Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
May 14, 2023
“Amen, Amen, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you. … Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” So promises our Lord Jesus Christ. But what does it mean to ask in Jesus’ name? Does it mean to simply conclude our prayers with the words, “In Jesus’ name. Amen”? No. To ask in Jesus’ name means to pray according to faith in Jesus’ promises. We pray for a very simple reason. Jesus commands us to pray in His name and He promises that the Father will give us what we ask for. This is very much what God says in Psalm 50, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
But, how can we be confident that the Father will give us what we ask for? How can we trust Jesus’ promise? Because Jesus came from the Father and came into the world and then He left the world to go to the Father. What does that mean? It means that God the Father sent Jesus into the world to fulfill the requirements of the Law in our place, to take on our sins, and to die for them. Jesus did just that, and after rising from the dead, He returned to the Father who sent Him, so that He may always intercede for us by the blood of His cross.
So, the Father sent His Son, whom He has loved from all eternity, to take on our human flesh and suffer and die the worst death imaginable, bearing the just punishment of all our sins on His flesh and soul, because He desired to save us. And the Son, out of love for the Father and for us, obeyed the Father’s will, came to earth to be our Savior, was mistreated by His own creation, accomplished everything that His Father sent Him to accomplish, and then returned to mediate to the Father on our behalf for all eternity. Jesus has removed the cause of God’s anger against us forever. So, why would the Father refuse to hear your prayer? Why would He do so much out of love for you, but then refuse to listen to you when you call to Him? How can God deny His own Son, who did everything He asked of Him?
And this is why you must ask in faith. If you do not believe this, then you won’t have the confidence to pray to God or that you will get what you ask for. If you are afraid of God, how can you approach Him? This is why Jesus says, “Because the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” Here, Jesus describes true saving faith. Faith is not simply knowledge of God and Jesus. Jesus adds, “because you have loved me.” True faith produces love for God. It is impossible to have true faith without loving Christ, because true faith is trusting that God accepts you for Christ’s sake.
To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray, trusting that God is pleased with you on account of Christ Jesus, who has taken away all your sins, that God gladly hears you and will joyfully give you all that you ask for. This is why we say “Amen” at the end of our prayers. Amen is a Hebrew word, which means in truth or faithfulness. Jesus tells us, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give you,” because what He says is trustworthy. We have confidence that God will hear our prayers, because He has saved us through His Son Jesus Christ, who has taken all our sins away.
So, we know to pray in Jesus’ name means to pray to the Father according to our faith in Jesus Christ, who has reconciled us to God by His death and resurrection, and to ask God what He promises to give us. Well, what does God promise to give us? What should we pray for? The simplest answer is in the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus Christ Himself taught us the Lord’s Prayer. In it He invites us to call God our heavenly Father. And in it He teaches us to pray for absolutely everything we could possibly need or want.
Yes. That’s right. Everything you could possibly ask for, you find in the Lord’s Prayer. In the first three petitions, we pray for the Holy Christian Church: Hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. With these three petitions, we pray that God’s Word would be taught in its truth and purity and that we as the children of God would also lead holy lives according to it, that God would send us His Holy Spirit, so that we believe His word, and that God would break and hinder every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want God’s name hallowed or His kingdom to come. These are not small petitions. With just a few words, we pray that we would be holy before God, that we would be made heirs of His kingdom, and that the devil, the world, and everything that is evil will be defeated.
The next petition asks for absolutely everything that has to do with the wants and needs of this physical life. Then Jesus invites us to ask for forgiveness each and every day, further showing His patience toward us. We pray to be led out of temptation and to be delivered from evil, so that we may continue to live in His kingdom of grace until we enter His kingdom of glory in heaven.
There is nothing that you could possibly think to pray for that you do not pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. And whenever you say another prayer, you are praying for something in the Lord’s Prayer. Also, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Our Father, our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil.” This prayer, even when it is said in private, is a corporate prayer. We say it with the entire Christian Church every time we say it. This adds power to our prayer. This means we never pray alone.
So, when you pray for the health of your sick sister, you are praying the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” which the entire Church prays without ceasing. So, when you pray for your sister, your prayer is joined to the entire Church’s prayer for daily bread. The whole multitude of saints now pray for the health of your sister. And when you pray for your children, who have fallen away from the faith, you are praying the first petition, “Hallowed be Thy name.” And the whole Church prays this petition with you, so you are not alone praying for your child to return to Christ and His Church. The Church with one voice prays with you.
Yet, even with the Lord’s Prayer as our guide, we still do not know what to pray for as we ought! Our flesh is weak. We are attacked by Satan and this evil world. Yet, even here, Scripture promises us that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26). So, when we pray in faith, the entire Christian Church prays with us. When our prayers become unintelligible, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, joining our spirit’s deepest needs to God’s power.
So, we know how we should pray and what we should ask for, but when should we pray? Since faith is a prerequisite for prayer, we should pray when our faith is strong and we are confident that God will hear us and answer us. That is true. Yet, Jesus gives this encouragement to pray to His disciples shortly before they are scattered and hide in fear. It is when you are weak that you should pray to God. It is when your faith is on life support that you should ask earnestly of God, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” So, in short, we should pray without ceasing, when our faith is strong and especially when it is weak.
And this brings us to our final question. What should you expect when you pray to God? Well, certainly you should expect God to answer your prayer and give you what you ask. You should believe that He will grow His Church, forgive your sins and keep you in the faith, feed you, clothe you, protect you, and heal you and your loved ones. It is a great sin to doubt that God will give you what you ask for. Did not Elijah cause the rain to stop for three years and then cause it to fall again with his prayer? Did not the three men survive the flames of the furnace by their prayer? Did not Daniel stop the mouths of the lions with His prayer? Did not Moses and David save the lives of the people of Israel by their prayers to God? We should not doubt God’s willingness to answer our prayers.
Yet, you should also expect that God will at times make you wait. He does not always give you what you want immediately, so to cultivate patience within you, so that patience may increase a hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:2-3). Three times, St. Paul prayed that God would take his proverbial thorn out of his flesh, yet Christ said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And what did Paul acquire through that thorn? Many more disciples, who were willing to bear the cross for Christ. Moses prayed that He might enter the earthly land of Canaan. God rather had Moses die without crossing the Jordan. Yet, did not God give Moses something much greater by taking him to the heavenly Canaan. David prayed that the life of his newborn son would be spared, but rather God took him. But did not God grant him something much better by giving him eternal life, where David would later meet him? Jesus prayed that if it were the Father’s will, to take the cup of woe away from Him. The Father did not withhold the cup, but Jesus drank it to the bitter dregs on the cross. Yet, the Father gave Him something much better by granting Him a train of captives to live with Him forever in heaven.
So, God may make you wait. He may seem to be saying, no. But He does this to strengthen your faith in Him and with the intention of giving you something infinitely greater!
Prayer is a powerful tool, which only those who have faith in Christ can truly employ. You must know that God is reconciled to you for Christ’s sake, so that you may be confident to ask anything of God. This is why the Proverb warns, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law (that is, the divine instruction), even his prayer is an abomination.” If we do not listen to God’s Word, we do not know what to pray for or if we will be heard. And so, we should diligently hear and learn God’s Word, not only so that we can strengthen our faith, so that we are bold to pray, but also so that we may know what to pray for as we ought. Prayer is a powerful tool of the faithful, yet it is also a tool by which God strengthens our faith. When you pray, you put your trust in God. And God works that trust, so that it becomes stronger. Through prayer, God not only fulfills our needs and wants in this life, but he strengthens our faith, so that our joy may be full in eternity. Amen.