The Divine Service, Part 5: The Prayer of the Church
Prayer pervades the pages of Scripture. Abraham prayed. Isaac prayed. Moses prayed. Hannah, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elisha, Hezekiah, the prophets, and many more prayed. In the New Testament, Jesus and His apostles regularly prayed along with a whole host of faithful believers. We stand in this great tradition. As the redeemed people of God it is our privilege and duty to pray.
By shedding His blood Jesus has “freed us from our sins” (Revelation 1:5), “ransomed [us] from the futile ways inherited from [our] forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18–19), “reconciled us to [God]” (Romans 5:10), and redeemed us “according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). We, who once were strangers and enemies to God (Ephesians 2), have become children of God with the privilege of praying to Him, even calling Him by the intimate name “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).
Apart from Christ’s cross we would have no access to God and no hope of Him hearing us. We would remain His enemy for eternity. Because of Christ’s work, though, we may now call upon God’s Name in confidence knowing that He will “hear from heaven” (1 Kings 8) and answer.
We celebrate this privilege both as individuals and as the Church. As individuals we may “go into [our] room and shut the door and pray to [our] Father …” (Matthew 6:6). As the Church we may gather publicly and pray together as the Body of Christ. And we have the promise that our God will hear and answer. Martin Luther, in his Large Catechism, recognizes this: “by his Word, God testifies that our prayer is heartily pleasing to him and will assuredly be heard and granted, so that we may not despise it, cast it to the winds, or pray uncertainly.”
Prayer, in addition to being our privilege in Christ, is our duty. Luther again observes in his Large Catechism, “It is our duty and obligation to pray if we want to be Christians, just as it is our duty and obligation to obey our fathers, mothers, and the civil authorities.” He continues, God will not allow “our prayers to be futile or lost, for if He did not intend to answer you, He would not have ordered you to pray and backed it up with such a strict commandment.”
With gratitude and enthusiastic obedience the Church responds to Scripture’s command and invitation to pray by publicly presenting our requests to our Triune God. Together we pray not only for our individual needs, but for the needs of our neighbor, those close to home and those far away. We pray not only as a local congregation, but as members of the universal church of God. We acknowledge our unity with the universal church by joyfully responding to each petition with the words “Hear our prayer.” In conclusion we offer our confident “amen,” acknowledging that our prayers will be so in accordance with God’s good and gracious will.
Pastor Jonathan Conner of Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa, is a former board member for the Hausvater Project.
TAGS: Divine Service (series), Liturgy
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