The Glory Has Departed
Norma Boeckler, Artist in Residence
Bethany Lutheran Worship on
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Prayer Is the Fruit of of a Christian's Faith
KJV John 16:23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.
The opening of this Gospel lesson is the culmination of Jesus' childbirth analogy, comparing His death and resurrection to the experience of labor and the joy of a new baby born. So this passage on prayer follows the pattern seen throughout the New Testament, where the Gospel promises precede the Lord's encouragement to pray.
Coming out of a monastic experience of laws and commands, Luther like to say that God does not command the believer, He persuades. America still suffers from a confusion about prayer, because of the way it is often presented, not to mention confusion about the Word always conveying Jesus through the power of the Spirit.
Evangelical Conversion by Prayer
The typical presentation today has people believing after they hear the Gospel. "What do I do now?" The answer - "Pray for Jesus to enter your heart." There is even a basic Sinner's Prayer along those lines.
The proclamation of the Gospel itself brings Jesus to the individual, whether that person is a believer or not. It is the Holy Spirit working in the Word that does this. The very act of prayer in the Name of Jesus is an act of faith. As Peter said, "I believe. Help my unbelief."
Grace Separated from the Gospel
This should always concern us, that grace is separated from the Gospel proclamation. This happens several ways among the errorists.
The first is the one I just described. The person believes, but he is commanded to pray for grace. He already received grace through the Word, which caused him to believe for the first time - or the Gospel renewed his faith. The message of Jesus' death and resurrection is grace - they are never separated.
Prayer is taught as THE Means of Grace. Worship in church is expected, but not really important. The prayer group (from Pietism) is where grace is received. This comes from Pietism and from Roman Catholic prayer groups (rosary groups) that inspired Spener. As I have said before, someone can be a paid Bible study leader at a Baptist church and brag about never going to church for decades.
Despising the Means of Grace. The Sacraments are denied the power of the visible Word, so Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are neglected and often belittled as mattering very little. This easily collapses in the clown ministries offered in generic circus locations everywhere in every denomination. Do NOT call it a church. Do NOT give it a name associated with the Christian faith. Do NOT wear anything more formal than hiking clothes. Long ago a Church Growth leader among the Lutherans said,"If Jesus were conducting His ministry today"....(He isn't through the Means of Grace?!) "He would have something like The Tonight Show on TV." That minister became a burn-out and lost his entire church empire.
One error piles on another error and this results in confusion and lack of faith in the Gospel itself.
KJV John 16:23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing.
This is the kind of statement that wakes us up. It does not sound right. In fact, it is stated in such a way that we have to take notice. At the time, the disciples were dependent upon Jesus for everything, and they were always asking Him to teach them and provide for them in various ways. But now, they would ask the Father directly in His Name because they were His brothers by faith. What would move them to ask and persuade them to ask? The energy of the Gospel at work does that.
Luther's Five Requirements of Prayer
1. The Gospel Promise
The first requirement of prayer is the Gospel Promise, as I mentioned above. But this increases in power with its purity. Many hear a watered down Gospel or they listen to a clever combination of Gospel and Law, such as the demand for works "to adorn faith" as the Church of Rome claims.
What does this means - Behold the Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the world?
That means the Son of God has been born of the Virgin, has performed great and unique miracles to confirm His divine Word, and suffered torture and death to pay for all of our sins, His innocence displayed in His resurrection. When we confuse regret over past sins with a lack of forgiveness, we are saying, "That sin remains on Jesus. He has only destroyed and conquered my minor sins, not my major sins. The major sins are still there." That puts a lie on the Gospel message, that Jesus bears all the sins, that He is our righteousness, our perfection that we receive through faith.
The Christian believer is forgiven all sins each day because the Spirit brings Jesus to Him each day. The individual is still a sinner, but sin no longer controls and enslaves him. It is wonderful to see how the Gospel breaks people out of their slavery to impulse, addiction, cruelty, and blasphemy. John Bunyan was such a horrible person that his conversion itself was seen as a Gospel miracle by all his acquaintances. No one was written off more than he was, and the rest of his life consisted of teaching that Gospel, as in The Pilgrim's Progress.
So we pray, because God has promised us that He will hear our prayers. This is such a completely different from pagan religions where the individual must pay for and work for God's favor.
2. Faith in God's Promise
3. Faith That Our Prayer Will Be Heard
25 These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father.
The more we see how Jesus prepared and guided His disciples, step by step, and gathered them again after the resurrection, the more we see how He trains us in the Word and in our experiences to have a greater and greater trust that our prayers are heard.
Clearly the disciples did not grasp much of what was told them at the time. We are like spectators watching them learn what we already know. That should reveal to us that we are quite the same. Little challenges prepare us for great ones. And false concepts we were taught or we imagined on our own - these are swept away by the Word. We may read or hear a passage 50 times and then one day. And it is the Spirit that opens up the meaning to us. "Why didn't I get this before?" Because some things require repetition and experience.
When I was new in the ministry, I wanted to make things happen. I wanted to accomplish something. After a few years it is clear that God's Word makes things happen, that His agenda can be entirely different and clearly not what we thought at first. I was sitting in a seldom used church office about 40 years ago when a Lutheran calendar had this quotation on it from Luther: "The older I get, the less I rely on myself and the more I rely on God." That was naturally the opposite of what everyone was telling me - do this, make this happen, get results. And when things did go well, someone was always around to rip things apart. That was taught by Luther too, about the hostility of Satan toward the Word, never wanting it to take root and prosper.
The parables of Jesus become clear to us, as they did to the disciples.
4. A Sense of Our Unworthiness
26 At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: 27 For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.
As I said in the chapel service, nothing is more obnoxious that ordering God around, giving Him the time, place, and manner of His work. And yet, this Management by Objective method, taught by Peter Drucker, has been the rage in all the synods, from ELCA down to the ELS. I went into an beautiful old Episcopalian church in Charlotte, and there on the bulletin board was the pastor's and congregation's demands of God, to wit - 10% increase in worship and attendance for the next three years, etc. And the pastor was just back from a conference at Fuller Seminary.
But the Canaanite woman, when challenged by Jesus time and again, instead of being offended by the reference to taking the children's bread and giving it to dogs, said, "Yes, Master. And yet the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Master's table."
The old LCA hymnal used to have a prayer for communion that said, "We are not worthy to gather the crumbs from the Master's table, nevertheless..."
So we do not pray on the basis of our own worthiness but because Christ has made us worthy and made us His brothers. And even greater is this Promise, that God loves us because we love the Son and believe He comes from God.
So God persuades us to pray to Him by saying how much He loves those who believe in His Son. And how can we not trust in Him who serves as our Good Shepherd?
5. That We Never Limit God in Any Way
28 I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father. 29 His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. 30 Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God.
I continue to think that the greatest miracle of all--above the Creation, the Genesis Flood, and the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament--is this one miracle, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. If we trust in this miracle of the Incarnation, that God became man for us, how can we doubt or limit God in any way?
God never said, "Ask if you have figured out that it is do-able. After all miracles must be specific, achievable, and measurable" (SAM goals, which are also taught by Peter Drucker, Management by Objective). We are promised again and again -
Ask and it will be given to you.
And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” With this and like promises and commands we must consolingly exercise ourselves and pray in true confidence.
So often I have been mocked by "conservative" Lutheran clergy for emphasizing faith, which they did to show they were so much better than I. And even more so, they made fun of any person's ability to do anything in such modest circumstances. And I would agree with these screeching jays, except God keeps showing how He works and how much He accomplishes through the Word alone.
That means faith in His Word, not in our words. Henry Jacobs wrote a great comparison, true to the Scriptures. The power of the Word is related to its purity. The more we water it down with human reason, the more it is man's words and not God's Word and therefore this base alloy is rendered ineffective by us.
One only need to look around and see the vast collapse of the rationalistic Lutheran synods - WELS, ELS, LCMS, ELCA, CLC (sic) - to observe how God has let their delusions take down every material thing they cherish, worship, and adore.
One layman cannot get over the nastiness poured out upon those layman who cling to justification by faith instead of Universalism disguised as UOJ. The strength of the reaction is equal to the power of Satan and his hatred of the Word. So justification by faith and all the Promises associated with it - that only has a little toe-hold here and there. But is the power and glory of the Prince of this world compared to the Prince of Peace, who will return in majesty to judge between the sheep and the goats. Whenever that happens, in this generation or 200 years from now, His followers will need to pray.