“Come, my soul, with every care,/Jesus loves to answer prayer;/He Himself has bid thee pray,/Therefore will not turn away.” Prayer is a blessed privilege of all children of God. Isaac prayed before Rebekah married him. Hannah prayed for a son, and nine months later along came Samuel. Daniel prayed three times a day. Paul and Silas, bound in jail, prayed and sang hymns.
These days, however, Christians often lack confidence for prayer. Even though our blessed Lord will not turn away from your prayer, you are timid. You throw up all sorts of objections. There are temptations that lure you away from prayer. Yet Jesus bids us to pray in today’s Gospel. He even takes it a step further: Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. The joy is in the asking, not to mention the receiving.
There is joy in praying because God has commanded us to pray. “Joy” and “command” usually don’t go together. Who has joy in any command? Yet there is joy in prayer because Jesus promises that our prayers are heard. There can be no joy in prayer because of unworthiness. God is King. We are beggars. God is Lord of heaven and earth. We are dust and ashes, returning to dust and ashes when we die. It is better to hole up in a cave rather than seeking His face and pouring out the heart to Him.
Jesus says, Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. Not only are you allowed to pray, you are also commanded to pray. Again, it’s hard to understand that joy and command go together. It shouldn’t be that hard. A child has something he or she wants to tell you. You tell them to tell you. That’s a command. Please tell me what it is you want to say. You have joy in commanding. The child has joy in telling you, even if what the child says isn’t joyful. At least the child was able to speak without fear of being silenced. The child suppresses unworthiness and pounces upon the opportunity.
If Jesus commanding us one time to pray isn’t enough, consider some other places in Scripture where prayer is commanded. Psalm 50: call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. Psalm 27: you have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” The Sermon on the Mount: Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.“ Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Saint Paul tells Saint Timothy: I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling. Again and again in His Word God asks us to pray. That gives us courage to pray.
Consider also the sinners, yet saints, who joyfully prayed. David was caught in adultery among other things, but with what joy he prayed. Since his first prayer in Damascus Saint Paul made his prayer with joy, as he tells the Philippian Christians. Command and joy do go together, for in God’s command we find the joy in asking as well as in the hearing.
As important as the command of God is to joyous prayer, there are other reasons to pray with great joy. By nature you are under God’s wrath. Solomon says in Proverbs, If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. Yet Christ has reconciled us to God as He departs to His Father. The Father loves those who love Jesus. If the Father is well pleased with His Son, then He is also well pleased with you. You pray with confidence that the Father gives you a fair hearing for Jesus’ sake.
All the more does this give you gladness for prayer. Satan says your sins ought to frighten you to silence. Jesus takes away your sin and gives you His righteousness. You stand before the Father without spot or blemish. Ask away. Don’t be bashful. Pour out your heart to your Father in heaven. His ears are gracious to the voice of supplication.
Consider Abraham’s request that Sodom not be destroyed as God promised. He enters into a knock-down, drag-out negotiation for Sodom. What if there are fifty righteous people there? Will you destroy it? God says, No, I won’t destroy it. How about forty? No. Thirty? No. Twenty? Still no. Okay, how about ten? For the sake of ten I will not destroy it. We might get testy in a negotiation, especially when someone gets as picky as Abraham. Never once does God get angry at Abraham. He loves to hear Abraham ask, especially when it comes to sparing lives.
Consider also the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Unlike Abraham’s reverse auction, the thief has one simple petition: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. It sounds to our ears like an easy way out of a difficult situation, especially when you are dying. Jesus takes seriously his request. The asking brought the thief joy, for His Savior lay next to him. The answer brought even more joy: Today, you will be with me in paradise. The thief is remembered. There is joy all the way around, for Christ has died and the thief in Christ’s peace-making death.
Despite the command of God to pray, in spite of our blessed sonship with god, we would soon quit praying if we weren’t heard. The Lord will hear. The Lord will answer. He says, Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
So you ask. Nothing happens. You ask again. Nothing happens. You keep asking, just like Jesus tells you in His Word. Nothing happens. So you quit praying because He wouldn’t hear you. Jesus hears you. He answers you, too. The answer you expect and the answer He gives aren’t necessarily the same thing. Yet the answer you get is the answer you desire.
How can this be? You asked for one thing and got another thing that God says is better for you. Consider what lies at the heart of your asking. A little boy asks his mother for a knife. The boy is not afraid to ask for something that mom knows is going to hurt him and perhaps someone else. So the boy doesn’t get the knife. What the boy gets instead is what he actually wanted: something to play. The intent of his heart is to play. The knife would be the instrument of play. So mom makes sure he doesn’t get the instrument, but he does get the joy of playing. Perhaps mom is nice enough to buy him something better than a knife.
Put anything else there besides a knife. You have joy in asking. Jesus has joy in hearing and answering. The answer you get may make you pout for a moment. Yet the answer you get is your heart’s desire. You pray for healing on behalf of someone. The person is healed…by death. You’re angry about the death. You’ll soon be glad that suffering is over. You’ll also soon see that death is swallowed up in Christ’s victory over death and sin. No matter what you ask, He will give it to you. You might not get exactly what you asked, but you will receive something that will gladden your heart.
Our Lord commands prayer. He is gracious to you in Christ in both the hearing and the answering. You pray in faith that what you pray will be heard. Nothing is too big or too heavy. He is not too small or too meager that He can’t hear you or give you what you desire. Come, dear Christian. Come before the Father’s throne of grace with confidence because of Jesus. Ask for all your earthly and spiritual needs. The Father is all ears and full of grace. There’s joy in both the asking and in the receiving. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.