Struggles in the church and the world around us cause us to say, ‘The church and the world really need our prayer’.
In the divine service, we pray ‘for the church, the world and all people according to their needs’.
Sometimes we feel guilty because we do not pray as often as we ought. These examples highlight an understanding of what the Scriptures teach: that, ‘The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective’ (James 5:16).
It is important to remember that the power of prayer is not in prayer itself, or in the act of our praying, but in the God to whom we pray. God is the power of prayer. Our confidence in prayer lies in the fact that God has shown himself to us as a loving Father who gives good gifts to his children (Luke 11:1–13).
He is a faithful Son whose sacrifice for our sins has given us the right to be called children of God (John 1:12) and therefore to speak to the Father in his name. He is an empowering Spirit who intercedes for us, even when we are too weak to pray (Romans 8:26, 27). God’s promise to hear and answer prayer rests in him, his nature and his gifts.
When Luther explains the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism, he also reminds us that our confidence in prayer is not in prayer itself, but in the one to whom we pray. Because ‘he is truly our Father and we are truly his children, we may approach him boldly and confidently in prayer’. Because ‘God’s name is holy in itself’, we can confidently pray that it may also ‘be holy for us’.
Because ‘the kingdom of God comes of itself, without our prayer’, we have confidence to pray and believe it will ‘also come to us’. Because ‘the good and gracious will of God is done without our prayer’, we have confidence to pray that ‘it may also be done among us’. Because ‘God provides daily bread, even to the wicked, without our prayer’, we have confidence ‘that God may make us aware of his gifts and enable us to receive our daily bread with thanks’.
The same is true regarding the forgiveness of sins. I used to ask my confirmation classes about how they could know they were forgiven. Invariably I would get the answer, ‘Because I ask God to forgive me!’ Our confidence in God’s forgiveness, however, does not lie in the act of our asking, but in something that has already been done for us. We can confidently ‘draw near’ to God and pray, ‘forgive us our sins’, in the ‘full assurance of faith’ that Christ has already paid for our sins, and that ‘our hearts are sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience’ (Hebrews 10:22).
Likewise, we can confidently pray for strength in temptation and deliverance from evil because Christ is already victorious over temptation and every evil. We express that confidence by saying, ‘Amen’, which means ‘Yes, yes, it shall be so!’
As we pray for ourselves, our church, our world and for all people according to their needs, let us remember that ‘the power of prayer’ is the power of God who is ‘able to do immeasurably more than all that we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us’ (Ephesians 3:20).
LCA Bishop John Henderson is currently on rest and refreshment leave.