The Little Book of Prayer
We begin this week where we ended last. If the First Article of the Children's Creed has succeeded in instructing us, it has brought us to confess our sins and confession leads us to confessing we need redeeming. Being redeemed enables us to use the First Article as The Little Book of Prayer. In our Larger Catechism, we say that we ought to daily recite this article (LC, II23). What better way than to pray it?
The First Article tells us who we are to pray to. We are to pray to God only. We can pray to any of the 3 Persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, or Holy Ghost. We are not to pray to Mary, to the saints, or to our loved ones who have passed on. Our Lutheran Confession don't deny that the Bible teaches the saints in heaven pray for us. What we deny is that we are to pray to them. No, only God has the title in Scripture of "the One who hears prayer" (Ps. 65:2).
While I said that we can pray to any of the Persons of the Godhead, we are always to pray to God as Father. This is another way of saying we are always to pray in Jesus' name in whom we have God as Father. Jesus taught us, "When you pray say "Our Father who art in heaven." Jesus says, "If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to you children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him."
In our Catechism, we confess that we are to pray to God as dear children ask their dear father. Luther warned about approaching the "'God who is hidden in His majesty.'" He said doing that would cast us down into the abyss of temptation wondering why God did that or didn't do this. By contrast, the Child Jesus is the path to the heart of the Father (Peters, Creed, 173).
Be a kid again. Stay on that path. Don't pray to the Father thinking of what you don't, can't understand about Him. Pray from the Gift of His own Son. Pray from the humanity of the Babe in the Manger to the Divinity that rules all things in heaven and earth by His powerful Word. Don't pray according to the Will of God that you can't know, but according to His revealed will. As Paul reasons, look into the manger, see the Gift of His Son and think, "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" Don't pray thinking what you deserve or what God might do for a wretched sinner like you. Pray thinking what won't the Father do for His Son.
The First Article tells us who to pray to. To God only, to God as Father, and to God the Father Almighty. Don't pray according to what science, medicine, technology, or men think can be done. Pray according to what the Almighty God who made heaven and earth can do. Here is where the religion of evolution gets in the way even though we don't believe it. It inundates us with the lie that the miracles going on every day are due to the Laws of Nature. Evolution doesn't allow us to think of God our Father as speaking this world into existence and sustaining it by His Word. Evolution preaches only unscientific fools believe God created the earth in 6 days and sustains it to this day and that leads us to limit our prayers.
With Joshua, we can't pray to God, "Sun stand still." No, we say, "Emm, ahh. Look I know this might be hard for You to do but somehow I need more daylight to defeat the enemy." And when King Hezekiah asked for the sun to go back up the stairs rather than farther down, unlike Isaiah we would have said, "Are you crazy?" Be a kid again. The God who created out of nothing can do anything you ask, and the God who saved you without any merit or worthiness in you but only out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy for Jesus' sake has all the reason in the world to do it.
The Children's Creed not only tells us who to pray to but what to pray for. When I pray often I get stuck in loops back to me. As Shakespeare said, "My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go" (Hamlet, 3,3). I can't get above me; I can't get out of me. My words do, and there is some comfort here, but I'm stuck thinking about the same thing over and over again.
The First Article leads me out of myself to pray for His good gifts: my members, reason, and senses. Clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, home, spouse, children, land, animals, and all I have. To pray to my Father to preserve and protect them. But don't we already have these things? Yes, as we repeatedly say in our confession of the Lord's Prayer, our Father gives us all these things without our prayer. So why pray for them?
We pray for them not to remind God to give them, but to remind us that God gives these unmerited blessings every day. What gets in the way is that we live in a land of abundance. When Jesus taught about prayer He spoke to many people who didn't know what they would eat, drink, or wear the next day. He spoke to people who when they prayed "give us this day our daily bread" didn't see, as we do, baskets filled with bread not only for tomorrow, but the day after, and probably for a week or more.
How much longer will our Lord bless our land? Who knows when war, famine, or pestilence will return? Who knows when the science that we think preserves our food or the medicine we think protects our bodies will fail? Who knows when the military and police that we think defend us against all danger and guards and protects us from all evil will not be able to do that? Read your Bibles. God breaks the staff of bread in one land; He sends drought and pestilence to another. He tells Judah even if they had defeated the entire army of the Babylonians and there were only wounded men left they would still rise up and burn Jerusalem.
When we by prayer place all that we need to support this body and life in the hands of God our Father they are taken out of the realm of our fears, our figuring, our fellow man. After Habakkuk is promised Babylon will defeat Judah this is his prayer: "Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail, and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold, and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation."
Can you hear the Spirit of the First Article in that? He doesn't pray based on external events but based on the eternal God the Father. Who the prophet prays to influences what he prays and how he prays. The Little Book of Prayer does that for us. We confess in the Larger Catechism: "We learn from this article that none of us has life or anything else that has been mentioned here or can be mentioned from ourselves, nor can we by ourselves preserve any of them" (LC, II, 16).
This truth incites Thanksgiving in our prayers. Read the Epistles see how many start with Paul overflowing in thanks. Where is that Spirit in my prayers? Why do I start with Linda Ronstadt and the poor, poor pitiful me's? Has God given me less than imprisoned Paul facing imminent death? Be a kid again; be immersed in the truth that "He richly and daily provides" for you. Every sunrise, sunset, full moon, starry starry night, is for me. Every flower, every blade of grass, every bird, every sight, sound, smell, touch and taste is just for me.
All these good gifts come down to us from the Father of Lights in such abundance and regularity that we miss the wonder, the joy, the sheer gift of them, and so they don't spawn thanksgiving to God or praise to others. At least in me. While hunting, I pulled the truck of a young hunter out, he thanked me profusely. On the way back to his truck, he said, "The gods of hunting bless you today." I could have said; should have said, and as a pastor I have no excuse for not saying, "May the True God of all things bless your hunt."
That would have given that guy something to think about. That would have praised the True God. But I didn't do it because God isn't as close to me as the Psalmist who wrote, "Bless the Lord O my Soul and all that is within me." He's not as close to me as to Paul who said he knelt before the Father praying and praising. God the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and earth is not as close to me as He was to Luther who overflowed with all His gifts, all His grace, and all His glory in Christ.
Of course, the true God is as close to me, and to you too, as He was to any of them. He is as close as the Baptismal Water on my skin washing away even my failure to praise Him. The True God is as close as His Word vibrating my eardrum telling me that for Jesus' sake I am His true child and He is my true Father. He is as close as the Body and Blood of His Son is to my body and blood when I eat and drink them in Communion for daily life and eternal salvation. And this closeness does something despite my fallenness, in spite of my sins. As the presence of the Ark above which God dwelled blessed the family of A.bin.a.dab for years and O.bed.edom for months, so God's presence in your life through Word and Sacrament blesses you. They impart the Spirit of Jesus into our hearts bringing forth the constant prayer of Abba, Father. There is no situation you are in or will be in where the simple, child-like prayer, "Daddy, Daddy" is not a sufficient prayer.
I've said that one of the worst thing we did to the WW II generation was have them memorize the whole Catechism and then never refer to it again. I don't want to have taught you the Catechism and fail to teach you how to use it daily. Use the First Article as a Little Book to instruct you in the Faith, to lead you to confess your sins, and to pray boldly and confidently. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Vespers III (20161214); First Article