doubt. You’re certain God isn’t listening because He’s not sudden enough to answer you. Joy in praying falls away. You learned in the Small Catechism that we pray to the Father “with all boldness and confidence”, but that becomes too hard as you grow in years.
What gives a Christian joy in prayer? God invites us to pray. Why bother praying if our Father in heaven did not command us to pray. His command is not a burden. His command is practically begging us to stay connected to Him. People pay lots of money to talk to psychologists and psychiatrists about what bothers them. Both are helpful in their own ways. Consider that you have a Father Who is all ears. He can’t wait to hear what you have to say about the good and bad things in your life. King David sings in Psalm 27, You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
How could you, by nature a sinner, lying in dust and ashes, dare to enter praying before His Majesty without His command? You could do this because His Majesty invites you to pray. It’s as if He says to Jesus: “Tell my children: you shall pray to the Father; this is His gracious and good will, and He looks at your prayer with favor.” This is why the author of the epistle to the Hebrews says, Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
You don’t approach the throne of grace with confidence using your name to bark out what you want. You’ll not get a fair hearing talking to our heavenly Father that way. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds not only in your ears, but also before the Father. He loves to hear you ask with boldness and confidence in His Son’s name. Jesus makes you pure from all sins. You are perfectly righteous before God, without spot or blemish. You are holy. Holy people ask the Holy One for what they desire. Relying on Christ’s perfect merit given to you pleases God. These prayers smell like fragrant incense. These prayers are asked with great boldness.
Yet uncertainty remains because of the sinful nature. Does God really hear my prayer? Do I have a clear sign from Him that my prayer is heard? Doubt destroys all confident courage and all boldness. There’s plenty of doubt to go around, especially without some sort of divine stoplight that could show me whether or not my prayer is heard. Imagine it if it’s possible. Red for “Don’t ask right now, God is too busy.” Yellow for “Be careful, God’s in a dicey mood today.” Green for “Ask away, He’s all ears, and He’s quite generous right now.”
The divine stoplight is always green because of Jesus. You have certain promises for prayer. Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Jesus adds a double oath to the beginning of His words. He never lies. He gives you double certainty that His Father will hear you and that Jesus Himself will intercede for you by saying, until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
The divine stoplight of prayer is a nifty idea, but there’s no clear word from Scripture that such a thing exists. Always asking and never taking, always leaving with an empty heart and empty hands robs you of all joy in prayer. Perhaps that’s how it seems to you every time you lay your requests before the Father, even with great boldness and confidence. Beloved, there is an eye in heaven that sees you. There is an ear that hears your cry. There is a heart that beats for you. God gives you more than prayer and understanding. Your joy is full in Jesus Christ. You live in His resurrection joy and hope.
The doxology, or conclusion, to the Lord’s Prayer says it all: For Thine is the kingdom and the power and glory forever and ever. Amen. Martin Luther teaches us concerning these words, “This means that I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen means ‘yes, yes, it shall be so.'” You have joy. You have prayer. They go together because you have a Father Who is all ears and a Savior Who prays for you and with you. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.