What is the point on which prayer stands or falls?

Why do we dare to pray this way? Because Christ invites us to pray to His Father as the one who has made us His brothers and sisters, redeeming us to be adopted children of His Father, by the Spirit of adoption, in Holy Baptism. Thus, when we pray, “Our Father,” we are praying in the name of Jesus; that is, as those baptized into Jesus Himself. What we pray in Christ, by faith,  according to His promises, God the Father hears as coming from His own Son. What a remarkable gift, to pray not on the off chance that we might be able to wheel and deal a favor out of God, but in the certainty that He loves His Son, and loves us in Him.

Now you may say, “Dear pastor, you take us in circles! All you have done is show us that it is OK for us to pray as we always have!” Fair enough. Yet, perhaps you will now pray thinking about something, clinging firmly to something, that you once assumed and thought little about, which is this: prayer is rooted in justification, in the forgiveness of sins, in our adoption as sons, in Christ. What does this matter?

As one pastor noted: “As I’m out and about as a pastor, people I don’t know see by my dress who I am and ask me to pray for them. I am glad to listen to their concerns, of course, and to pray for them, as is my privilege and duty. But sometimes I also ask, ‘Have you tried praying for yourself?’ Often the response is something along these lines: ‘Oh, pastor, God will hear you. He’s not going to listen to me.’ And there we’ve moved from a question about the doctrine of prayer — ‘Will God hear me?’ — to the central question of the doctrine of justification: “How can God count me righteous, holy, good, acceptable worthy in His sight?” And that is the question to which Jesus is the most definite yes — and not just for ‘men in black.'”

So prayer — or to back up a step, some crisis of a world subjected to futility, but in hope — led to a question of prayer, which led to a question of faith, a question of the article, in fact, on which faith and the church stand or fall — the article of justification. Does God love me? Will He hear me? Does He care? Will He see me through?

If I’m speaking with a man on the street (or perhaps if you are), this is a chance to share the Gospel, the truth that it is not our relative merits or works that make us acceptable to God or beloved by Him, but it is the death and resurrection of Jesus, for the remission of all our sins. The truth is that we ought not judge our status before God by the conditions of our daily existence, whether we are rich or poor, loved or hated, free or locked up, healthy or sick — but by what Christ has done, and by the fact that it is for us.

But this point, that prayer is rooted in justification, is not just for witnessing to others when they overhear our prayers and find them strangely confident. It is part of a vital cycle of the Christian life for each one of us, to be brought continually back to this fact in which is our trust and to work through its implications for our entire lives.

To truly pray as a Christian, then, you pray not just from the desires of your heart, but in faith, sustained by God’s Word, that for Christ’s sake God will hear you and grant you all He has promised. So prayer is not just an exercise in prayer, but it demands and exercises faith and drives us into doctrine, into the Word of Christ. In Him we are God’s own. In Him we pray and expect every good thing, even, best of all, the Holy Spirit. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working,” James says. Thanks be to God that by faith in Christ, that means you!