The last words Martin Luther were, “We are all beggars.” We are not givers; we are not the benefactors. We are receivers; we are beneficiaries. We need. When we remember this, we naturally pray. We realize that we are surrounded by so many and so great dangers, that we cannot free ourselves from evil, that we need what only God can give. Our prayers falter and cease when we are hearers of the Word and not doers, looking at our natural faces in a mirror and forgetting what we are like, that we are beggars, thinking instead that we are givers. So today Jesus reminds us to pray, to ask the Father in Jesus’ name. That’s why this Sunday is named Rogate, from the Latin word that means to ask, request, or petition. Jesus tells us to ask our Father in heaven for His good and gracious gifts, just as earthly children ask their earthly fathers.
When we pray, we make a great confession. It is a humbling and exposing one. We have nothing to give to God. Apart from what He has given us in Christ, there would be nothing but eternal death. So, Luther was right. We are beggars. Beggars beg, they pray for, they plead for. This is the posture of faith. Faith looks to God in Christ for its every necessity. It expects goodness and mercy from God. Our asking God is a confession, not only of His power and desire to do good, but also of our expectation to be heard. Prayer is not grasping at straws, like someone terminally ill scouring the Internet for any kind of folk remedy that might possibly add a day or two to their life. Prayer is a confident expression that the One to whom the prayer is offered can answer the request and do immeasurably more. It’s a confession that, whether we live or die, whether the request is answered or not, we belong to Christ.
Prayer also is our way of praising God. When we thank God, what we’re doing is acknowledging that God is good to those who do not deserve His goodness, and that He is good to those who can never, in any way return the favor. We can do good works, but that is not something that God needs. Our good works are beneficial to our neighbor, but not something that “repays” God for His gracious giving. The best we can do to repay Him—as if we could—is to thank Him, acknowledging that all good comes from Him alone.
Another prayer we’re familiar with is lament. When we consider that we are unworthy beggars, complaining about life seems more than a little outrageous. But don’t think of lament in terms of today’s Old Testament Reading, grumbling at God as if He is holding out on you or as if He is enjoying watching you suffer. True lament is simply asking God to be merciful. It’s acknowledging that we deserve death and damnation, but ask for His mercy nonetheless. It’s asking God to be who He has promised to be, to do what He has promised to do according to His Word. We can complain to Him about how awful life is in confidence that He will work all things together for our good. When we suffer, when life doesn’t go the way we as Christians know it should, it’s part of God teaching us patience. But that’s a lesson learned the hard way. And as we learn that lesson, God is there to hear us as we come to Him in search of mercy and relief.
Prayer, our speaking to God, has a companion, and that companion is listening to and meditating on God’s Word. His Word is where He seeks us and speaks to us. But remember, God is your heavenly Father. Remember your own parental relationship. Mom and dad didn’t always have sweet words for you. Sometimes—and rightly so—they have to speak rough words. You deserve punishment—you messed up! Because you sinned, life is going to look drastically different. That’s what God said to Adam in the Garden. It wasn’t the intimate communion the Creator and the created had known, but it was the truth, and it was for Adam’s good. God told Adam the consequence of his sin so he would know his need. Then God told Adam how He would solve the problem and pay the penalty on Adam’s behalf, crushing the serpent’s head. God came to Adam to talk to him even though Adam wasn’t worthy of it and didn’t understand all of it. He comes to us still. He speaks in the Scriptures. When we go there to hear His voice, it is asking Him to be who He is, who He promises to be, and seeks Him where He is to be found.
What we learn from all of this is that faith is engaged in an ongoing conversation with God. The Christian prays—asking for things, lamenting the effects of sin, and praising God for His goodness—and God speaks. This conversation is possible only because the Christian has been made a child of God by the sacrifice of the Son. This is what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. We speak to God because Jesus has washed away our sin and has made us His brother, children of the heavenly Father. We can ask for anything in Jesus’ name, confident that our heavenly Father will give us what is best for us, when it is best for us. This relationship, this conversation, is one of trust and love.
So that means your conversation with God ought to include the full spectrum of your emotions and experience, of your needs, desires, and fears. You ought to make requests, not just for daily bread, but also that your joy would be full, that your faith would be strengthened, that you would not be led into temptation. You ought to intercede for others, remembering that you belong to a family and that others need you. You ought to pray for the Church around the world. But they also need to be more than requests for God to do something. It should also be a question to God, ‘How can I help those in need? How can I serve the Church? Please give me the courage and selflessness to do it.’
All of this shows us that, as natural as it should be, prayer isn’t always easy. We need to be taught how to pray. We need the Holy Spirit to teach us to listen to the voice of Jesus in the Word, to teach us to trust, to learn that God really does love us in Christ. We need Him to teach us to wait in trustful obedience, based on God’s promises.
The liturgy is the best teacher of this. It teaches us to make the words of Scripture our cry to heaven. It pauses to listen to Scripture as it is read and interpreted and applied. It confesses sin and hope. It cries for mercy and rejoices in God’s promises. It lifts our hearts to heaven even in the midst of complaints and worries and fears, and Jesus comes to us with the forgiveness of sin hidden in bread and wine, water and Word. The liturgy prepares us for death, reminding us that we can depart in peace because we have seen Jesus, the Salvation God has prepared for us. At the same time, it sends us into the world with God’s blessing as people who get the privilege of confessing the hope that we have, the reason we can have peace in this world.
Jesus has promised us that He has overcome the world. Because you are in Him, you have overcome as well. Given that peace which cannot be taken away from you, and the confidence that God is with you and hears you as you pray, you can endure all of life’s trials. Your God is with you always, hearing you and speaking to you, always ready to give.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.