May 1 has been designated as a national day of prayer. The last few years have seen a resurgence of interest in prayer and an increased emphasis on a national day of prayer. The conditions of present society have highlighted the need for a spiritual renewal in our country. Sometimes, however, it seems that people almost make prayer a means of grace even more important than the preaching of the cross. Prayer can become separated from Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice at the cross. It almost becomes, as Jesus described it, a feeling that “they will be heard for their much speaking.” Prayer is a very private response to the mercy and grace of God by God’s children in their need.
It is important that we realize the connection between faith and prayer. Prayer is a response of faith. Prayer is the voice of the believer who has been rescued from sin and death by Jesus. Prayer is our communication by thought and word with our heavenly Father. The apostle John in his letter describes the link between faith and prayer: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 Jn. 5:14-15).
This is the confidence or faith we have in God because of Jesus Christ. In the verse preceding, John speaks of this confidence of faith. “I have written these things . . . that you might know that you have eternal life and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn. 5:13). This faith in Jesus Christ produces the confidence that God hears us. Prayer is not the last- ditch attempt of a person who has tried everything else and for whom there is nothing left. Prayer flows out of the confidence of sins forgiven and the knowledge of the love of our Father. Faith believes that God hears us according to His promises. This faith that can move mountains believes Jesus when He says: “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Mt. 21:22).
It is important to note that John speaks of asking according to “His will.” It would not take much faith to believe in the power of prayer if God immediately granted our every wish. The proof of the power of prayer would be seen in our new cars, our 200 MMX computers, our empty hospitals and bankrupt funeral homes. It would be easy to believe in prayer if prayer were simply a credit card to be used for whatever we wanted.
It is much more difficult to pray asking God to give us according to His will. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Nevertheless not as I will . . . .” Jesus accepted the cross as God’s will for Him. I remember a person who was a quadriplegic as a result of an accident. This person was told that she was not healed because her faith was not great enough. What is not realized is that it took more faith to pray in a way that was willing to accept God’s will even if it meant continued confinement to a wheelchair. Faith puts itself in the hands of God and prays in such a way that it is willing to accept God’s will no matter how dark it might seem. This is truly a prayer of faith.
We tend to pray “My will be done.” Jesus teaches us to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Faith enables us to pray without dictating to God the when or the how. Someone said, “Be careful what you pray for, you might get it.” It could also be said, “Be careful for what you pray, you might not get it.” It is a gift of faith to pray with the confidence of leaving the outcome to God’s direction.
At the same time, true prayer is offered with the confidence that God not only hears our prayers but also answers those petitions. This seems a contradiction. Based on the cross and what we have learned about God, we know that if God hears our prayers, “We have the requests we have asked from Him.” This is the confidence of faith that prompts us to go to God with all of our requests and needs. Faith believes that God hears and answers all our prayers. James assures us that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jms. 5:16). It is strange that we need to be encouraged to make use of prayer in view of its power and its promise. Prayer is a function of faith.
John reminds us that faith produces prayer. Our prayer life is not by sight but by faith. In faith we pray according to God’s will, confident that He grants these requests. This also means that the Gospel in the Word and the Sacraments is the power that produces and preserves the faith that prays. Our prayer life is nurtured and sustained by the hearing of God’s Word and the regular participation in the Lord’s Supper. People, whose sins have been forgiven through the cross pray. Let us highly treasure this gift of faith that God has given to us His children in prayer. Our Father loves to answer our prayers for Jesus’ sake. Faith believes this even when it does not seem possible.
— Pastor John Schierenbeck