Pray!

St. John 16:23-33

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

St. John 16:24  “Until now you have asked nothing in My name.  Ask, and you will receive that your joy may be full.”

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…  In these last few weeks, Jesus’ words in John 16 have been comforting and strengthening us to live in the time when we cannot see Him with our eyes.  He has told us about His going away and coming back, that is, His death for our sins and His resurrection and Ascension.  Jesus has told us of the coming of the Spirit who will deliver all of His gifts through the holy means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments.

Today we hear Jesus teach us to pray.  He has accomplished our salvation by His death and resurrection.  Now, as we live surrounded by so many troubles – illness, injury, frustrations, weather-related problems, political upheaval, and just the everyday stresses of life – Jesus teaches us to call upon the Father in His name and in our need.  This, indeed, is a true treasure – that the Lord Himself teaches us to call on Him in our troubles and needs.  And it is a treasure that the devil spares no effort to try and steal from us so that we don’t think we can pray or that we shouldn’t worry about praying.

In v. 23 of John 16 Jesus tells the disciples, “Whatever you ask the Father He will give to you.”  Brothers and sisters in Christ, do you realize what Jesus has just said?  Because He has gone to Calvary, because He has carried our sins and gotten rid of them, because He has wiped them out by His suffering and blood and death, because He has risen from the dead, because He has ascended triumphant to the Father and sits at His right hand—because of all this that the Son has done, the Father delights in hearing us pray in Jesus’ name!  There is a temptation to think that we are not worthy to ask God for anything, but all of our worthiness is in Jesus.

When you are in Christ, when you pray in His name, you are asking the Father as if you are His dear Son yourself, which you are, in Jesus!  It is true that you and I would have no basis even to come into God’s presence, let alone ask or demand anything from Him.  In our sinfulness, God the Father should simply slam the door in our face and say, “Don’t bother me!”  But now that our sins have been buried with Christ, and our Jesus is at the Father’s right hand, we can approach the Father in Jesus’ name, as His own dear children.

This should bring to your minds Martin Luther’s meaning to the Introduction to the Lord’ Prayer: “Our Father who are in heaven. What does this mean? With these words 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 father.”

Our Lord’s death and resurrection means that we are no longer people to be ignored by God; our prayers are heard by Him for the sake of His Son.  Just as the Father, for Jesus’ sake no longer counts our sins against us, so now for Jesus’ sake He delights to hear our prayers and answer them.

What that means is that you can pray boldly, and you can pray confidently in Jesus’ name.  You can ask the Father because you are His dear child in Jesus.

But the Devil doesn’t want you to think so!  The Devil takes every opportunity he can get to convince you that the Father is paying no attention to you and doesn’t even hear your prayers.  The devil will throw your sins in your face trying to convince you that you are not worthy to pray.  You WANT to pray, you know that you SHOULD pray.  But you don’t.  You look around and in your family and among your friends and in the church and all around us in the world we see so many things that we need to pray for.  In fact, there’s so many we don’t know where to start.  So we don’t pray.  And if we can carve out a few minutes from our busy schedule to try to pray, we don’t know what to say or what words to use.  Even worse, we might think that we are not worthy.

Maybe we don’t know the right words to say or maybe we think that we can’t pray because we don’t know the Bible well enough.  Maybe we WANT to pray but we figure we just have to wait until we have time.

Those are all lies!  Those are all the devil’s lies!  He will try every trick in the book to get you not to pray.  Whether it is the doubt inside your soul that you are not worthy enough to pray or whether it is the simple demands of time and your busy life outside of you that makes your excuse, as long as you don’t pray, that Evil One is happy.  For by keeping you from prayer, he is keeping you from God’s Word and promises and the promise of Jesus that the Father hears your prayers.  By keeping you from prayer, the Devil cuts you off from the comfort and promise of Jesus that your Father hears your prayers and cares for you.

So what’s the antidote to the Devil’s poison?  Pray!  Learn to pray!  And pray without ceasing!  Pray when you get up in the morning and before bed and all day long.  Even if it is only a silent prayer while you are working, let your words come to the Father, crying out for all your needs.

Don’t know what to pray for?  Do you see so much you need to pray for you that can’t seem to put it all into words?  No problem!  The Lord Himself has given you words that ask for everything.  And you know them well.

“Our Father, who art in heaven…”  These are words which remind us of Jesus’ promise to pray and ask in His name.

“Hallowed be Thy name.”  This is a prayer for God’s name and word to be among us; it is a prayer for our pastors to preach faithfully and for us to live holy lives.

“Thy kingdom come.”  Here we pray for the Holy Spirit to bring us all the things of Jesus that we heard of last week: forgiveness, grace, mercy, all that is the Lord’s.

“Thy will be done.”  Here we ask that the Lord would do His thing and knock the Devil, the world and our sinful nature out of the way so that they don’t keep us from believing and trusting in His word.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  Here we pray for life in a rough economy: that the Lord would make sure we have enough to eat and gas in our tanks and good health and strength when we’re sick, and that we could keep our jobs and have enough to support our families and help others.

“Forgive us our trespasses.”  Here we realize that our sins are many, and we ask the Lord again, in Christ, to take them all away.

“Lead us not into temptation.”  Here we beg the Lord to protect us from every evil of natural disasters and terrorists and criminals and most especially wrong preaching and teaching and ideas that would lead us astray from the true faith.

“Deliver us from evil.”  We ask that the Father would keep us in His Word until the day we die.

Now, I wish to put upon you a challenge.  Think of something you could pray for that is not covered in the Lord’s Prayer.  That is a trick question because you won’t think of a single thing.  Every single need we have is covered in that most excellent prayer which we offer to the Father in Jesus’ name, trusting and believing that He will do it.

The reason we so desperately need to pray, dear friends, is because we are surrounded by so many enemies who want to swamp us and capsize us and bring us down to the bottom of the depths of despair.  And here’s the thing: the Lord doesn’t promise to take away the tribulations.  There’s no magical “poof!” and all our troubles are gone.

Consider the snakes biting the wicked children of Israel in the wilderness.  “Moses!” they cried, “Pray to Yahweh to take away the snakes!”  Did Yahweh take them away?  No.  In fact, He gave them another snake – the bronze serpent – to look at and be saved.

In the same way Jesus doesn’t tell us that we will never have troubles.  In fact, He says exactly that we WILL have tribulations in this world and life.  But we take heart, dear fellow redeemed, because He has overcome the world.  In the midst of our pain and suffering we have Jesus on the cross to look to and be saved.  We have His gifts of water, word, body and blood.  And we have the gift of His invitation to pray in His name, to ask the Father for anything in His name, the promise that the Father hears us when we pray in His Son’s name.

Jesus says, “In this world, you will have tribulations. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”  Therefore pray in HIS name, because in our prayers, we learn to believe that whatever the Devil, the world and our sinful nature throw at us, it can never be enough to destroy or take away Jesus’ promise that we can ask anything of the Father in His name.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t wait.  Don’t put it off.  Pray.  Pray because you are surrounded by the Devil and his hordes who want to drag you down to hell.  Don’t wait until you’re worthy enough.  You are already perfectly worthy by being in Jesus.  You have His Baptismal promise of salvation and life and victory over the devil.  You have His sure and certain forgiveness in His Absolution.  You have His body and blood given and shed for you for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Don’t wait to pray until you can block out some time once in a while.  Pray without ceasing, letting your heart and mind constantly be dwelling on Christ’s Word and promises and gifts.

Don’t wait until you can compose the just the right words for the perfect prayer.  It’s already been done.  Pray in Jesus’ name using the very words He gave you to pray in the prayer that covers everything.  And know that by His Word and gifts, and by your praying, the battle is on against the devil.  By the preaching of the Word and by your prayers, we stab the Devil twice and send Him running.  That’s what Jesus promises when He tells you, “Ask in My name. And the Father will hear and answer.”

And that, dear fellow redeemed, is a promise that can never be broken.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.