“Learning to Pray” — Rogate 2023

YouTube player

14. May 2023


John 16:23-30

“Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Man as a creature was made to worship God the Creator. People can’t help but worship by their nature. But it is not immediately apparent how to pray. Nor, without God’s revelation of His Name and Word, would we even know whom to pray to and what to pray for. St. Luke tells us that the disciples once asked Jesus to teach them to pray. During one of those times, Jesus had gone apart to pray in solitude. Sometimes he would spend the whole night in prayer. 

Jesus replied by teaching them a brief and simple prayer. It is not always necessary to pray in our own words. When our words seem inadequate and unreal, we use those of others. Children must learn to do this, and adults need the same help. Jesus used the Psalter’s prayers regularly, just as other Jews did. Even on the cross, He used the prayers of the Psalms.

All of our liturgies are extended prayers, whether the settings of the Divine Service, the prayer offices of Matins, Vespers, and Compline, or the various orders of prayer for use by parents, spouses, or individuals in the home. Our hymns are poetic prayers. We have collected prayers for each day of the year and other times of occasion or need. And when nothing else will do, the prayer Jesus taught us, fittingly called the Lord’s Prayer, asks for everything the LORD has promised. 

Our Lord Jesus insists that it is important not to give up after a few first attempts. Prayer is daily and habitual. However great the frustrations may seem to be, we continue. We stand and knock like the man who needed to borrow bread in the middle of the night; or the widow who would not give up until she had been heard and answered. 

Jesus constantly repeats the promise that He who asks shall receive, and He who knocks shall open the door. Jesus reminds us also that we can talk with God the Father as children with their fathers. It is not a matter of being able to put many words together or speaking glibly and eloquently. We will not be heard because of our many words. God knows beforehand what things we need. However badly we may express ourselves, He understands us. 

And of what shall we speak to God? Paul answers: “In everything, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6). To dare to bring them to God in prayer is the best help in times of trouble. It is often the best way to become clear about the relation of what we pray to the will of God. But we must also be ready to say as did Jesus: “Thy will, not mine, be done.”

If there is to be any meaning in prayer, we must take adequate time for it. Jesus took time for prayer, even when surrounded by people who needed His help. One may have to rise early in the morning to find time to speak with God. That Jesus did. He urges us also to go into our room and close the door so that we may be alone with God. Even from a purely practical point of view, this is good counsel. We should plan a proper place and time if we wish to learn to pray. 

The disciples, too, had their structured times of prayer. “They devoted themselves to .. .the prayers” (Acts 2:42). This means the daily prayer hours that were common among the Jews. It relates to how they prayed at the 6th hour (noon), the 9th hour (3 P.M.), and, of course, in the morning and evening. 

And so we must not pray just when we are “in the mood” and feel like doing so. An unwillingness to pray is a barrier that can and must be fought. We pray and thank God “always and in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:17ff). We can learn how to pray. Do not forget that there is One who helps us and makes intercession for us even when we do not know how to pray as we ought. This is God’s own Spirit.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin