After hearing today’s Gospel Reading, we’re inclined to call Jesus a liar, or at the very least say He’s holding out on us. “Whatever you ask of the Father in My name He will give it to you.” As we hear it, Jesus tells us that whatever we ask for in prayer will be granted as long as we include His name at the end, as if it’s a magic spell, the “hocus pocus” and wave of the magic wand we need to get a positive answer to our prayers. But we know it doesn’t work that way! We all can think of things we’ve asked for “in Jesus’ name” and the answer comes back “no.” We can grudgingly allow that when we’re told “no” to frivolous things like waking up to an anonymous million-dollar check taped to the house door or seeing a sportscar in our garage. But what about the good things we ask for—a clean bill of health, unified families, the ability to pay all the bills on time, more friends, peace in the world—why does God say “no” when I asked for something that is good, that doesn’t seem like it would be against His will? Has He lied to me? Why is He holding out on me? The short answer is, No, God is not lying to you. He is not holding out on you. Instead, every answer to prayer is proof of His omniscience, His divine knowledge of what is for your good in this life and in the life to come.
Why is it that God might say no to something that would otherwise be good? We can all understand why we would be told no to something that would openly break a Commandment. But what about something that seems good, that we see other people have and use in a God-pleasing way? Why is God telling me no to that request? Consider Luther’s explanation of the First Commandment. He tells us that we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. In his Large Catechism he explains it in this way: “A ‘god’ is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart.” Phrased another way, your god is that place you turn when all else is going wrong. When it feels like the world is crumbling all around you, like you just can’t handle one more thing, where do you turn—money? Food? Friends? Alcohol? That thing has become your god, the thing to which you look for all good when it seems like no good can be found.
So, God answers our prayers with “no” or “not yet” for our good. He knows what is good for us in all situations. He understands us in ways we can never understand ourselves. He sees things that we cannot see, things that His omniscience allow Him to know. He has the eagle’s eye view of your life that you cannot because you’re on the ground living it. He knows what lies ahead but you can’t see because of your vantage point. As strange as it sounds, the answer of “no” or “not yet” is good for us. Sadly, our society has warped this. We hear “no” as the meanest answer possible. In reality, God’s no is one of the greatest acts of love! It proves that He isn’t looking for the quick fix, but knows what is best for us in the long run. Money might help in a sticky situation right now, but if you suddenly come into a great amount of money, so much so that you don’t have to worry about anything, it can lead to complacency, trusting in your money instead of God. So, yes, you might struggle to pay the bills right now, but it helps point your eyes to God, helps you understand that God gives you daily bread, helps you know that God is in control. If everything in our life was perfect, we would think we had no need for God. We would think that everything was running smoothly because of our own efforts, our own merit. God allows crosses to come to us to teach us that He is in control, that He is watching over us in all situations, that He guards and keeps us.
So, what does it mean to pray for something in Jesus’ name? To pray in Jesus’ name is to ask that everything that happens be done according to His will, to ask that everything that happens be what is best for your spiritual life here in time and there in eternity. To pray in Jesus’ name is asking for the strength to accept His will, even when it contradicts what we want or what we think is best for us at the present. And that is something only faith can do, so in the end all prayer is simply asking for an increase of faith to rejoice in what the Lord has given you, to focus less on what’s going wrong, and more on what’s going right.
Don’t hear that as the sort of evangelical cliché, “Too blessed to be depressed.” That’s an awful lie because it makes you think that if you’re depressed, or if things are causing you anxiety, anger, or the like, that you’re not being blessed by God. You are blessed by God. But remember: What’s going right may not be anything you can see with your own eyes or something you can experience right now. Any host of ills may befall you here and now, but that is not a reflection on your eternal status, and especially not a reflection on your current status as one of God’s sheep, one for whom He would leave 99 others to find. You have the greatest thing ever going right! You have God on your side. Your sin is forgiven by Jesus Christ. Heaven has been opened to you by His death and resurrection. Jesus will be physically present on this Altar to feed you with His Body and His Blood. He will make His dwelling inside of you. He will keep His promise to be with you always. So, yes, a lot may be going wrong for you right now, but the one thing that truly matters—your salvation—is guaranteed, sealed by the Blood of Jesus.
It is as you sang in the Introit: “Truly God has listened; He has attended to the voice of my prayer.” He may not have granted your request for a BMW, a sudden disappearance of cancer, your dream life, or anything like that. But He has granted the greatest thing for which you have prayed: “Thy will be done.” “Forgive us our trespasses.” “Deliver us from evil.” This right here—Jesus on the cross—has guaranteed it. This right here—your Baptism into Christ, the Holy Communion have delivered it to you. Your salvation is certain. Your eternity is certain. One day there will be no need to pray, to ask God for deliverance from awful situations. Everything that plagues you will be done away with. In the face of sadness and evil, proclaim with a shout of joy: The Lord has redeemed His servant! Alleluia!
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.