Prayer Is Not A Bargaining Chip, But A...

Text:  Matthew 6:5-18

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

When we sinners try to open our mouths to pray, what typically happens is this: instead of humble praise and thanksgiving, out comes a confession to God of our own greatness and accomplishments.  It is this way because our tongues and mouths are coated with the dirty ashes of sin.    It gets worse though.  Instead of Godly requests for mercy and pleas for grace, we typically attempt to bargain with God through prayer.[1]  That’s right; we create a barter system where we try to exchange God’s favor for our works: 

Oh God, if you could please heal my illness, then I will serve you with all my heart. 

Oh God, if you could help me with this job promotion, I will then increase my giving to the local church.

Oh God, if you could help me win this game, then I will make sure to proclaim your name to all my classmates.

You do your part for me and I will do my part for you.

Unfortunately, when we use prayer as a means to bargain and barter with God, prayer becomes nothing more than a tool of our unbelief.  Yes that is right, you and I will use prayer to help our own self-serving attempts to pry from the hands of God the answer that we want, rather than the gifts that our good Heavenly Father would give us.[2]

If we are left unchecked, prayer becomes a weapon against God as well.  It becomes a way for us to hoist up our demands to God where we try to ‘force’ God’s hand to act according to our will.

If we do not go the route of bargaining or using prayer as a weapon, then there is a chance that we can turn prayer into a theatrical production where we make a big show out of our prayers, hoping that other people will recognize our super spiritual powers. 

Oh, my dear friends, this way of prayer is certainly messed up.  It is this way because we are people who have rolled around in the soot of sin.  We have been ruined by sin, which means we will constantly ruin the gifts of God, gifts such as prayer. 

Lord have mercy on us for using prayer to barter; Lord have mercy on us for using prayer as a weapon; Lord have mercy on us for using prayer as a way to show off, for it is none of these things. 

You see, prayer does not originate out of our unbelief or out of our fear.  It is not a weapon to be brought forth towards God.  It is not the place where we attempt to bend the Lord’s arm to our own desires.  But rather prayer is something that the Lord invites us into.

Permit me to explain. 

Because God is our Heavenly Father, He tenderly invites us to believe that we are His true children – you are His true children despite the fact that you are smeared with the ashes of sin.  And as His true child, by your cleansing baptism, you may approach Him and call upon Him in prayer.  Most certainly, you may ask Him to help you with your needs, as a dear child asks His loving father.[3] 

Remember that our God is not unjust but He is just; our God is not uncompassionate but He is compassion; our God is not one who is deaf but One who listens.  Our God is good not evil!  Therefore, as baptized believers, we pray not to overcome or persuade an evil God, but rather, we pray because God is good and just.  We pray not to overcome an uncompassionate, ruthless and worthless God; we pray because we already have a compassionate, caring and worth-ful God.  We pray because the Lord invites us into prayer and then shapes our prayers by His Word spoken to us.  We pray because we have been given faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Prayer then is the voice of faith, faith from the faithful that cries out, “Lord may your will be done,” and God responds from above, “Yes, dear child, it shall be done indeed, in spite of the devil and all the world.”[4]

The implications of this are phenomenal!  Yes, when we are troubled and tortured by our own stains of sin and when we are confronted by the hellish attacks of the evil one and when we are pounced on by the ideologies of the world, nothing is so necessary as to call upon our Father in prayer, so that He may give, preserve, and increase in us faith and remove all that stands in our way from receiving Him. 

Simply stated, this Ash Wednesday we remember that we are simply too weak against the devil, the world, and our own sinful desires.[5]  Therefore, we are invited and taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer.  And when we pray this Lord’s Prayer, we are effectively praying against the old sinner in each of us, as well as praying against the Devil and the world that continually attempt to kill, steal, and destroy our faith.  We are praying that we would be strengthened in faith, sustained, and protected.

This is all good, for God wants you and me to cry out and grit our teeth to Him about our concerns, concerns that come about from the sinful nature, the world, and the devil.  He desires us to pour out our anguishes upon Him, not because He is unaware of them, but in order that you and I may be unburdened and moved to open our arms to receive the Lord’s gifts.[6] 

And what are those gifts?  Those gifts are the Word and Sacraments – spoken, given, and shed for you.   They are the Lord’s immediate, continual, and potent answer to our prayers.   

Furthermore, as we lay vulnerably before the Lord in prayer, we are reminded and remember God’s promises that He has spoken to us and know that when the Lord answers yes to our specific situations, it is because He loves us, and when He answers no, it is because He loves us, and when He provides neither a yes or a no, it is because He loves us. 

Dear Baptized Saints, tonight we remember and confess that we are dust and that we will return to dust.  We remember also that God put on human flesh – dust – and joined to our temptations and sorrow.  Yes, Christ Jesus welded our death, was roasted to death by the Father’s wrath, was reduced to ashes and laid to rest in a tomb.   However, we also remember that Christ rose from the ashes of the earth and from the ashes of sin – He lives today and intercedes for us.[7]  Therefore, as the Lord’s beloved and forgiven, we can and do pray vulnerably for all things, knowing that our confidence is not to be found in the strength of our prayer, but the strength of the Lord who works all things for the good of those who love Him. 

We pray, because Christ died for sin; we pray because Christ rose from the grave; we pray because the Lord cares for us. 

Lord, teach us to pray.  Lord, teach us to listen and receive your Word and Sacraments in all the events of life. 

Lord, open our lips and our mouth in prayer that our prayers may be the voice of faith – faith that confesses our struggles in this life and faith that clings and receives all gifts from you.

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] Rev. John Pless, “Prayer: The Voice of Faith,” PM Notes, (accessed February 9, 2016).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Martin Luther: The Small Catechism (The Lord’s Prayer Introduction)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Martin Luther: The Large Catechism (The Lord’s Prayer: Introduction)

[6] Ibid.

[7] David H. Petersen, Thy Kingdom Come: Lent and Easter Sermons (Fort Wayne, IN: Emmanuel Press, 2012), 15.

CLICK HERE to 'Like' on Facebook
CLICK HERE to 'Follow' on Twitter
CLICK HERE to Subscribe on iTunes
CLICK HERE to Subscribe on Podbean