The Introduction and the First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer – Lent Midweek
An old proverb states: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” I think that is probably true. But I know that there are still plenty of unbelievers in foxholes. For hope in a higher power, even a Monotheistic power, is not the same as saving faith in Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, Sender of the Holy Spirit. Lots of well-meaning Muslims who faithfully worshiped Allah from the foxhole, died in battle, and went to Hell. In the same way everyone in the hospital, it seems, is praying. But that does not mean that all those prayers are legitimate. For what is it that makes a prayer legitimate? Is it the sincerity or faith of the one praying? If so, we are lost. For we can scarce pray, “Lord, have mercy” without our minds wandering. And we almost never really believe that what we ask for will be delivered. No. What makes a prayer legitimate is not the one who prays it, but the One to whom it is prayed. If the prayer is offered up to an imaginary or demonic god then it is nothing, even as the one to whom is prayed is nothing. And so it effects nothing.
But if the prayer is Christian prayer, that is, is offered to the Holy Trinity, then it is legitimate. It is heard. It is answered. God is pleased. For what He promises, He does. And those who are baptized into His Name always pray in that Name, for they always pray in faith, or else they have rejected that Name, rejected that Baptism, and have not faith. And whether they use the formula or not, all prayers prayed in true faith, are prayers prayed in Jesus’ Name. They are prayed through the Name given in Baptism. For all Christian prayers, no matter what the exact wording, are prayed to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. And apart from true faith, even if the Name of Baptism is used, even if the formulation is in accordance with the Word of God, it is in vain, and the noises that are made nothing more than that.
So, we should pray. First because it is commanded. And second because He promises to hear all prayers offered in faith to Him. Do not think that simply because the Father knows what we need before we ask, that because He already knows the desires of our hearts, that we do not need to pray. Indeed, He does know these things. But that is from His perspective, not ours. We cannot look at it that way. It has been given to us to pray. We cannot fathom the mysteries of God’s attributes. They cannot be used to contradict His Word. He wants us to pray, to throw our concerns and worries, our wants and desires, all things upon Him. From our perspective He works because of our prayer. Is not our God the God of Isaiah and Hezekiah? Did He not relent and add fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life, reverse the sun in its journey through the sky, on account of prayer? Did not the man at the pool in Bethesda find an answer to his prayers in Jesus after 38 years of waiting? Did not Our Lord Himself go off to pray during His time of suffering here on earth?
God has commanded us to pray. He has promised to hear our prayers. He has demonstrated that they are effectual, but still, we must live by faith. For often the answer is not seen or does not come as we think we want. But always the answer does come. And always it is for the best. Faith lives not by sight, but by the Word. And so we pray. Nothing less than the Promise of God is our comfort. But that is not all. Oh no, that is not all. He also intercedes Himself for us. The very workings of the inner council of the Holy Trinity, that great mystery that mortal man cannot contain, concerns itself with you, O Christian! The Son and the Spirit beseech the Father for His mercy on your behalf. They remind Him of His love. Was it not enough to live and die in your place, to suffer your death, pay your penalty, and still He keeps on giving, still He serves you! Yes, He gives, and gives, and gives. He intervenes. He cajoles. He prays for you, His precious lamb. He Himself loves you. You are no bother to Him. Else why would He leave the 99 and waste the night searching for you, and finding you again, His wayward lamb, rejoicing?
And yet, still, there is more! For even as He intercedes, He has taken the initiative and puts the very words into our mouths that we might pray a perfect prayer! He is so deeply concerned for us that He has given us a prayer to pray – a perfect prayer, an all-encompassing, God-pleasing prayer, that we might know that this God hears and this God loves. Here is the antidote to the pagans’ many spontaneous, shallow repetitions, their irreverent thoughts springing from their selfish hearts about the many minimal things they want of God, “O God, just this and just that.” What nonsense! We do not come before the God who gave us His Son, declared us His children by Grace, as abused children cowed into submission, fearful of what God might say. No. We come as rambunctious, laughing children, spilling onto our Father’s lap. Even if we step in the wrong place and cause Him pain, He loves us there. Thus, we pray with boldness and confidence. We know that it is heard by Him, is loved by Him, pleases Him. This single prayer is greater than all the riches in the world! True, foolish children like us have been neglectful of their chores, behaved poorly. We’ve not listened as we should to His lectures. We’ve not feared His wrath or respected His discipline as we ought. And we’ve taken all His providence for granted. But, nonetheless, we are His children, and He loves us. He loves to bless us. He never holds out on us. He is lavish in His Grace, in His charity, in His providing. Does He not even give us His very Body and Blood to eat and to drink, to cleanse and restore us?
And so it is that the first thing for which we ask, the first thing to which He directs our requests, is that His Name be kept holy, be sanctified, be honored and rightly used among us. We pray that we His children would not bring shame upon Him, would not dishonor Him, would give no false impressions and tell no lies about Him, but that all we say and do would ring true with His own Word. We pray that His grace might be seen in us. And within this first petition, for this first petition is about His Word and will, lies the request that He continue, as always, to teach us to pray. Ah, yes, what joy is ours in Him who loved us to the end. We can even pray!
In +His Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Ft. Wayne, Indiana