What does prayer do for me, for others, for God? If my prayers go up will the blessings come down?
The purpose of prayer can be a touchy and troubling dilemma for the people of God. The topic of prayer is also multifaceted. I could talk about how God accomplishes his will with and without our prayers. I even could explain how God doesn’t hear the prayers of unbelievers. Today however I’m going to explain the purpose of prayer in relation to worship.
Worship is full of prayers, and worshiping people often are prayerful outside of the church assembly too. Prayer is done publicly, both in and out of the church building. It can also be done privately; at home, in your car, as you walk or as you go about your daily tasks.
Prayer can be done without ceasing, at least that’s what God intended (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Prayer, however, can be abused. Do you ever use it to get what you want or to elevate yourself before others? Prayer is not a self-giving act, where if I petition God I will be subsequently given the knowledge of what path or journey I’m supposed to take in life. Neither will prayer rain down blessings because I prayed for them or worse yet, because I did so with great conviction or fervor.
Don’t get me wrong we are to petition God, to inquire of his will, to dialogue. Prayer is not a monologue or a one-sided conversation with no expectation that we will be heard. Indeed, we have God’s promise that he hears our prayers–and why not, Jesus gave us to pray the “Our Father” (The Lord’s Prayer) for goodness sake! Like our earthly fathers are to hear our petitions about life and respond to all that makes us glad and fearful, so also does our Father in Heaven hear us as we petition him in prayer about the very same things. Prayer is that dialogue with God that is shaped by The Lord’s Prayer. All faithful prayers conform to the spirit of that prayer, trusting that God’s will, will be done.
So, what does prayer do?
Prayer begins and ends with the Lord working in our lives already. He is present in prayer, receiving our petitions, but his response to our prayers is in worship, in the Divine Service! Prayer brings us to Worship, to hear and see there God’s answers for our many petitions.
Prayer conforms to the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer and his will is therefore wrapped up in it! As we hear our sins forgiven in the Absolution, do you suppose God’s will is being accomplished in your life? As you hear God’s Word read and preached have you ever thought, “Wow, that’s exactly what is going on in my life”? Or, as you receive the Lord’s Supper, is God’s will present in your life then? YES INDEED!
Prayer is the Lord working in our lives to bring us to worship, and for us to hear his response concerning our petitions. I might be tempted to believe that the Absolution will not take away my pain, the sermon will not be a response to my exact prayer or situation, and the Lord’s Supper will not fulfill my prayer to put food on my family’s table. But each of these is a response to my prayers. The Divine Service is as if the Lord’s voice says to us, “I know you and forgive you. I hear you so hear my servant speak to you of my abundant promise to neither leave you nor forsake you. I know your needs of body and soul–be strengthened to endure the brokenness of this life with my Son’s redeeming life given to you by his true flesh and blood in this bread and wine.”
What does prayer do?
It brings you to where God has always promised to be for his people– in worship. God hears petitions everyday; for food, for healing, for deliverance, for comfort, for joy, for peace, for you name it! God works in our lives through the Church in worship, and from those worshiping to those in need. Prayer, public and private, draws Christians to love God and love neighbor. Our prayers are answered in twofold: (1) Where Christ comes to us in worship responding to our prayers by being present with us and nourishing our faith in the true Sacraments, and (2) Where from Christian love of God we act in the lives of all people (the neighbor). Loving them, in response to Christ’s love, we the Church provide for their bodily needs when they cannot. Again and again we return to God in prayer for them and all people who have needs (that they too would be provided for in body and soul, and in all things).
We pray because it is not the prayer (the means of itself), it is the Christ (the Mediator) who intercedes for us with his grace. Prayer rest assuredly upon the love of Jesus for us. Prayer isn’t always perfect or pretty, we remain sinners, but God’s love in us does still through faith continue without ceasing, worship goes on without end, and we love our neighbors because Christ first loved us.
In his earthly life Jesus never ceased in his prayers for us, I for one rejoice that even now he does not cease in hearing us too!