This Sunday is called “Rogate”, which means, “Ask.” Historically, this Sunday and the days following were known as Rogation days, days marked by prayer and supplication. Now, you won’t find the word “prayer” anywhere in our Gospel text. But in verse 24, Jesus says, “Ask, and you will receive” (Jn 16:24). Ask! Rogate! Our Latin students will recognize this as a plural imperative. In non-technical language, it’s a command. Jesus doesn’t suggest that we could pray if we want to or feel like it. He commands us to pray, that is, to ask God for the things we need.
Christians have a lot of ideas about prayer. Many of them are wrong. For example, there’s the idea that God the Father is a very angry God, full of wrath, just waiting for a chance to rain down fire and brimstone on us. And so we must pray to Jesus so he can try to change the Father’s mind. The Roman Catholics take it one step further. In order to get Jesus’ attention, we must go through his mother. God the Father is angry. God the Son is too busy. But who is more merciful or loving than a mother? So we will ask Mary, so she can ask Jesus, so he can ask the Father. But everything about this is wrong.
Jesus says, “I will not ask the Father on your behalf, for the Father himself loves you” (Jn 16:26). In other words, Jesus doesn’t need to persuade the Father to bless us, to give us good things, to not punish us. God the Father already loves you. He already desires to give you every blessing. His love far outweighs that of a mother in that he willingly gave his only Son to save you. What could be more loving than that? So prayer is not about getting God to stop being angry with us. Remember, all the wrath of God against sin and unrighteousness was poured out on Jesus at the cross. Because of Jesus, God is pleased with man. At his birth the angels sang, “Peace and good will toward men!”
Another common misconception about prayer is that God only listens to very holy, very righteous people. I’ve often been asked to pray for someone’s friend or relative, and I’m happy to do so. But I get the idea sometimes that people think because I’m a pastor, God is more likely to hear me. It’s as though when someone prays, God first does a background check to see if he should answer the prayer. When regular old Joe prays, especially if he’s committed any really wicked sins in the last month, he can forget about it. But when a pastor prays, or better yet, a sweet little old lady who’s been a Christian all her life, then God is almost guaranteed to answer the prayer. This idea too is nonsense.
Here’s the truth about prayer: You have never deserved what you ask for and you never will. God that already knows that, and guess what? He still commands you to ask! What a relief to know this! “Do you mean that I don’t have to wait until I’ve got a week of good behavior under my belt before I ask God for something?” Yes, that’s right! A pastor has the same connection to God as every other Christian: baptism. Baptism connects you to Jesus, to his death and his resurrection. After you’re baptized, then you are allowed to call God your Father. You may say, “Our Father who art in heaven…” because you are now adopted into God’s family. There is no higher status than that: baptized child of God. And as His dear child, you have been given the right and privilege to ask your heavenly Father for the things you need.
In the Explanation of the Lord’s Prayer found in the Small Catechism, Martin Luther writes, “We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that [God] would give them all to us by grace!” We could never earn God’s favor. We don’t deserve good things, and yet, we ask for them anyway. Why? Because God commands it. Rogate! Ask! Jesus says, “Ask, and you will receive.” With His command also comes His promise. You will receive. Your heavenly Father will give you every good thing. A right prayer doesn’t come from someone who deserves good things. A right prayer comes from a heart that knows it doesn’t deserve them, and asks anyway. Why? Out of faith in the goodness of God. Out of trust in His promise, “Ask, and you will receive.”
So when we pray, we ought to believe three things: First, that we don’t deserve the things for which we ask. Second, that God loves us and wants to bless us anyway. And third, the reason that the Father is pleased with us is because of the perfect life and obedient death of Jesus upon the cross. There is no more pleasing prayer to God than the one grounded on faith in Jesus, and him alone. If you counted on your good behavior to gain you an audience before the Father, you could never expect to be heard. But as St. Paul writes, “Through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord we have boldness and access with confidence to the throne of grace” (Eph 3:12, Heb 4:16). Whether you are a life-long Lutheran, a prisoner on death row, a pastor, or a cashier at Dollar Tree, when you pray in the name of Jesus, on account of his perfect life and death, you have the same access to God. He commands you to ask and he promises to hear.
There is one more misconception about prayer that I’d like to address. Many Christians mistakenly think that we pray in order to get God to change His mind. Originally, He was not going to bless us, but then we prayed long enough and hard enough and He finally gave in. This might be how it works between some husbands and wives, but it’s not how prayer works. God the Father knows what we need before we ask, and he delights to give it to us. In fact, His plan to bless us is beyond our comprehension. Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9). We don’t pray to change God’s mind. Prayer changes our minds. Prayer helps us remember who God is—our loving heavenly Father—and why we can approach him—because of Jesus. Prayer helps create and strengthen the one thing in us that please God—faith in Christ. Because of Jesus we can approach God in prayer without fear. Because of His perfect life, we can be certain that God the Father is pleased with us, sinners that we are. Because our sins are covered by the blood of Jesus, we know that they will not separate from the love of God. And so trusting in our Lord and Savior we are bold to pray as he has taught us and commanded us. Rogate!
Martin Luther’s hymn on the Lord’s Prayer concludes with these words: “Amen, that is, so shall it be, make strong our faith in You, that we may doubt not but with trust believe that what we ask we shall receive. Thus in your name and at Your Word we say, ‘Amen, O hear us, Lord!’” In the name of Jesus. Amen.