You probably are familiar with the story of when Martin Luther decided to become a monk. He was returning to school in Erfurt, Germany after a visit home. As he walked, he got caught in a thunderstorm and lightning stuck quite close to him. He cried out for help to St. Anne and promised to become a monk. And of course, Luther went on to become a monk, priest, doctor of theology, and finally a professor in Wittenberg where he began the Lutheran Reformation.
But why did Luther cry out to St. Anne? Why didn’t he pray to our gracious Father in heaven as Jesus instructs us when he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”? The answer is quite simple. He lacked faith. This is why anyone would pray to some saint in heaven instead of our dear Father in heaven. They lack faith. Faith is simply believing the promise that God gives. Jesus, our Lord and God, promised us that whatever we ask the Father in his name, he will give it to us. But many doubt this promise of God.
People lack faith. They think they are unworthy to ask God for anything, so they look to some saint in heaven. “The saints certainly must be worthy. They have done so many good works. If I were to ask God for anything, he might get angry. But if one of his saints asks him, surely, he will listen to his prayer! So, I will ask the saints to intercede for me on my behalf.” This is how many people think, especially within the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, it is not only those who pray to saints who lack the faith to pray directly to God the Father. Many Christians suffer from a lack of faith, so that they are afraid to pray to God.
St. James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:5-7) Yet, it’s difficult to feel confident to pray when you have a guilty conscience! When the sin you’ve committed is so fresh in your memory, you want to put some space between your prayer and your latest vice. You want to let the grass grow over a bit before you can feel confident to ask God for anything, or else he might be too angry to listen to you. But no amount of grass can cover your past sins! Only the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse your conscience and make you worthy to cry out to your heavenly Father for help! If you try to earn the right to pray to God, you will never be worthy!
Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives you the faith needed to pray to God. The Law demands works from you. But those works are never complete. And although you might feel more confident to pray to God when you don’t have any particular sin on your mind and you’ve had a productive and seemingly pious day, your feelings are not what determine whether you are worthy to pray. True faith is not feeling worthy to pray. True faith is knowing that God will answer your prayer for Christ’s sake even when you feel utterly unworthy to pray.
Don’t turn to your works in order to be worthy to pray. Don’t put off prayer until you’ve adequately reformed your life. Rather, listen to the promise of Jesus Christ: whatever you ask the Father in his name, he will most certainly give you. Listen to the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and believe it. Only that will make you worthy to pray to God the Father directly for help.
Jesus says, “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” Now, Jesus does not mean by this that he does not ask the Father on our behalf at all. As a matter of fact, Jesus is constantly asking the Father on our behalf! Scripture says in 1 Timothy 2, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (vss. 5-6) At all times Christ Jesus is at the Father’s right hand presenting to him his pierced hands and feet, proving that he has won for us salvation through his precious blood and innocent suffering and death. Christ Jesus is forever interceding for us to the Father.
And this is why Jesus says that the Father himself loves them. Those who believe in Jesus and believe that he was sent from the Father to die for our sins, know that Jesus is their Mediator. We pray directly to God the Father with the certain hope that he is pleased with us on account of Jesus, who is at all times interceding for us as our High Priest, who has once and for all paid the ransom for our sins.
And this is what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. Although many of our prayers conclude, “in Jesus’ name” or “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” you do not need to even say Jesus’ name in order to pray in Jesus’ name. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer in Jesus’ name, but it doesn’t say his name. We call it the Lord’s Prayer, because our Lord Jesus taught us the words to this prayer.
In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches us to pray directly to the Father, calling him, “Our Father.” In Luther’s Small Catechism he teaches us that this means that “God tenderly invites us to believe that he is our true Father and we are his true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask him as dear children ask their dear father.” Luther obviously found inspiration for these words from Jesus’ promise in our Gospel lesson. Jesus tells us that the Father himself loves us. He loves us through Jesus Christ. When we call God our Father according to Jesus’ command and promise, we pray in Jesus’ name. This is why St. Paul writes, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will ne not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
The Lord’s Prayer is intended to be prayed at least every day. This is why we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus wants us to depend on God anew each day. This means that Jesus teaches us to pray at least every day, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Luther explains this petition in the Small Catechism, “We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.” This petition shows us what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. We deserve none of the things for which we pray, but we pray that they would be granted to us for Jesus’ sake!
Having faith in Jesus means that you can pray to God even when you know you are unworthy of the things for which you pray, because of your sin. Yet, this does not mean that your sin is not a big deal. Your sin is the biggest deal! Your sin offends the almighty God! Your sin hurts your neighbor! Your sin sends you to hell! Of all the problems you have in this life, none of them ever surpasses your sin in the urgency to deal with it! Do not think that your careless words or your lustful thoughts are a small matter. Scripture clearly teaches that any transgression causes you to fall short of the glory of God and to deserve hell. This is why you must always turn to Jesus! He alone washes away your sins! He alone forgives you and gives you confidence to speak to God. It is for Jesus’ sake that God forgives you your trespasses every day and gladly hears your prayer.
Some doubt that God answers prayers, because he doesn’t give them anything they want. But when you pray in Jesus’ name, you don’t just ask God for whatever your sinful flesh desires. You ask God for what he promises to give you. The Lord’s Prayer lists everything that God promises to give us in seven petitions. The first and greatest petition is, “Hallowed be Thy name.” Luther’s Small Catechism explains this petition, “God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also. How is God’s name kept holy? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”
The reason this petition is the most important is because unless God’s word is taught in its truth and purity and we God’s children believe it, then we cannot know God or ask him for anything! We only know God and his love for us through his holy Word! This is why Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Erynn, Kendall, Lucas, and Joe, in your confirmation vows you are going to be asked, “Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?” and you will respond, “I do, by the grace of God.” This is exactly what you are praying for when you pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” You are praying that God will keep you faithful to this vow. And it is by faithfully hearing God’s Word and receiving the body and blood of Christ that Jesus will continue to forgive your sins and keep you in the true Christian faith until you die.
Yet, this is the most tragic thing. Although everyone who has ever been confirmed in the Lutheran Church has promised this very thing, to faithfully hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully, many break this promise almost immediately after making it. It is common for youths after they are confirmed to come to church less and less until they finally stop coming all together. Of course, this is no small matter. Neglecting to hear the Word of God is breaking the Third Commandment. But promising to God that you intend to faithfully hear his Word and receive his Sacrament when you have no such intention is to misuse the name of the Lord your God. These are wicked sins that destroy saving faith.
Obviously, the Church takes this very seriously. What can be done to keep confirmands from breaking this vow? How can we keep them faithful? Perhaps if we introduce some new rules, it will increase Church attendance? But, in fact there is only one thing that will keep you four (or anyone) from rejecting this promise: Faith in Christ.
If you believe the promise that Christ Jesus gives you in his word, you will regularly come to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully. You will come, because you desire to have your sins forgiven; to be taught by Christ; to pray to your Father in heaven; to eat the very body and blood of Jesus, which is indeed the only medicine of immortality. If you believe the promise of Christ that through his Word you receive salvation from sin, death, and hell, then you will come to abide in that Word. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can draw you to faith. And only faith in this Gospel will give you confidence to draw near to God and call him your Father. Amen.