The Power of Prayer
v.33 [Jesus said], "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
Alleluia! Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Dear friends in Christ, we Christians often like to talk about the "power" of prayer. This subject is particularly fitting for this Sixth Sunday of Easter – Rogate – or "ask" or "pray" Sunday. Prayer is something that ought to come as naturally to the Christian as breathing. God commands us to pray. Our spiritual fathers and mothers in the faith taught us to pray—even as little children. For prayer is nothing less than speaking to God. In our prayers we may ask for things for ourselves (petition), on behalf of others (intercession), as well as give thanks and praise to Him for the things that He has done. We are to be disciplined in our prayer life, as Jesus said in our text, "Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full."
There are many anecdotal stories that people may tell regarding prayer: miraculous healing, instant escape or protection from evil, etc., etc. These are the things we are wont to think of when we speak about the "power" of prayer. We tend to think that prayers are more effective—more powerful—depending upon the fervency with which a prayer is prayed—or even the amount of people who are praying. Evangelical Christians have even come up with a name to describe people devoted to prayer—"Prayer Warriors."
And while we do not want to disparage prayer in any way—nor indeed those who regularly engage in prayer (something, again, all Christians are commanded to do)—yet we may become tempted to think that the results of our prayers have something to do with us and our prayers.
We see throughout Scripture that Christians are urged to pray. In the appointed O.T. reading for today from Numbers 21, we see Moses urged by the Israelites to pray for them after they had sinned against God and He had sent poisonous snakes among them. Or St. Paul in our epistle reading from 1 Timothy exhorts Christians to regularly pray for all those in authority—especially governmental powers. And of course Jesus instructs His disciples in our Gospel reading that "whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you."
So, indeed, prayer is a good, right, and salutary activity of the Christian life. Most, if not all, of us could certainly do with more prayer in our lives. For prayer teaches us to ask for those things that are in keeping with God's Word—and it reminds us that God is the One who is in control of all things—not us. So we must never treat prayer like some form of manipulating God to get whatever we desire. God is not some mystical vending machine deity in the sky who gives you whatever you want, as long as you have prayed in the right way, or for the correct length of time—inserting the proper "prayer coins" as it were. Our prayers are not powerful nor effective because of who WE are—but rather because of who GOD is.
God answers our prayers the way that He knows is best, in accordance with His grace and mercy. Remember, with Jesus as our brother—whose blood has been shed to wipe away our sin—we have been brought into God's family of faith. Now the heavenly Father is our Father too. We can go to Him in prayer, as dear children go to their dear earthly fathers and ask them for things without fear or trepidation, knowing that their father only wants what is best for them. Faith clings to the words and promises of our God in Christ Jesus. Faith knows that God loves us for Jesus' sake. Therefore, the Father will answer our prayers in the way and manner that He knows is best for us—in His time. As Jesus says in our text, "for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God."
So Christian prayer IS powerful and effective, but not because of us Christians who pray, but rather because of the Object of our prayers—God Almighty. Through faith in the Son of God who has come to redeem the world from sin, our prayers are heard and answered by the Father in heaven.
This is important for us to remember because the Christian life is not easy—indeed, being a Christian is not for the faint of heart. Jesus has been instructing His disciples on the importance of prayer on the very night in which He will be betrayed into the hands of sinners—and then suffer and die for the sins of the world. Jesus, just prior to praying His own high priestly prayer in John 17, says this to His disciples, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."
You know, beloved, as well as I, that Christians face tribulation in this world, along with all other people. The world is broken by sin—filled with hatred and violence—pain and suffering—death and destruction. We will be called upon to suffer for our faith—even as our Lord Jesus suffered. We will endure the pangs of sin and brokenness in this world—even as we will face the prospect of death—which is the wages for our sin.
In times of trial and tribulation, what is the Christian to do? Pray. Pray! Pray to the Lord God Almighty. Bring your requests, your petitions, your intercessions, along with your thanksgivings—bring them all to the Lord God in prayer. Do not be burdened with things you cannot control nor overcome. Rather, give them to Jesus who has overcome all things for you. He who has taken your sin and death into His own flesh so that He might suffer for it on the cross in your stead.
The God to whom we pray is not some weak, lifeless, deaf, and dumb statue that cannot see, nor hear, nor speak, nor have any power to do anything. Rather, our God is the Living God—the God who has died and risen again. Our God is the Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Therefore, Christ urges us to take heart—to take courage—to have confidence and steadfastness in the face of danger or trial or tribulation or testing. We can take courage, no matter what we may face, because Jesus has overcome and conquered the world for us. He has won the victory! With His suffering and death on the cross—with His Resurrection from the dead—the Lord Jesus has overcome all things that seek us harm: our own sin, our adversary the devil, and even the final enemy—death! All have been trampled down under the foot of the risen Christ! He has smashed through the gates of hell—punched a hole through the belly of death—paid the wages due all sin—for you and for me.
People loved by God, THIS is why we pray—and THIS is why prayer is so powerful. Because the God who hears our prayers—the God who answers our prayers—is the same God who sent His only Son to suffer and die for us. The same God who rose victorious over all our enemies. The same God who urges us to pray that we may receive all good things from His gracious hand—and so be filled with joy.
This is why we come together as the people of God, urged by our Mother, the Holy Christian church—to pray together in unity of Spirit—and in accordance with God's Word. This is why your faithful mothers taught you to pray as little children—so that you may know the joy, comfort, and peace that comes from having God as your Father and Jesus as your Brother. This is why we are bold and courageous to pray to God for anything—knowing that He will hear our prayers through faith in Jesus Christ—and He will answer them in wisdom and mercy—according to what we need.
For Christ the Lord, in teaching His disciples' the Lord's Prayer, did not instruct them, "IF you pray…" but rather "WHEN you pray…" So, dear friends in Christ, let us not be lax in our prayers, but bold and forthright. Let us not wilt under the tribulations of the world, but rather courageously meet them head on, knowing that in Christ Jesus—in His death and resurrection for us sinners—we have peace. For He has indeed overcome the world—for you—for me—for all. For Alleluia! Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.