Prayer does not make earthly sense. Consider that we are sinners. To be a sinner does not simply mean that we make a few little mistakes here and there. It means that we are fundamentally filthy in our soul. Sins come pouring out of us constantly because all sinners are turned away from God in prideful rebellion. Even actions we think are good works are soiled by our unclean sinful nature.
So even the purest, most selfless prayer from a sinner is a horrible abomination, an offensive, screeching noise in the ears of the holy God.
How dare we speak our nasty, sinful prayers to the Lord? How could we so arrogantly think that our disgustingly twisted requests should afflict His ears?
Plenty of people think that their hearts are so pure and beautiful with light and love that God must be simply thrilled to hear their every thought. They could not be more mistaken.
The Christian approach is exactly the opposite. We do not approach God in prayer because we think we are worthy. On the contrary, we confess that we are unworthy sinners. But we nevertheless come to Him, based on His pardon and invitation.
He pardons us for the sake of Christ because He has atoned for us with His Blood. He has torn the curtain that separated us from God by giving up His life for us. He has invited us to call upon Him in prayer. “Ask and you will receive,” says Christ to us today. We approach the Almighty as our loving Father who cares for us and wants to help us.
This is what it means to pray in the Name of Christ. We base our prayers on His merits. He has earned for us the right to come to God. He has invited us.
How strange this makes prayer! We do not usually notice this because we are used to praying. But we should realize and appreciate, from time to time, that God should NOT listen to us. But we are praying to Him based on Someone Else’s virtues. The ordinary, earthly way of doing things is that we do not ask for favors because a different person is worthy of the favor. How would it sound if I said, “Hey, can you give me a thousand dollars? I am a nasty jerk, but I know someone else who is an awesome person. So give me the money because of how great that other person is.” In everyday life, that does not make sense. But that is how prayer works. That is the strange principle of how God decides to treat us.
What a good thing it is that God works this way! Think of the kind of year we have been going through. Think of the fear so many people have felt. Think of the despair of those who have lost their livelihoods and their hopes and their loved ones.
This is not new to the human race as if we have suddenly discovered that disease and fear and disaster can happen. The human race has always been vulnerable to circumstances that can threaten us at any moment.
Christ our dear Lord knows this. He is not a distant, indifferent observer looking down from heaven. He knows what our lives are like first hand. He knew the pain of loved ones dying. He knew the pain of suffering illness. He knew the severe pain of injuries unjustly inflicted, and the pain of dying. Christ allowed Himself to live as a weak Man, a vulnerable Man, a Man who suffered and wept and felt crushing emotions. He knew exhaustion, when His strength gave out and He needed others to help Him.
So He knows what it feels like to be you. He knows everything you experience, except for sin. When you pray to the Lord, the Lord understands. He is not a distant, strange creature who has no sympathy for your troubles. For from it. He understands and has felt it.
If you believe that God knows nothing of your life and does not care, then prayer is an exercise in futility. But if you know that the Son of God has become Man and lived your life and become your Brother, then you also know that God is your Father who cares deeply for you. Prayer requires this kind of faith.
So how does the loving Father answer your prayers? Since He is loving, He wants to give you what is best. But sometimes you ask Him for things that are not best for you. We simply cannot always know what is good or not good. What appears helpful may actually be harmful.
If only we can remember this. Deep down, our old Adam thinks that he knows better than the Lord. We may impatiently complain when He does not give us what we want.
It is precisely because the heavenly Father loves us that He does not give us everything we desire. As we learn better to be His children in the image of His Son, we pray, “Not my will, but Your be done.” For so Christ prayed in Gethsemane.
Our sinful mind is too foolish to do that. Instead, like a little child, we may ask for destructive things without realizing it, and then whine and pout because we did not get our way.
But we may also go to the other extreme. We may be too fearful to ask for something foolish, and so ask for nothing at all. Our timid prayers would refuse to ask for a single blessing.
But the loving Father wants to hear our prayers. Even though our prayers may be stammering and foolish, He wants to hear the desires of our hearts. No petition is too small for His Fatherly care.
By all means, avoid asking for what is obviously sinful. And yes, confess your sinful foolishness to God in your prayers. But then say, “Please give me this thing, if it be Your will.”
When God seems to delay, perhaps He has said, “No.” Or perhaps He is delaying for a good reason. A mother might pray for her wayward son for forty years, and only then God may say, “Yes.”
Whatever happens, let your faith stand fast toward God. Continue to worship Him in your prayers. Feed those prayers with the Word and Supper, since a plant does not flourish and flower without water and the sun. God’s Gospel of salvation shows you His enormous love in Christ His Son. Hearing this, you will surely speak to such a gracious God.
In His Name. Amen.
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