Prayer is Imperative
Prayer is imperative. This simple sentence is both Law and Gospel. It exposes our sins and shows our Savior. Let me show you how.
Prayer is imperative in that Jesus commands it. Jesus doesn't suggest you ask, seek, and knock. He says, "You must ask; you must seek; you must knock." Jesus commands this in the present tense, so the sense is keep on asking, seeking, and knocking. Just as strictly as all other commandments are commanded so is prayer. The Lord doesn't leave your praying up to your choice.
Jesus even commands we pray a certain way. Jesus answers the disciples request to be taught to pray with, "You must say this." Since Matthew records the Lord's Prayer in a slightly different way than Luke does here, we know that what the Lord commands is certain themes, not exact words. Still, Martin Luther believed that the Christian has prayed sufficiently when he uttered even one of the petitions to the Lord's Prayer.
Do you even do that much daily? Jesus makes daily prayer imperative. He commands us to ask for daily bread. That's the sense as well of the command to ask, seek, and knock. It's non-stop. One of our hymns about prayer calls prayer "the Christians vital breath, the Christians native air." Can a living body go a day without breathing?
Prayer is imperative not just because Jesus commands prayer, but because your needs demand it. The parable Jesus tells argues from the lesser to the greater. We don't need bread for a traveling friend but for ourselves, and we don't need just bread but good weather, good government, good friends, faithful neighbors, peace, health, self-control, a devout spouse, devout children. We need everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.
Our sin is that we think having or getting these things has more to do with what we do than God gives. We think good government comes from our political activity rather than the hand of God. We think good health comes from medicine and doctors rather than through God's mercy. We think a good marriage and faithful children come through our efforts rather than God's grace. The man in the parable asks, seeks, and knocks to get bread for a friend when we don't ask, seek, or knock in prayer to get the necessities of life for ourselves.
Our needs demand we pray, and not just our material needs but our spiritual. We need more than bread for earthly life; we need the Bread of everlasting life. The Greek Word translated "daily" means both "bread for today" and "bread for tomorrow." The bread you need for today is all that your body and life require to live. Bread for tomorrow is the Bread for everlasting life who is Jesus. He calls Himself the Bread of Life. The Church has always seen the double meaning of "daily" bread. The Lord's Prayer has always been said in the Divine Service in close connection with the Lord's Supper: the Meal where we eat bread today that is also the Bread, the Body of Christ, for tomorrow.
To live in all the tomorrows ever to come we need not just the Bread of Life but His Holy Spirit. Jesus in the end of our text again argues from the lesser to the greater. He argues from what we as evil earthly fathers do to what the holy heavenly Father does. He promises that "your Father in heaven will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him." This is a remarkable promise which some Christians have all but ruined. Jesus is not saying that the Christian needs to ask for the Holy Spirit as if he or she didn't have Him in their Baptism. You can see this if you go to where Matthew records this promise. There Jesus says the heavenly Father gives "good things" to those who ask Him.
Jesus is promising in both places that if evil fathers can sometimes give good things to their children much more so will the heavenly Father always give good things. Nothing is truly good without the Holy Spirit. Health, wealth, life, and success are not good without the Holy Spirit, and sickness, poverty, failure, and even death are good with the Holy Spirit. The Christian prays for both physical and spiritual things and the heavenly Father sends His Holy Spirit in reply. Who could say that's not good enough?
I've left something out. The Holy Spirit does not come and cannot be given apart from the Passion of Jesus. When heaven is first opened and the Holy Spirit flutters down, He can only land where? On the Holy Lord Jesus standing in the Jordan River. All the rest of humanity are dead men walking. Doves won't land on dead things. Furthermore, Jesus tells us in John that unless He ascends to heaven the Holy Spirit will not come. This is not because Jesus has to kick Him out of heaven but because the Spirit is Holy and we are all sinful. However, once Jesus ascends into heaven that indicates the completion of His paying for our sins.
Jesus took on our flesh and blood to take on our sins. Because He was God in flesh and blood, He was holy, without sin or sinfulness. This pure unspotted Lamb and lived the perfect life. Do you think Jesus ever failed to pray? Do you think He ever prayed doubtfully? Do you think He ever prayed selfishly? Of course not. This was one Son who went to His Father always in faith, always in hope, always with the boldness and confidence that He would be heard. Yet what happened?
You know what happened. Jesus the spotless Lamb of God, the perfect Son of God and Son of Man, was treated like we deserve. His prayer to be spared the pain of damnation and eternal judgment on the cross was answered with a no. He was abandoned by God and man, forsaken, forlorn, rejected for 3 eternal hours on the cross. You and I only feel that way sometimes. It only seems to us that God is deaf to our prayers; that our prayers bounce back to earth off the thick clouds of divine judgment. Jesus actually bore that judgment for us. Jesus actually suffered what we pray-less people deserve at the hands of an angry God.
Jesus satisfied God's wrath against our sins. He covered our sins with His blood. As a Man Jesus ascended into heaven having won the right to pour out His good gifts and Spirit on sinful humanity. Where were the sins of the world? Covered by the blood of Jesus. What's to stop the Holy Spirit from landing on us now? Not a thing. And where does the Father send Him? Always and only in connection with His Son. In the Baptism of Jesus, you're bathed in the Holy Spirit. By the Words of Jesus, the Holy Spirit enters your ears. And with the Body and Blood of Jesus, you and eat and drink the Holy Spirit. Here are the answers to whatever you may be praying.
Prayer is imperative because Jesus commands us, your needs demand it, and God's promises remand it. Command, demand, and remand all have the same Latin root for order.' When something is remanded it's ordered back. God's promises order us back to take another look at prayer.
Take another look at prayer. You have much more than a friend in Jesus. Jesus is not like the friend inside the house. Jesus doesn't need to be needled into helping like that guy did. Nor does Jesus ever sleep. There is never an inconvenient time to pray. When our eyes are held open at night, we can be sure our Jesus is already awake. Jesus is like the new parents who sit in the living room with one ear trained to their child's room straining to hear the slightest peep. And as the goaded friend even answered better than he was asked, his friend asked for 3 loaves but he gives him "as much as he needs," so our Jesus willingly gives much more than we ask.
Take another look at the promises of prayer. You may not even know what you need. Your Jesus is more than a friend, better than the best friend, and so He answers better than you ask. Since we are children of our heavenly Father, we can only see a little way down the road. He sees the whole way home, around curves, over hills, and through dark valleys. Since our Lord sees the whole way, He makes sure to give us as much as we need to get there. We ask just for what will get us up the hill, around the bend, or through the dark valley. He answers better. He gives whatever we need to get us all the way home to Him.
The promises of God remand you to prayer. You have more than a friend in Jesus and more than a father in Jesus. In Jesus, you have a heavenly Father who can't make mistakes and won't deceive. When Jesus argues from our evilness to the Lord's goodness, that's strong comfort. As parents even though we know we are sinful and are capable of doing wrong to our child, we know that we would never give a child a snake for a fish or a scorpion for an egg. If it's possible for a sinful father to give anything good to his children, then it's impossible for the perfect heavenly Father ever to give anything bad to His children.
"How can this be?" we ask as we try to get our head around a promise to big for it. Remember Jesus promises that the heavenly Father always answers with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit flips everything on its head. Sinners are saints and saints are sinners; the last are first and the first are last; the sick are healthy and the healthy sick; the living dead and the dead living, the good bad and the bad good.
Because of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus won for us and gives to us in His Word and Sacraments, Jesus can say not that we may or could receive, find and be opened to but that we will. Prayer is not a game show where you get a chance. Prayer is a privilege given to us in Jesus' name and backed by His extreme promises. In prayer, we receive more than we ask as anyone knows who has asked for daily bread and ate Bread for tomorrow. In prayer, we find more than we seek as anyone knows who sought a friend in Jesus and found a Savior and Father. In prayer, a door is opened to possibilities we can't even imagine as anyone knows who has knocked on one door and found it opening a hundred others.
Prayer is imperative in both a Law and Gospel sense. God's answers are indicative. That means they are only Gospel because they are indicative of His great love for you in Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost X (20070805); Luke 11: 1-3