The unique gift of Christian prayer

Although we might see or hear people praying all sorts of prayers to all kinds of gods, some of whom they at least think they know better than others, Christian prayer is unique. It reflects our unique knowledge of and trust in the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who has created all things,  redeemed us by His blood and sanctified us in His holy Church. We pray from a position of confidence, sure that God will hear us and grant us what is good because we pray by Christ’s command, according to His promise and even according to His explicit instructions.

Yet how we have often rushed through those words, “Our Father . . .,” without thinking what a remarkable gift it is that Christ would have us pray this way. To make them think about this, one pastor asked his confirmation students what they thought would happen if they went to an unknown man on the street and said, “Dad, give me a sandwich!” What would they get?

I promise you, it wouldn’t be a sandwich! Who would dare call some ordinary man on the street “dad” and ask him for even a sandwich? How, then, should we dare call upon the one and only true God of heaven and earth as Father — whom we have gravely offended through our sins — and then ask Him not only for a sandwich, but for everything (“our daily bread)? Why should He give it? Why should He not instead be angry that we are just looking to “take, take, take,” when that’s pretty much what our lives have been about?

Yet, this is how Jesus teaches us to pray, without offering Him anything first, without so much as even saying “please!” That’s a bold prayer — one might even say risky! But it is a boldness in Jesus, not in ourselves or in our finding our own right words or sweet deal for the God to whom we pray. “Our Father . . . give us today!”

So there is a false boldness in prayer, and a true one. A false boldness thinks we have a right, outside of Christ and His command and promise and instruction, to offer what we please, to ask for what we want and, in many cases, to call upon God as we might wish, by whatever name. That gets us nowhere. Such prayer, because it is outside of faith, is even sin. But there is
at the same time a true boldness in prayer that knows that we have the right in Christ and in His command, promise and instruction to ask “confidently with all assurance, as dear children ask their dear father.” And to cap it off, our Lord teaches us to conclude with “Amen!” That is, “Yes, yes, it shall be so!”

In his wonderful devotional guide, A Simple Way to Pray, Luther thus instructs his barber, Peter, that he might begin his prayers, humble in himself but confident in Christ: “‘O, Heavenly Father, Dear God, I am an unworthy, wretched sinner. I do not deserve to lift my eyes and hands to heaven and pray. But  because You have commanded us to pray and have promised to hear such prayer, and because You have taught us through Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, both in word and in deed, I now come on the basis of Your command in obedience to You. I take my stand on Your gracious promise, and in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ, I pray with all Your holy  Christians on earth, as He has taught me: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven . . .’ ” Say the Lord’s Prayer completely, word for word.”