5-5-24 Rogate

Bible Text: John 16:23-30 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus

There are two extremes Christians fall into when it comes to prayer. Sometimes we’ll even fall into them one after another. The first is to expect too much from prayer. That seems impossible, that we could expect too much from prayer, since Jesus says extraordinary things about prayer’s power, says to ask the Father anything in His name and He will give it. But the devil is clever, and one way or another, he gets sinners to take God’s great gifts and twist them into curses for ourselves. Throughout the history of the church we’ve seen the abuse of prayer. The priests of the middle ages, and still the Roman Catholic priests of our day, contend that by praying you can get years off of purgatory and pay for the punishment of your sins. That’s what praying the rosary is supposed to do. That’s obviously expecting too much from prayer. Prayer doesn’t earn forgiveness with God. God gives forgiveness freely for Christ’s sake in His Word.

And you see the same basic thing in our modern American evangelical churches. They insist on what’s called the sinner’s prayer. And this again expects too much, the wrong thing, from prayer. We’re told that to be saved we have to say a prayer to welcome Jesus into our heart. The prayer will say something like, “Dear God, I confess I’m a sinner, and I want forgiveness. With this prayer I accept Jesus into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior.” But you don’t receive Jesus into your heart by prayer. You receive Jesus by faith when you hear God’s Word, when God comes to you, God speaks to you, God calls you his child in you Baptism, Jesus gives you his body and blood, declares through your pastor that He forgives you. He speaks and saves you by His Word. That’s the way it works. You don’t speak to God to become saved. God speaks to you and saves you.

But there is also the opposite extreme, and that is to expect too little from prayer. We pray for the most trivial things. We pray for earthly things when we could be praying for heavenly. Prayer always comes from the heart, and if our heart is obsessed with all the other things, it seeks them first from God, when God offers instead to give us the Kingdom. Ask for anything, Jesus says, and then we ask for stuff that perishes and doesn’t actually give true joy? What? We should expect the greatest things from God, ask the most amazing things. For eternal life, for perfect and pure righteousness, for inheritance as sons of God, forgiveness of all sin, the Holy Spirit. And God will give it. Don’t expect so little from prayer.

This doesn’t mean you don’t pray for the little things, the earthly things. The opposite is the case. Since your God died for you, since He went through torment for you, since He sought you out and made you His child, since He feeds you with the body and blood He gave up for you, He wants you to expect every good thing from him and pray for it. Little things and big things. He performed a miracle to bring you to faith. Why not pray for more miracles? Why not? Is your God stingy? Are you not his child? Has He not promised to answer your prayer?

So pray for miracles – and again there’s nothing wrong with this, to pray that God simply remove the cancer or convert your child who’s left the faith, both of which are miracles – those are wonderful Christian prayers. Jesus did say, “Ask anything in my name,” and Jesus does hate cancer and does want everyone to be saved.

But prayer doesn’t work like a lawn mower. If the lawn mower doesn’t start, you know there’s something wrong, you know it doesn’t work, you have to fix it. It isn’t true that if you see that your prayer isn’t answered, you can conclude your prayer hasn’t worked. You don’t assess the power of prayer based on the results. Now, it’s true that sometimes you can. I pray every day and I have for years that God preserve my marriage, that he keep my children safe and in the one true faith, and God has answered those prayers. I do see the results. And every one of you has some similar experience. You’ve prayed and you’ve seen God answer. And you thank Him for His goodness.

But the opposite is often and painfully the case. How many times can you pray the same prayer, the same good prayer, asking for what you know God says is good, and then not see the results? Someone once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Faith seems insane to the world, because that’s exactly what faith does. The Christian mother doesn’t stop praying for her son or daughter who has fallen from the faith, she doesn’t stop because she’s prayed for years and it hasn’t happened. She keeps going and she waits for God’s time and trusts He will work all to good, even if her eyes don’t see it. St. Augustine’s mother Monica prayed for years and years for her unbelieving son, not seeing the results, instead seeing that her son was too smart for Christianity, and too addicted to the pleasures of the world, until finally God answered her prayer and broke that proud intellectual down, and made him into the great theologian he was. St. Ambrose once said of Monica, “It was impossible that the prayers of that Christian woman would go unanswered.” And yet for years all she saw was that it seemed impossible that they would be answered. But God does the impossible in Jesus.

If you want to assess the power of prayer, look at Jesus’ promise. His disciples had the same problem you have. They saw Jesus’ words as riddles, figures of speech, parables. Ask and you will receive? Ask what? How do I know I will receive it? And Jesus answers, “The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.” That hour, every single time Jesus talks about this hour, He is talking about His death on the cross. There’s the basis of your confidence in prayer. Stop looking only for results. That will only fill you with anxiety. Look at the basis of prayer’s power. The cross is Jesus telling you plainly about the Father, clearly, without doubt, forcefully. That hour of his death speaks plainly that your Father will stop at nothing to answer your prayer for your good.

We often talk about the sacrifice of the Son. He, not the Father and not the Holy Spirit, the Son alone took on your flesh and died. But the Father’s sacrifice is just as great. He whose nature is the eternal love of His Son, gives Him up, heaps all the filth of our sins on His innocent Son, and strikes Him with the anger that should have been on us, and this, what Jesus calls His Father’s glory and His own glory, that God would forsake God to win us as His own, this is the basis for all our prayers. We pray in Jesus’ name. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Jesus doesn’t say, “Pray only for spiritual things.” He says ask anything. So, pray for anything your Christian heart desires. Ask anything from your Father. Pray that the cancer is wiped out. Pray for health. Pray for a good job. Pray for a flourishing college. Then leave it in your Father’s hands.

But where your treasure is, what you spend your time on, your prayers on, there your heart will be also. I know my father’s and my mother’s most fervent prayer for me. I grew up hearing it. It wasn’t that I have a successful career. It wasn’t that I become wealthy. It wasn’t that I have a wonderful wife and children. It wasn’t that I not suffer in this world, or that I live to a ripe old age. I’m sure they prayed all that. But their most fervent prayer was that I remain in the Christian faith, that they see me in heaven, that I fight the good fight, and set Jesus before me as my joy in life and in death. And I know my most fervent prayer for my children, for my wife, and for you, whom I love, that you see now and in eternity the joy of knowing Jesus Christ, who made you, who joined you in this world of sin, who laid down his life for you and suffered your hell, who feeds you with His word and will lead you to an everlasting Kingdom purchased with His own blood. Make this your prayer for yourself and for your family and friends.

In the Lord’s Prayer there is only one petition, only one time, that we ask specifically only for earthly things, for daily bread, for everything we need to support this body and life. Everything else, every other petition, centers on God keeping us in the faith. And this is because prayer is based on the cross. So pray for the greatest things, the highest things, based on that cross, things your flesh thinks ridiculous and impossible. Ask for the Holy Spirit. The Father will give Him every time through His Word. Ask for the forgiveness of your sins. Your Father will speak it through your pastor in His church. Ask even for the body and blood of Jesus Christ Himself, and He will show you that it has been pierced for you and it has been shed for you on the cross of Calvary, and He will place it in your mouth and in your heart. Ask Him for everlasting life. And He will give it. Ask Him for the protection of His angels, and He will send them. Ask Him for strength to fight the temptations of the devil, and He will show you the way of escape. Ask Him for courage to face death without fear, and He will set Christ before your eyes and reveal the sweetness of His heaven. Ask Him for perfect health and He will raise your body incorruptible. He will give you things far greater than manna from heaven. He will give you the Bread of Life, which if a man eat, He will never die. Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

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