The Sixth Sunday of Easter is called Rogate. This is a Latin word that means, “pray.” If you were to look at your bulletin, you’d see that every one of the readings is about prayer. After the people of Israel grumbled to the Lord and were bitten by snakes, Moses prayed for them and God sent them a way of healing. In our Epistle we are told that it is good and pleasing in the sight of God that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Tim 2:3). In the Gospel reading, Jesus himself tells us to pray, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn 16:24). The Psalm tells about how God answers prayer, “Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!” (Ps 66:20). Even the hymns are about prayer. In fact, the hymn we just sang, written by Martin Luther, is without question the best hymn ever composed about prayer. Luther wrote one stanza for each petition of the Lord’s Prayer. The message of this Sunday is unmistakably clear: God wants us to pray. He commands us to pray. We know we should pray, but do we?
When I was a child I remember telling my pastor that I didn’t like poetry or prayer. He was not very pleased, of course. What does poetry have to do with prayer? Perhaps, not much, but to me, they seemed much the same. Both had a lot of words, and both were boring. So, I didn’t like either one. I’ve learned since that we often don’t like things that we don’t understand. This is true of prayer. It sometimes has a lot of words. It seems boring. So why do it? And that’s the question I want to ask you today? Why do you pray? What’s the point? What’s the purpose of prayer? What does it accomplish? There are many Christians who would have a hard time answering – perhaps you’re one of them. If you don’t know what prayer does, the chances are, you won’t like doing it, just as I didn’t.
One of the misconceptions about prayer presents us with a god who looks and acts a lot like Santa Claus. Why should you pray to him? So he will know what you need. Santa Claus knows if you’ve been naughty. He knows if you’ve been nice. But he doesn’t know what you want for Christmas, unless you write him a letter. Some people think this is how prayer works. You must tell God what you need in prayer because, otherwise, he won’t know how to bless you. If this is what prayer is about, then what kind of god are we praying to? Not to the one true God who is infinitely wise and all-knowing. Jesus tells us, “Your [heavenly] Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:8). So then, why do we pray?
Here’s a quote from a webpage called “11 Steps to Become a Prayer Warrior.” Step 1 says, “Your prayers can help prevent bad things from happening to people and usher good things into people’s lives.” Here we have a god who acts like a politician. He initially had no plan to bless or prevent disaster, but because 100 prayer warriors signed a petition, God was forced to change his mind. And what about the tornados in Missouri last Wednesday? If only we had had prayed more, if we had had 200 prayer warriors, then God would have spared the people. What does this false idea of prayer confess about God? It confesses that he is neither loving nor good, that we must twist his arm to make him bless us, even though it was not part of his original plan or will. But nothing could be further from the truth. We don’t pray to change God’s mind. He already desires to give his children every good and perfect thing. The Bible tells us that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). So then, why do we pray?
I’ll tell you why. Prayer doesn’t change God. Prayer changes you. This is why you pray! Let me give an example. Every one of us has a sinful nature, we have a fallen will full of wicked desires. We call it the Old Adam, and if we listened to that voice where would it ultimately lead us? To hell, every time. My sinful nature can’t be trusted. It can’t be trusted to help me get good things. It can be trusted to lead me down the right path. But God can be trusted. His will is to give me forgiveness, life, and salvation. And so I pray, “Your will be done.” Not my will – that always gets me into trouble. Your will be done. And what happens when I pray this prayer? My sinful will is put to death one day at a time, and the Holy Spirit has his way in my heart. Prayer doesn’t change God. Prayer changes you. Prayer brings your will into alignment with God’s will. And that’s a very good thing, because the will of God is to provide and care for you every day of your life, and then to bring you to eternal joy in heaven.
There’s something else that prayer does for us – something very important. Prayer causes our faith in Christ to grow. Think about this: when you stand before the judgment throne of God, will he be reading the record of your sins in life? Will he be asking you about this dirty thought or that nasty word? No. Jesus tells us that there is only one question that matters on the final day. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8). Faith is the only thing that matters on that day. Do you have faith in Jesus? Did the seed that God planted in your heart through baptism take root and grow? Or did your faith wither and die? Every time you pray, your faith grows. How’s that? Because every prayer is a confession that your heavenly Father loves you, that he is pleased with you, and that he delights to give every good thing, including eternal life. Prayer is a habit of faith. Every time you pray, you confess your trust in God’s care and providence. And the more you confess it, guess what? the more you believe it.
Prayer is a blessed gift that God gives to his children to help nurture and strengthen our faith amidst the struggles and temptations of life. Prayer helps us keep our eyes upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We don’t pray to tell God what we need. He already knows, even before we ask. We don’t pray to twist God’s arm and force him to bless us against his will. No, his desire is to give us the kingdom. His will is that all would be saved. The problem was never that God was against us and had to be persuaded to be merciful. His purpose has always been to be merciful to you. This is why the Bible says that the Lamb of God was already slain before the world was made. From the beginning, long before you knew him, God already knew you and loved you. His will was and is to forgive your sins, to care for you every day of your life, and finally, to bring you to be with him for eternity. So, why do we pray? So that our hearts and minds would be brought into conformity with God’s perfect will. So that we might truly say, “Thy will be done.” And even as we pray, God has already heard and is answering. His will is being done in our prayer as the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith and trust in Jesus and his perfect work on the cross.
Jesus says to you, “Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.” This is God’s gracious will for you. And we respond in prayer, saying, “Thy will be done.” Amen.