Pray This Way
20 July 2016
Often we pray with ridiculous specificity! "Dear Lord, I need you to help poor Aunt Frieda, who is sick with a kidney infection. She is in General Hospital, Floor 4, Room 12, and, oh yes, Bed A. Bring her health and healing. Amen." We pray this way out of our concern for Aunt Frieda. However, it is quite doubtful that God needs a "Google maps" description of how to find Aunt Frieda in the hospital. He certainly doesn't need a medical description of our aunt's ailments either. We have to admit that there is a kind of piety here that is certain that God will hear our prayers, even if it is misguided by the desire to give step-by-step instructions to God on how to fulfill our aunt's need and how to find her hospital bed.

Jesus is perfectly clear in His instructions about prayer that our heavenly Father knows our need before a word is even formed in our mouths asking for His rescue ( Mt 6:8). Similarly, when I was learning to ride a bike and ran into the house in tears my dad already knew that I'd fallen off my bike and skinned my knee or an elbow or the ham of my hand. He knew exactly what comfort he would offer and what encouragement to get me back on the bike to ride. Our heavenly Father does not just know our need in this general way, but He knows us better than we do ourselves and is intimately familiar with the crisis of life that we are suffering now and how it will all come out. He knows what we need even before we ask for it.

Our heavenly Father doesn't need a long, gassy explanation in our prayers, because he's not swayed by their length. A child's simple bedtime breath to her heavenly Father is as powerful as a well-constructed collect written by a professional theologian, as elegant as that collect might be. In fact, as a professional theologian, I'm often quite confident that the child's prayer is far superior to my own. But even I have it wrong, don't I? Neither the collect nor the simple child's prayer is better or worse than the other, they are all heard by our Father who is in heaven, because He has commanded us to pray and has promised to hear us. Simplicity is no better than elegance in the sight of God.

The question is what is the piety of the prayer. Are we praying because we believe that our Lord will hear and fulfill our desires and needs; desires and needs which He Himself has planted in us by the power of his own Word. Are we praying because He has given us access to His throne of grace for the sake of His only begotten Son? If so, He hears eagerly. We hunger and thirst for all that we request in prayer, because the Word of God has promised exactly those things to us. We are eager to receive from our gracious heavenly Father and He is even more eager to give what we request.
Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"Our Lord then first of all cuts off our 'many words,' that you might not bring a multitude of words to God, as though by your many words you could teach Him. Therefore, when you pray you need piety, not wordiness. 'For your Father knows what you need before you ask him' (Mt 6:8). Avoid many words, for He knows what you need. But lest someone would say here, 'If He knows what is needed by us, why would we use so much as a few words? Why should we pray at all? He knows Himself; let Him then give what He knows we need.' Yes, but it is His will that you should pray, that He may give to your yearnings, that His gifts may not be lightly esteemed; seeing He Himself has formed this yearning desire in us. The words, therefore, that our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us in His prayer ( Mt 6:9-13), are the rule and standard of our desires. You may not ask for anything except what is written there."

Augustine, Sermon on the Lord's Prayer , 6.4
Matthew 6:5-15

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  Pray then like this:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 
Dear heavenly Father, it grieves us that we fail to understand and receive your good help. Give us grace. Let your will be done. Defend us and let us not undertake or do anything by our own conceit intent or will. Your will alone is good even if it does not seem so to us. We pray that your will would be done among us also, as it is in heaven; hear us for the sake of your only son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Victor Atsinger, who will be undergoing surgery on Friday, that the Lord of all graciousness would grant to him strength and healing

For temperate weather, that those who produce the fruits of the earth would be blessed with good weather and a successful harvest

For Farrah and Keith Emshoff, that the Lord of the church would be with them as they prepare to move to Fort Wayne, so that Keith can attend Concordia Theological Seminary
Art: Durer, Albrecht   The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
©  Scott Murray 2016