As we went to bed every night, Mom and Dad taught us children to say our prayers. We prayed: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die, before I wake, I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to take. If I should live for other days, I pray Thee, Lord, to guide my ways.”
Now, I am not sure if Mom and Dad were wanting us to pray this prayer so that God would make us better behaved, as we live other days or not. But, I do remember that it helped us children to ask Mom and Dad about God, and they taught us how we should be able to talk to Him about anything and at all times in our lives, and to ask Him for any and everything we needed. Just talk to God. That is what prayer is.
Luther described prayer as the way we communicate with God. And yet it is also true that the Lord knows what we need before we ask it (see Matthew 6:32). Our hymnal describes prayer this way: “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, Unuttered or expressed” and “Prayer is the simplest form of speech That infant lips can try” (ELH 387:1, 3).
Some people think that their pastor needs to pray for them, because God will hear it better if it comes from a pastor. But when Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished!” and the temple curtain tore from top to bottom, God was showing that all people can now come to the Lord in prayer through faith in Jesus Christ.
Because of Jesus’ promise to answer prayer, Christians know that they can ask God for anything they need. Christians need many things to sustain their lives, physically and spiritually. The Psalms are prayers for God’s mercy as well as health or daily bread; for the light of understanding the Word; for peace in times of war; for clean hands and a pure heart; for the bounties of the earth (flowers and trees, fruit and grain)—everything we need for this body and life.
We also need to ask God for spiritual things, such as forgiveness of sins, spiritual strength, help against the temptations of Satan and the deceits of this life, for guidance in our thoughts and minds that we might love and care for others. There really is not any good thing that we cannot ask God to give us.
Though we can ask God for anything, some things may not be good for us. Should we ask for money or wealth, Jesus reminds us “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). If we are tempted to make wealth our god, the true God may not give us what we ask for.
Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is an example of prayer. He asks that He glorify the Father by finishing His work of salvation, that He would keep those whom the Father had given to Jesus by faith, that He would keep the disciples from the evil one, and that the truth of the Word may sanctify them (declare them holy by faith in Jesus). Jesus also prays “for all those who will believe in Me through their [the disciples’] word” (v. 20). With these words, Jesus was praying for you and me, that God’s love may be with us. Jesus instructs us that God’s love extends to our enemies: “Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (Luke 6:28), so that they may believe the Gospel and be saved. Through the Second and Third Petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for these things also.
Since Satan is our enemy, should we pray for him to be converted? No, for Jesus said, “The ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:11). Nor should we pray for those who have died, because “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Instead, we are to pray for those who live in this world: I exhort that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority (1 Timothy 2:1–2). God wants us to be “casting all our care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). We should ask God to bless our family and relatives, all believers in Jesus, and the preaching of the Gospel. We also need to pray for everything we need for this body and life and for the Father to guide us all our days until He takes us to His heavenly home. With all these needs, St. Paul urges us to “pray without ceasing, in everything gives thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:17–18).
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Ev’rything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Ev’rything to God in prayer!
Reverend Micah Ernst
Beautiful Savior of the Lake
Osage Beach, MO
Grace Lutheran (WELS)