Read: Luke 11:1-13 & Matthew 6:7-13.
[T]he Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought (Romans 8:26). The request of Jesus’ disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray,” is more profound than it first appears. Though many world religions include the practice of prayer, the Bible makes it clear that only prayers offered in faith in Jesus are pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:6). The book of Proverbs states, The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight (Proverbs 15:8). St. Paul writes, How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:14).
Apart from faith in Jesus and His redemptive work, no one is righteous in God’s sight. Apart from faith in Jesus’ atonement, no one has access to God. The only way to the Father is through the Son (John 14:6). Through the mediating high priestly work of Jesus, Christians can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).
Prayer has sometimes been called the heartbeat of faith. It flows from a heart that has been born anew by the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel in word and sacrament. David writes, Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise (Psalm 51:14-15). Prayer is therefore “an act of worship in which we speak to God from the heart, asking something of Him, or thanking Him for His mercies” (ELS Catechism & Explanation #232).
Prayer is part of an ongoing conversation with our God. He speaks to us in His Word, and we respond in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. We pray in the Spirit, through the Son, to our heavenly Father. We learn the language and content of prayer in the same way that children learn to speak. Children learn by listening to and mimicking their parents. The Scriptures are God’s Word. We pray using the language He has taught us. It is no wonder that our liturgy is filled with prayers and praise taken directly from the Bible. The Scriptures train us to exercise our love for God and our neighbor by praying for all people according to their needs (1 Timothy 2:1).
A disciplined prayer life is not easy for us. We still contend with our sinful nature, which is obstinate and self-reliant. We must be taught to pray. Our prayer life is often learned and strengthened through the crosses and hardships we endure. We must learn over and over that our strength is found only in the true God who has redeemed us. “Lord, teach us to pray” is therefore every Christian’s petition.
In his book Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today, John Kleinig says, “Since we are disciples of Jesus, He gives us much more than a set prayer that is to be the model for all our prayers; He gives us His own status as God’s Son and allows us to share in all the privileges of His unique relationship with His heavenly Father….By giving us His prayer, Jesus puts us in His shoes and involves us in His royal mission….He joins Himself to us so that we can join Him in prayer and borrow everything from Him” (p. 163). Martin Luther described prayer as Jesus carrying us into His Father’s presence “in his skin and on his back” (AE 42:23).
“The prayer of God’s children differs from all other prayer because they pray to God the Father together with Jesus and His Holy Spirit…. Christian prayer, therefore, depends on our participation in the life and activity of the triune God. Our prayer does not depend on the development of any innate human spiritual capacities but on the grace of God given to His dependent children. It depends completely on Jesus and His work of intercession. And Jesus gives us His name and Word to include us in His prayer” (Kleinig, p. 168). Luther’s explanations to the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer aid us in this privileged act of worship.
“Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2).
Rev. Trent Saari
Lakewood Lutheran Church
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church