– that we should pray because God has commanded us to do so, and because we need it;
– that all Christian prayer is directed to God, the Triune;
– that we should pray in the name of Jesus, because God only hears our prayers for Jesus Christ’s sake;
– that prayer is not a means of grace whereby we receive forgiveness of sins, but a gift conferred by faith in the gospel;
– that we should pray unconditionally, i.e. without reservation, when we pray for spiritual blessings necessary for our salvation, but when we pray for other gifts we should ask conditionally, i.e. provided that it is God’s will;
– that Christian prayer works great things.
From the general or private religious prayer, which in itself is a positive expression of how hard it is for people to get rid of the idea of God’s existence, we must carefully distinguish Christian prayer. Non-Christians can not pray rightly. We must not pray “as the heathen do”, says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:7). They rather worship what they do not know (John 4:22).
Prayer is a special gift just for Christians. It is a direct result of getting to know God through Jesus Christ. He makes the unknown God known, so we know who we pray to. He alone has with His reconciliation opened the way to God – and also the path of prayer. Jesus often taught His disciples about prayer. Thus there is a Christian doctrine of prayer, which is important to take note of in order to become a true worshipper.
God meets us in the Scriptures as the Triune God so that we invoke and worship Him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we pray, it is of no vital importance to which person of the Holy Trinity we are praying. As we pray to one, so we pray at the same time also to the other two, because the one Godhead is the property of all three. Those who deny the Trinity can not pray. Their prayer is not addressed to the God that Scripture reveals, but to an image of god that they themselves have created. More and more often today it is proclaimed that people even in other religions pray to and worship the same God as the Christians. But this is not the case. The worship of gods other than the God of Scripture is according to the first commandment nothing but pure idolatry.
The gateway to the Christian life of prayer is always Jesus Christ, who took away the biggest and most difficult hindrance to our prayers: our sins. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in faith for the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake. It is to approach God clothed in Christ, surrounded by His goodness and righteousness, which covers over all sin. God hears only the prayers of justified sinners. To draw near to God in a way other than in Jesus’ name is to come in one’s own name and is relying on one’s own merits as a reason that God should hear. This is to worship as the heathen do. They hope their prayers are heard for reasons such as the intensity of prayer, its technique, form or length. He that prays in his own name in various ways is trying to beseech or coerce the godhead with their own achievements or with their own good will. But all prayers that ignore Jesus are in vain. God is only pleased with the Son and to those who come in His name.
That we should worship and call upon the Virgin Mary and the Saints and think that they, by virtue of their merits, can better convey our prayers is contrary to Scripture. It is not only idolatry, but a serious contempt for Christ and His merit as not being sufficient. In the name of Jesus every Christian has direct and immediate access to the heart of God.
It is not unusual that priests and pastors refer people seeking salvation to prayer and urge them to “fight their way to peace with God through prayer” and the like. Such makes those praying easily driven to despair or to false confidence in their own deeds and subjective feelings and experiences. It also means that one starts to consider prayer as a means of grace. But God does not give us His mercy after a more or less hard and long prayer struggle. He refers us instead to the Gospel in word and sacraments. There, and only there, we encounter the risen and living Lord, who by virtue of His reconciliation forgives and justifies sinners. Prayer is thus no channel or extra line to God through which He forgives those who pray. Prayer does not make the means of grace instituted by the Lord redundant or less important. On the contrary, it is precisely a diligent use of the word and sacraments that creates happy and bold worshippers, certain that God hears their prayers for Christ’s sake.
The old main division of prayer into petition and thanksgiving is biblical. Within these two are also included more specific forms of prayer such as invocation (cry out of deep distress), intercession (for the needs of others), praise and worship (devotion and self-forgetting reverence to God for what He is in Himself).
Nothing is too big and nothing too insignificant to make a prayer request. We are invited to present all our concerns and desires before God in prayer. Jesus says repeatedly that we should get “everything” that we in faith ask for, or that He will do “whatever” we ask in His name. These promises have in charismatic and enthusiastic contexts sometimes been taught as if Christians more or less may freely have at their disposal divine omnipotence, if only they do it in the right manner. But prayer is not magic. That would be a severe misuse of the gift of prayer. We can not force or command God and tell Him how and what he should to do. He knows that better Himself.
The promise that we shall get all we ask for in faith in Jesus’ name does not mean that we will get all the things that our sinful, evil flesh wants. Instead, we should get everything that is in compliance with God’s will and is consistent with Jesus’ name. The framework for what we should pray for Jesus himself has given us in “the model of prayer”, the Our Father (Matt. 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4).
The Christian church has of old made a sound, biblical basic rule of how to pray. It says that when we pray for spiritual blessings, necessary for our salvation, we shall pray without any reservation. It is for example necessary for our salvation that we have the pure, unadulterated Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake, and that we believe in the Word of God and get the strength to confess Christ to the world, to resist Satan’s temptations and afflictions and persevere to the end. We know that God is always willing to give us such help by the Word of God. We can therefore emphasize this no stronger to God and be certain that He gives this support to us, so that we are protected on the way of faith and eternal blessing. But when we ask for other gifts the basic biblical rule says that we must pray conditionally, i.e. with the words “if it be your will” expressed or implied. So prayed, for example, the leper, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean” (Matt. 8:2). God answers all Christian prayer. But if the prayer would not be answered according to our will, it becomes answered according to the will of God, which is always much better for us – even if it sometimes takes time for us to understand it.
God wants us to pray. He has commanded us to do so. Therefore we should not let our prayer life be guided by emotions, by being “in the mood”, but rather pray in all circumstances of life. Certainly God knows what we need before we ask. He could also have been able to give us everything without prayer. But He does not want that. He wants to talk to His children, be stirred by His Church’s prayers and answer them by doing great things. Therefore we should never despise Christian prayer and faith as something pointless or ineffective. Next to the preaching of the Word and the sacraments, prayer is the Church’s principal task. Through our prayers and intercessions God, the Most High, draws us into His actions here in time, in both the spiritual and the temporal realm.
You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve. (Matt. 4:10)
For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. (Eph. 2:18)
Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. (Ps. 130:1-4)
And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. (Matt. 6:7)
The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. (1 Cor. 10:20)
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matt. 7:7-8)
Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me. (Ps. 50:15)
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. (Phil. 4:6)
Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. (Mark 11:24)
Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. (John 16:23)
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. (1 John 5:14)
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:3)
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:13)
I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. (1 Tim. 2:1-2)
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Matt. 5:44)
... speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph. 5:19-20)
What the Lutheran Confessions say
In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say: In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:
I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.
Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, as the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.
In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say: In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:
I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day, and I pray Thee to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.
Then go to sleep promptly and cheerfully. (SC, Trigl. p. 557 f.)
Of the Worship of Saints they [our churches] teach that the memory of saints may be set before us, that we may follow their faith and good works, according to our calling, as the Emperor may follow the example of David in making war to drive away the Turk from his country. For both are kings. But the Scripture teaches not the invocation of saints or to ask help of saints, since it sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Propitiation, High Priest, and Intercessor. He is to be prayed to, and has promised that He will hear our prayer; and this worship He approves above all, to wit, that in all afflictions He be called upon, 1 John 2, 1: If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, etc. (AC XXI, Trigl. p. 57 f.)
Granting that the blessed Mary prays for the Church, does she receive souls in death, does she conquer death [the great power of Satan], does she quicken? What does Christ do if the blessed Mary does these things? Although she is most worthy of the most ample honors, nevertheless she does not wish to be made equal to Christ, but rather wishes us to consider and follow her example [the example of her faith and her humility]. But the subject itself declares that in public opinion the blessed Virgin has succeeded altogether to the place of Christ. Men have invoked her, have trusted in her mercy, through her have desired to appease Christ, as though He were not a Propitiator, but, only a dreadful judge and avenger. We believe, however, that we must not trust that the merits of the saints are applied to us, that on account of these God is reconciled to us, or accounts us just, or saves us. For we obtain remission of sins only by the merits of Christ, when we believe in Him. (Ap XXI, Trigl. p. 349 f.)
We warn against
all kinds of false doctrines that contrary to the Scripture teach, for example,
– that prayer is every man’s opportunity and that God hears everyone’s prayer regardless of faith;
– that God is slow and unwilling to hear His children’s prayers and must by prayer techniques and works be awakened and persuaded to respond (magic);
– that it is not enough to pray in Jesus’ name, and that prayer is more effective if it is delivered by the Virgin Mary or the Saints (Roman delusion),
– that prayer which has not delivered the expected results, e.g. in form of healing from serious illness, is due to unbelief (charismatic delusion);
– that pious prayer struggle is the way to salvation (pietism).
Our Father which art in heaven.
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.