Prayer Doesn’t Begin With Us


Prayer does not begin with us; it does not begin with our longings and desires or even with the truest and best intentions of the human heart. Prayer begins with the hearing of God’s gracious words of life and salvation spoken to us in the Gospel of His Son. Just as faith comes by the hearing of Christ’s words so prayer is created and sustained by the Word of the Lord. The confidence that God will hear our prayer cannot be found in our determination, in our fervency, or in our sincerity. The confidence that our prayer is heard is found not in the praying heart but in the promises of God. Christian prayer is not based on the instincts of the heart, instincts that by there very nature rob us of the fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Instead, our Lord invites us to pray in His name, that is, on the basis of His good and gracious will and His sure promises.

God Has the First Word

Prayer is often described as a conversation with God. This is a helpful image if we keep in mind that God always has the first word. We can speak to God in prayer only because God has first spoken to us in His Son. We are reminded of this reality in Psalm 51:15, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise,”. It is only as God opens lips locked by sin that mouths are free for the full-throated prayer that delights the ears of our Heavenly Father. When we sinners try to open our own lips in prayer, we know what happens. Instead of praise and thanksgiving, intercession and supplication, out come petitions of self-justification and attempts to bargain with God.

To use the language of Lutheran theology, prayer is not a means of grace. When we are troubled and tortured by our sin and the attacks of Satan we do not take comfort in the strength or sincerity of our praying. Our comfort comes only from God who richly bestows on us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation for the sake of the atoning death of Jesus Christ. This and this alone is the rock-solid gift won for us on Jesus’ cross and delivered to us in the means of grace. Our confidence is not to be found in our prayers but in God’s work in Word and Sacrament. In the conversation of prayer, we speak to God because we have first listened to the Holy Trinity in His Word. The God who has given us His Son tenderly invites us to trust His Word and call upon His name with boldness and confidence.

The Activity of Prayer

At its heart prayer is communication with God. It involves and invokes the presence of God. When we pray we are not far and distant from God. Instead it is a most intimate activity with our Lord in whom we live and have or being. The activity of God presupposes this relationship between the one praying and the One being addressed in prayer.

Often prayer is spoken of as consisting of four aspects, which together shape prayer along the New Testament model. These four aspect form an acrostic in the word ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.

            Adoration

Adoration consists of praising God for who He is. In keeping with the Lord’s Prayer, which begins, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name, we acknowledge the holiness of God’s name and His nature. It is not our praying that makes God’s name  holy, but when we speak the name of God and acknowledge His nature, we confess the One in whom we believe and trust. Adoration establishes for us the relationship we have by grace with our God. This then allows us to come to Him “with all boldness and confidence” and lay our petitions before Him “as dear children ask their dear father” (Luther: Explanation to The Lord’s Prayer, Introduction).

            Confession

As we come to God acknowledging who He is, we are brought immediately to consider who we are, our own shortcomings and failures—our sin. Even as we speak of His holy name we must consider what we have done, or not done, that has failed to keep that name holy in our lives. Confession is the second aspect of prayer that flows naturally from adoration. Recall Isaiah, who as he was lifted up to the very throne of God where the angles gathered singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord,” was at the very same time brought to a profound realization of his sin and the sin of his people (Isaiah 6:1-6).

Confession is not only the acknowledgement of sin but also the agreement with God that sin is abhorrent and incapable of existing in His holy presence. Sin has separated us from God, and in His righteous anger God punishes sin with death that would separate us from His holy presence forever. It is a necessary part of our relationship with God that “we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer” (Luther: Explanation to Confession). Confession is a prerequisite to the reception of God’s gracious word of comfort, hope, and forgiveness (e.g. Jeremiah 5:25, Psalm 66:18). God’s messenger comes to Daniel, for example, while Daniel was “was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God” (Daniel 9:20).

            Thanksgiving

The third element of the human conversation with God that is prayer is thanksgiving, giving voice to our gratitude for what God had done and is doing, giving “thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Thessalonians 5:18). Thanksgiving differs from adoration in that the former focuses us on the nature and character of God, while the latter is our response to what God has done on our behalf. Thanksgiving is a natural outgrowth of confession as we acknowledge the grace that is ours because of the salvation wrought for us in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The experience of being a redeemed and forgiven child of God results in a thankful heart.

            Supplication

The final facet of Christian prayer is supplication. This includes petitioning God on behalf of the needs of others (1 Thessalonians 5:25) as well as one’s own needs (Philippians 4:6). The freedom that we have to come before God and ask anything is a result of being forgiven before God.

On our own we could not heed the words of our Lord when He invites us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). But because we first listen to God in His gracious Word of life and salvation our prayers are created and sustained not by our own will, dedication, or commitment, but by the will and power of Him has promises to hear us when we pray


Originally appeared in Teachers Interaction, Volume 47, no. 4 Summer 2006, pages 20, 21.

Lenten Catechesis—Monday of Lent 5


Gethseme_w-angel

The Keys

The authority of the Keys [Matthew 16:19], or the authority of the bishops—according to the Gospel—is a power or commandment of God, to preach the Gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to administer Sacraments. Christ sends out His apostles with this command, “As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you … Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (john 20:21-22). And in Mark 16:15, Christ says, “Go … proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation.”

This authority is exercised only by teaching or preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, either to many or to individuals, according to their calling. In this way are given not only bodily, but also eternal things: eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. These things cannot reach us except by the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, as Paul says, “The Gospel … is the power of God for salvation to everyone that believes” (Romans 1:16). Therefore, the Church has the authority to grant eternal things and exercises this authority only by the ministry of the Word.

The only authority that belongs to the bishops is what they have according to the Gospel, or by divine right, as they say. For they have been given the ministry of the Word and Sacraments. They have no other authority according to the Gospel than the authority to forgive sins, to judge doctrine, to reject doctrines contrary to the Gospel, and to exclude from the communion of the Church wicked people, whose wickedness is known.… According to this Gospel authority, as a matter of necessity, by divine right, congregations must obey them, for Luke 10:16 says, “The one who hears you hears Me.” But when they teach or establish anything against the Gospel, then the congregations are forbidden by God’s command to obey them.
—Augsburg Confession, Article XXVIII: 5-7, 8-10, 21

Lenten Catechesis from Treasury of Daily Prayer © 2008 Concordia Publishing House.
Used with permission.
All rights reserved. www.cph.org

—————————— + ——————————

TDPDaily devotions for every day of the church year, including Scripture reading, hymn, Psalm, a historical devotion, and prayer, can be found in THE TREASURY OF DAILY PRAYER on sale now from Concordia Publishing House.

PrayNowDaily devotions can also be downloaded to your iOS and Android device using the PrayNow app, available from Google Play or Amazon.com.

Lenten Catechesis—Fifth Sunday in Lent


Gethseme_w-angel

Confession

This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
— John 20:22-23

Lenten Catechesis from Treasury of Daily Prayer © 2008 Concordia Publishing House.
Used with permission.
All rights reserved. www.cph.org

—————————— + ——————————

TDPDaily devotions for every day of the church year, including Scripture reading, hymn, Psalm, a historical devotion, and prayer, can be found in THE TREASURY OF DAILY PRAYER on sale now from Concordia Publishing House.

PrayNowDaily devotions can also be downloaded to your iOS and Android device using the PrayNow app, available from Google Play or Amazon.com.

Lenten Catechesis—Fourth Sunday in Lent


Ecce-Homo-e

Holy Baptism

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew:  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
—Matthew 28:19

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
—Mark 16:16

St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.
—Titus 3:5-8

St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that , just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
—Romans 6:4

Lenten Catechesis from Treasury of Daily Prayer © 2008 Concordia Publishing House.
Used with permission.
All rights reserved. www.cph.org

—————————— + ——————————

TDPDaily devotions for every day of the church year, including Scripture reading, hymn, Psalm, a historical devotion, and prayer, can be found in THE TREASURY OF DAILY PRAYER on sale now from Concordia Publishing House.

PrayNowDaily devotions can also be downloaded to your iOS and Android device using the PrayNow app, available from Google Play or Amazon.com.

Lenten Catechesis—Saturday of Lent 3


reflections on Christ - crucifixion

The Lord’s Prayer – The Seventh Petition and Conclusion

But deliver us from evil.  

In the Greek text this petition reads, “Deliver or preserve us from the evil one,” or “the hateful one.” It looks like Jesus was speaking about the devil, like He would summarize every petition in one. So the entire substance of all our prayer is directed against our chief enemy. For it is he who hinders among us everything that we pray for: God’s name or honor, God’s kingdom and will, our daily bread, a cheerful good conscience, and so forth.
—Large Catechism, Part 3:113

Included in this petition [is] whatever evil may happen to us under the devil’s kingdom: poverty, shame, death, and in short, all the agonizing misery and heartache of which there is such an unnumbered multitude on earth. Since the devil is not only a liar, but also a murderer [John 8:44], he constantly seeks our life. He wreaks his vengeance whenever he can afflict our bodies with misfortune and harm. Therefore, it happens that he often breaks men’s necks or drives them to insanity, drowns some, and moves many to commit suicide and to many other terrible disasters [e.g., Mark 9:17-22]. So there is nothing for us to do upon earth but to pray against this archenemy without stopping. For unless God preserved us, we would not be safe from this enemy even for an hour.
—Large Catechism, Part 3:115-6

If we are to be preserved and delivered from all evil, God’s name must first be hallowed in us, His kingdom must be with us, and His will must be done. After that He will finally preserve us from sin and shame, and, besides, from everything that may hurt or harm us.
—Large Catechism, Part 3:118

Amen.

But all depends upon this, that we learn also to say “Amen.” This means that we do not doubt that our prayer is surely heard and that what we pray shall be done [2 Corinthians 1:20]. This is nothing else than the word of undoubting faith, which does not pray on a dare but knows that God will not lie to him [Titus 1:2]. For He has promised to grant it.
—Large Catechism, Part 3:119-20

Lenten Catechesis from Treasury of Daily Prayer © 2008 Concordia Publishing House.
Used with permission.
All rights reserved. www.cph.org

—————————— + ——————————

TDPDaily devotions for every day of the church year, including Scripture reading, hymn, Psalm, a historical devotion, and prayer, can be found in THE TREASURY OF DAILY PRAYER on sale now from Concordia Publishing House.

PrayNowDaily devotions can also be downloaded to your iOS and Android device using the PrayNow app, available from Google Play or Amazon.com.

Lenten Catechesis—Friday of Lent 3


reflections on Christ - crucifixion

The Lord’s Prayer – The Fifth and Sixth Petition

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

There is here attached a necessary, yet comforting addition: “As we forgive.”… Just as we daily sin much against God, and yet He forgives everything through grace, so we, too, must ever forgive our neighbor who does us injury, violence, and wrong…. If, therefore, you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you. But if you forgive, you have this comfort and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven. This is not because of your forgiving. For God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches. But God says this in order that He may establish forgiveness as our confirmation and assurance, as a sign alongside of the promise, which agrees with this prayer in Luke 6:37, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
—Large Catechism, Part 3:93-6

And lead us not into temptation.

Temptation… is of three kinds: of the flesh, of the world, and of the devil. For we dwell in the flesh and carry the old Adam about our neck…. The old Adam encourages us to have all kinds of evil lusts, which cling to us by nature and to which we are moved by the society, the example, and what we hear and see of other people.… [The world] offends us in word and deed. It drives us to anger and impatience.… No one is willing to be the least. Everyone desires to sit at the head of the group and to be seen before all…. [The devil] especially agitates matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs. He leads us to despise and disregard both God’s Word and works.
—Large Catechism, Part 3:101-4

“Lead us not into temptation”… refers to times when God gives us power and strength to resist the temptation. However, the temptation is not taken away or removed. While we live in the flesh and have the devil around us, no one can escape his temptation and lures. It can only mean that we must endure trials—indeed, be engulfed in them. But we say this prayer so that we may not fall and be drowned in them.
—Large Catechism, Part 3:106

 

Lenten Catechesis from Treasury of Daily Prayer © 2008 Concordia Publishing House.
Used with permission.
All rights reserved. www.cph.org

—————————— + ——————————

TDPDaily devotions for every day of the church year, including Scripture reading, hymn, Psalm, a historical devotion, and prayer, can be found in THE TREASURY OF DAILY PRAYER on sale now from Concordia Publishing House.

PrayNowDaily devotions can also be downloaded to your iOS and Android device using the PrayNow app, available from Google Play or Amazon.com.