The Lord’s Prayer

Audio here.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“We are in such a situation that no one can keep the Ten Commandments perfectly, even though he or she has begun to believe. Besides, the devil, along with the world and our flesh, resists them with all his power. Consequently, nothing is so necessary as to call upon God incessantly and to drum into his ears our prayer that he may give, preserve, and increase in us faith and the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments and remove all that stands in our way and hinders us in that regard” (LC, The Lord’s Prayer). Because of the sinful flesh that still clings to us, because of the devil who never stops trying to pull us away from Christ, and because of the world, which is full of temptation to sin, it is necessary to pray. Then we realize our great need and dependence; and then we also recognize from where our entire life and help comes: our dear Father in heaven, who sent His Son into this world. No one but that Son in the flesh, teaches us how to pray truly when He makes us His brothers and sisters by faith, which is the only way that anyone becomes a child of God. We do not pray to make God aware of our needs; He knows what we need and when and how to give it to us. Nor do we pray to make Him hear us. He never fails to hear and answer His Son, and so He never fails to hear and answer us because we pray in Christ. But if the perfect and holy Son of God still prays, how much more necessary is it for us? So we are commanded to pray, as in the Second Commandment, when we are told not to misuse the Name of God but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. And when we want to learn how to pray, we cannot do better than the prayer our Lord Jesus gives us. There is not a single need, a single request, a single word of thanksgiving, that is not encompassed within the words that Jesus gives us. He who knows the mind and will of the Father perfectly cannot and will not give us anything less than a perfect prayer. The words are simple enough that a little child can learn them, but there is enough in each petition to occupy the entire life of a Christian.

Since God, in many places, promises to hear His children when they call on Him, “you can hold such promises up to him and say, ‘Here I come, dear Father, and pray not of my own accord nor because of my own worthiness, but at your commandment and promise, which cannot fail or deceive me’” (LC, Lord’s Prayer). So with “all boldness and confidence” we “enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20), and so we “ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father” (SC, LP, Intro.). We do not pray that God’s Name would become holy, as if it were not; we do not pray that God’s Kingdom would come, as if our lack of prayer would keep it from coming; and we do not pray that God’s will would be done, as if it would not be if we did not pray. Our prayer does not activate God, and our lack of prayer will not keep God from carrying out His gracious will in His own Kingdom. But we pray that His Name would be holy among us: that His Word, which is the living and active testimony to Jesus, would be taught in truth and purity among us, that we would have a true and pure faith; and that our lives, because we live them under the baptismal seal of His Name, would be holy in love for our neighbors. And we also pray against all false teaching, because it leads to false faith and false love. We pray that His Kingdom would come among us, that Jesus our King would reign among us by faith, which comes when the Father gives His Holy Spirit. We are within His Kingdom—that is, He is our King now—by faith, but one day we will see that it includes the whole creation. And we pray that His will would be done not only absolutely, but among us. God’s will is simply this: that He would keep us firm in His Word and faith until we die. And that is exactly what the devil, the world, and our flesh are constantly trying to oppose, so that every single word of the Lord’s Prayer is warfare against everything that opposes God and His will. We are besieged on every side, but our conquering Captain, Jesus, has gone into the fray by His death and resurrection, and it is He who still fights for us.

Do we need to pray that God would give what we need for our daily life in this world, or that He would forgive sins, or that He would not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil? Not in the sense that our prayers or lack thereof would affect whether God does those things. No, God does all these things simply because He is merciful and gracious, and His forgiving love is revealed to us as Jesus dies and rises again. But we do need to pray that we would receive all His gifts with thanksgiving; we do need to be driven again and again to the forgiving mercy of our crucified Lord, for our sake and for the sake of those who sin against us; and we do need to be driven again and again to the promise that God will never, for the sake of Jesus, lead us into temptation, and that He will, for the sake of Jesus, deliver us finally from the Evil One and every evil of body and soul. Once again, the devil and the world and our flesh do not want us to have what we need or thank God for it; they do not want us to be forgiven, and they do not want to forgive others; they want temptation and evil to overtake us and drag us from the Christ who defeated Satan in the wilderness and on the cross.

All of this is true Christian prayer, because each petition depends for its certainty only on the promises of God in His Son, Jesus. Any prayer that does not have a promise of God attached to it is not from faith, and is therefore sin. But every prayer that has a promise, bound to the death and resurrection of Jesus, has a sure and certain basis, and there can be no doubt whatsoever that God hears and answers, now and forever. So we always say ‘Amen’ to such prayers, whether prayed by us or prayed by others, because amen means, simply, it is true; I believe it. Amen is the response of true faith to true prayer, and it means that we “should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him, for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen means ‘yes, yes, it shall be so’” (SC, LP, Conclusion). True prayer, then, is always the words which the Father has given to His children, and which the children then repeat back to Him. He commands because of our sinful flesh, which is lazy and does not want to pray. So it is good for us to set particular and regular times aside for prayer, in addition to the spontaneous prayer in times of need and thanksgiving. “There is an observation true to life in the statement of Claus Harms: ‘Whoever does not pray at determined times does not pray at undetermined ones.’ It is fanaticism and a disregard of our situation as sinners to think we can dispense with such a regulated custom, usage and rule of prayer. If the observance of such order be lacking, if prayer is left to inner impulse or fancy, it will practically end, as a result of the slothfulness and lukewarmness of our nature, in omission” (Adolf Köberle, The Quest for Holiness, 175). But in addition to the command for the discipline of our sinful flesh, our Father also gives promises, in order that faith may have an object to which it is directed: a sure word and promise in Jesus’ own work on our behalf, grounded in the absolute certainty of His own resurrection. And so we must and may pray ever more fervently and insistently, that our faith is exercised both in trusting God’s promises and in living in the midst of this flesh and world, where the devil is. “For whenever a good Christian prays, ‘Dear Father, your will be done,’ God replies from above, ‘Yes, dear child, it shall be done indeed, in spite of the devil and all the world” (LC, Lord’s Prayer). Amen, amen, it shall be so.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/8/16

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