Text: Lord’s Prayer, Introduction
On Wednesday we began our yearly time of deeper reflection on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. This holy season of Lent, in its 40 day length, recalls our Lord’s 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. Rather than be a time of overt somber, however, Lent is a time rich in grace where we have the opportunity to return to our baptism daily, take up our Lord’s cross, and follow. As our Lord spent His time in the wilderness praying and reflecting on God’s Word, so will our time this season be spent in heightened prayer and study. In the last few years, we relearned the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed. This year, we return to the Lord’s Prayer.
From ancient times, Lent was the time for catechesis. Those who desired to be baptized members of the body of Christ spent three years studying, memorizing, and praying God’s Word. At the end of the third year, on the Vigil of Easter, they confessed their faith using the words of the Apostles’ Creed and were baptized. Through that sacred washing, they became, with us, children of the heavenly Father. As His beloved children, we receive the precious promise of God – that we may speak to Him and know that He hears. In the Lord’s Prayer, our God invites us to speak to Him and assures us that He will hear and answer our prayers.
Before we go further, however, we should answer a preliminary question. It’s a simple one, but it often trips people up: What is prayer? The newest revision of our catechism puts it this way – that prayer, simply, is “speaking to God in words and thoughts.” (Small Catechism with Explanation, CPH, pg. 231) If we wanted to branch out from that, we could say that prayer is “the communion of a believing heart with God.” (J.T. Mueller, Christian Dogmatics, pgs. 428-29) It says in Psalm 27, “You [O Lord] have said, ‘Seek My face.’ My heart says to You, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.” (Ps. 27:8 English Standard Version) Prayer is, essentially, an ongoing conversation between a child of God and their heavenly Father. It has salvation by faith in Christ as its basis, along with trust in His own promise to answer. There are many examples and many different kinds of prayer in Scripture. There are prayers of confession, supplication, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise. A prayer can be sung, spoken, or even spoken only before the Lord in the heart.
The prayer that we learn in the Catechism is called the Lord’s Prayer because it is the prayer that Jesus Himself has put in our mouths and on our hearts. In Scripture, we find it in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. Jesus gave it at the prompting of His disciples, when they asked Him how they should pray and speak to God. Because the words come from His own mouth, we can be sure when we pray it that it is pleasing to Him and that the things in it are things that we should be praying for. The Lord’s Prayer, as we said, isn’t the only prayer in Scripture, neither is it the only prayer we pray straight from the Bible – for example, we’ll sing the Nunc Dimittis after the Distribution; it is our treasure however, because we learn from it how to pray and what to pray for.
The next question for us to ask is why we should pray. The first reason we pray is because prayer is a command of God. It falls under the Second Commandment. The reason the Lord gave us His name at all is so that we might use it: that we might know who it is who has redeemed us, teach and confess His Word rightly, and, yes, call upon Him directly in times of danger, need, and praise. God Himself says in the Psalms, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” (50:15) Again, “In distress you called, and I delivered you.” (81:7) Jesus said, “I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 11:9) St Paul teaches us, “Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18) Yes, God commands prayer from us just as He demands we keep from killing, committing adultery, stealing, gossipping, and coveting. Excusing ourselves from prayer is the same in God’s eyes as setting aside any of His other commandments.
God doesn’t just command us to pray, however; He also moves us to pray with His precious and great promises. He said, “Call upon Me…I will deliver you.” Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you.” He also said, “Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do.” (John 14:13) On the 6th Sunday of Easter, we’ll hear these words in the Gospel: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (Jn. 16:24) In addition to the command of God, which by itself should move us to pray, we have these and many more promises that He does hear and answer us. Besides these two, also our own great need should move us to prayer. Finally, as if these reasons were still not enough, God even gives us the words to pray. We have the Lord’s Prayer of course, but we also have the Psalms and the other great songs of Scripture – all of which are prayers pleasing to our God in heaven and useful for us on earth.
Let us now turn to the Introduction of the Lord’s Prayer. Let us speak it together as we normally do. I’ll ask the question if you would join me for the answer.
Our Father who art in heaven.
What does this mean?
With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.
When the disciples asked our Lord to teach them how to pray, these were the first words He taught them to use: “Our Father.” Although, like the Prodigal Son, we are unworthy to address God of ourselves yet, by grace, He deigns to call Himself our Father. He is the Father of Creation by virtue of being its creator, but He makes Himself our Father and we, His children, through the washing of Holy Baptism. In that washing, He reclaimed us for Himself and snatched us out of the realm of the devil. He seats us here in His kingly hall not as strangers, but as His children and heirs. And, as a loving Father, He invites us to pray to Him.
Although we are unworthy to pray or to receive the things for which we pray, we can be confident before God and pray because He Himself has told us to do so. Our prayer is not based upon our own holiness or worthiness before God. In fact, to pray with such a mindset is an evil work and God will not answer that prayer but will, indeed, punish. Instead, with these words God calls Himself our Father and names us His children. He beckons us to speak to Him, that we come before Him in all times of trial and need and just see how He will answer and bless us. He has promised in the Psalms, “I am the Lord…who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” (81:10) That is what we confess today. We turn to the Lord in prayer as children do their dear fathers, because He has promised to hear and answer. Thanks be to God. Amen.