The Christian Birthright of Prayer

We’ve entered into Holy Week. This is the week of weeks in the Church Year. When it comes to our life together as a congregation, it’s surreal to be apart like this. It’s not an easy thing.

I want you to know that during this time I’m praying for you—every single day.

Each and every day I’m on my knees before the altar of God here at Our Savior, not just praying for the world in a general sense, but for all believers in Christ—and most especially for the people of God here at Our Savior in Hartland.

While I don’t get through the whole roster of names in the congregation in a single day, I can pretty much guarantee that each member’s name is spoken out loud and into the divine ears of God at least every other day or so.

When I pray, I’m praying for your health. I’m praying for your livelihood. I’m praying for your family. I’m praying for your renewed strength and a spiritual stamina in the face of adversity to trust in the One who gave His life that you would have eternal life—an everlasting home beyond the pale edges of this passing world.

No matter the circumstances in this life, I do this confidently—as I’m sure other pastors do, too—because there are a few things I know of God.

It certainly isn’t that God needs informing. A bird does not fall from the sky without His knowledge (Matthew 10:29). He knows the number of hairs on the head of every human being (Luke 12:7). Our thoughts are not too quiet for Him to hear, and the slightest of gestures never escapes His view (Psalm 139:1-3). Well beyond us even these things, the sun and moon and stars all continue on their courses according to His gracious and upholding care (Hebrews 1:3). He knows your joys and sorrows. And the scale of the occurrence does not matter. From the bloodiest of wars to the most insignificant slights against any one of us, God foreknew their hours (Isaiah 42:9). Nothing is lost on Him, and so He doesn’t need for me to tell Him what’s going on.

Of course, I reach to God in prayer because I need Him. But perhaps more importantly, I do this because He invites me into His presence to speak as a privilege of faith (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).

We’ve entered into Holy Week, which means we’ve made our way into a time when the Church remembers that at the death of Jesus, the temple’s curtain was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51), signifying the Lord’s work on the cross as all-sufficient for granting every believer full access to the Heavenly Father. Believers have been given the promise that we can go to our God through Jesus, and He promises to hear and answer us as we pray according to His will (John 14:6-14, 1 John 5:14).

There’s great comfort in this birthright of faith, and it serves us in both the good times and the bad.

Ambrose Bierce wrote somewhat snidely of Christians that prayer is really just nothing more than an attempt by unworthy petitioners to get the laws of the universe annulled. Setting aside his condescension for a moment, in a sense, Bierce is right. We don’t deserve anything from God. And yes, we are asking Him to rewrite the universal laws. In humility, we ask to be forgiven of our seemingly unforgiveable crimes. We do this knowing full well that the order of this universe is one of justice, that the guilty pay for their own crimes, and the innocent go free. But we are approaching God already knowing He has heaped the punishment we are due upon His own Son. The innocent One was sentenced to death. The guilty were set free.

If that isn’t counter to the way of normalcy in this world’s order, then I don’t know what is. And yet, Christians reach to God, asking Him to continue in this mercy, praying through the merits and mediation of Christ.

But there’s something more to my reasons for praying.

I also pray because by the power of the Gospel for faith, the Holy Spirit is alive in me (Romans 1:16-17, Romans 8:10-11), and He is at work recreating me to be one who loves God and desires faithfulness to Him (Galatians 5:22-25). In other words, a very real facet of my life as a Christian involves actually telling and showing God I love Him. Prayer is a very real fruit of faith in this regard.

A very basic way to think of it…

I’m a father, and while I know my children love me, there’s an element of proof to their love when they say it. It serves both our hearts well, and it feels good to hear. God is the same way. He knows that by faith we love Him, and yet He also loves to hear us say it—and so we pray.

By the way, another very practical way the Bible describes our prayers to God is not just according to the sense of hearing, but by the sense of smell. As we have those favorite aromas—flowers, a sizzling steak, a spouse’s cologne or perfume (for me it’s a good Scotch, sunscreen, a swimming pool, and Florida palm trees)—so also are our prayers compared to a fragrant incense wafting to the heavens and into the divine nostrils of God (Psalm 141:2, Revelation 8:3). Prayers arising to Him by faith, calling out to Him according to His gracious will in Christ Jesus, these are ever-so-sweet to Him, and He loves to receive and then respond to them. By contrast, prayers in contradiction to His will—words tossed out toward the sky in unbelief, the use of His name in vain, greed, arrogant self-righteousness, and the like—these are sour and off-putting to God, and He waves them away from His face in disgust (James 4:3, Isaiah 1:15-18, Luke 18:9-14, Proverbs 3:34, 1 Peter 5:5).

I suppose the last thing I’ll say is that even as prayer is to be a part of the Christian life, I’m guessing prayer isn’t so easy for everyone. Some folks want to pray, but just don’t know what to say.

First of all, know that this concern is, in a sense, a prayer in itself. You’re showing God you want to speak to Him, and because He is worthy of your best, you want to do it in a way and with words that will show Him this love. Wrestling with this concern, remember, He knows you love Him. Let that comfort you. No matter how the thoughts or words come out, He won’t turn away from you. He’ll listen.

Secondly, if you struggle to focus, don’t be afraid to use pre-written prayers. There’s nothing wrong with the practice. This is how the Church has prayed since the beginning, and I do it all the time. Just because I may be using someone else’s words, doesn’t mean what I’m praying is of lesser value to God. Pre-written prayers can be an incredible help in times when inner clarity seems out of reach. In fact, because I know folks are struggling right now to find the right words in the midst of this worldwide pandemic, I posted a Vigil of Prayer on Our Savior’s website. If you are struggling to pray, take a look at the video and pray along.

(https://www.oursaviorhartland.org/prayer-vigil/)

Also, think practically. When one is feeling like a novice, the way to better skills is to study the efforts of others and to practice. Think about it. How did you first learn to speak? Most likely by mimicking the words of your parents. Praying while using the words of our Christian fore-parents is a good practice. Don’t let anyone tell you that unless your words are spontaneous or whatever you’re not really praying. That’s ridiculous. If someone does tell you this, then brush it off. They’ve made prayer into a legalistic venture, and you should avoid their advice altogether.

Thirdly, the easiest and best place to start is with the prayer the Lord taught us. There’s no better prayer than the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). Start with that. It doesn’t get any better.

To close, and as I’ve said already, be mindful that we have prayer for such times as these. This COVID-19 situation is, if anything, an exercise in knowing to whom we should run in times of trouble. Turning to the only One who can rescue us from all our burdens and give us the gift of real rest is always the better bet (Matthew 11:28).

Go to Him in faith. Pray for your needs. Pray for the needs of others. He loves you. He loves them. And He’s listening. He has already promised that no matter what is happening, He will work all things for your good (Romans 8:28).

I Pray For You – December 12, 2017

As always, I pray all is well with you and your family, namely that you know the peace of Christ and His great love for you.

Literally. I pray this. I go into the nave, kneel at the altar rail (or sit in the first pew on the pulpit side), and I pray for you—by name.

I do a lot with social media these days. It’s one of the main forms of communication that I use for the various groups that I interact with on a regular basis—synodical, legislative, and the like. I posted on Facebook a few weeks back, not long after a foreign tragedy, that I think it’s rather telling in our society when the commonplace shaping of our condolences in the face of calamity is to say that “our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the tragedy.” Thoughts maybe, but unless you actually take action and share your thoughts of condolence with those who would be served well by hearing them (through a greeting card, an email, or some form of personal communication), even that commonplace sentiment sounds empty, and maybe even a little weird, as though our thoughts are going to somehow rise into some ethereal space and descend in a graspable way to those who need to know we’re thinking about them or that we’re concerned for their well being.

But there’s something else we should consider in this regard.

We don’t send our prayers out to people. They go to God. And again, when someone in the midst of struggle tells another person his or her story, and that listener responds by saying, “I’ll keep you in prayer,” personally, I hope the person means it. I hope it hasn’t devolved into a substance-less response that we give to folks when we just don’t know what to say. I really hope that at the next opportunity available, he or she will actually petition our faithful God for the care of the person in need.

Yes, God already knows all things. And yet, He commands for us to pray.

I’ve thought a lot about this over the course of my life, asking myself, “If God knows all things—that is, He knows all things before I even ask—why does He want me to pray?”

By the Word of God, I’ve come to two conclusions. The first I’ll explain this way.

When my son Joshua was little, unprompted, he would tell me all the time how much he loved me. He’s seventeen now. As he’s gotten older, he still tells me that he loves me, but it’s not as often as before. Do I know that he loves me? Yes. But oh how I love to hear it. What father wouldn’t? In a sense, God loves to hear his children speak their love to Him. It isn’t a narcissistic thing, but rather it is something spoken in the midst of a relationship built on love—real, genuine, long-lasting familial love.

The second is that God knows our sinful hearts, and with that, He knows we won’t pray unless he tells us to. But again, this isn’t a hard command, but rather it is an encouraging opportunity He establishes for our good. He wants us to know the joy and importance of having complete and total access to Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus, through prayer. And why? Well, it comes back around to where the thought started. Because He loves us, plain and simple.

Having said all of this, I want you to know that when I tell you that I’ll keep you in prayer, I really do. I appreciate talking with God. And again, even though He already knows everything I’m going to say, that doesn’t stop me from telling Him your name and explaining to Him what’s happening and why I really want Him to act on your behalf. Most importantly, just as Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32, being unwilling to let his divine opponent go until He blessed him, I hold God to His promise to bless you—to accomplish His holy will in your lives by virtue of the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord. In all of this, I know He hears me. I know He responds. I know He will act—and is, even now, already acting—to bring to completion the good work He intends, which in its core is your eternal salvation!