Is Prayer A Magic Pill To Get Things From God?

Text: John 16:23-33
In the name of Jesus: Amen.
Do you understand what Jesus is saying in our Gospel reading?  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says,
“Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you…ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
So, what does this mean? 
Is Jesus giving you and me a blank check so that we can pray for things to make us happy? Is prayer like a magic pill?
Some people believe that this is how prayer works. Yes, some Christians believe that if you only have enough faith or if you pray in the right way that God will make your wildest dreams come true.  And if your bold prayers that storm the gates of heaven, do not come true and keep you from happiness?  Well, then you haven’t prayed hard enough, or you lack faith. 
Now, the problem with this kind of thinking is twofold.  First, it assumes that if we pray with enough grit, then our prayers will be answered.  Secondly, this kind of thinking typically does not stop and ask about the motives of our prayers.  In other words, this kind of thinking assumes that if we are unhappy or dissatisfied, then the solution that we are praying for is good, right, and true.  However, the fact of the matter is that our hearts do not always desire the things that we need but more often than not, the things that we want.  Bluntly stated, because our hearts are full of darkness and sin, we usually pray for things that will make us happy – the easy solutions – and not the things that are best for us.
Permit me an opportunity to show you how this works. 
Think about how we hear scripture.  When we listened to the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading, didn’t we only hear the happy parts – the parts that promise goodness to us?  You know, these words,
“Whatever you ask…He will give you…ask, and you will receive.”
Aren’t those the words that you and I hear the loudest?  Jesus said a lot more in our Gospel reading; however, we typically grab ahold of the words, “ask, and you will receive.” And then we immediately take Jesus’ promise and twist it to mean that if we want health, wealth, nice cars, a great home, popularity, a job promotion, or whatever else tickles our fancy, then all we have to do is ask in the right way with just enough faith, and then, abracadabra, happiness!   
Just in case you think this is an over-exaggeration, keep in mind that the biggest churches in our country teach this very thing.  Well-intentioned but very na├»ve pastors, preach and teach that happiness is only a prayer away.  If you are sad, plug your prayers into the powerhouse of heaven so that you can be happy with answered prayers of health and wealth.
Now, with all of that said, I am convinced that health and wealth can buy you happiness – at least temporary happiness.  And so are thousands of other Christians (and non-Christians) who flock to these churches to hear this kind of affirmation week after week.
However, happiness is not what Jesus is talking about.  Jesus is not promising to give us happiness if we only ask in prayer.  In fact, God never promised that our little lives would be full of pure happiness.  Remember our Gospel reading, Jesus also said,
“In the world, you will have tribulation.” 
That certainly does not sound happy! 
Dear Baptized Saints, what is going on here is that there is a world of difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is only for a moment.   That is why happiness can be bought.  But keep in mind that happiness quickly vanishes for it is nothing more than a short-lived emotion.  Happiness is a mere feeling that is here one moment and gone the next.  In fact, happiness is so temporary that once it leaves, it is quickly replaced by sadness or pain or something else. 
Tragically, once happiness is out of our grasp, we quickly try to find it again through any means necessary.  And this is why so many people attend churches that promise happiness.  Like a donkey chasing a carrot on a stick, parishioners in the thousands go to happy-clappy churches to try and figure out the religious recipe to squeeze happiness out of God through prayer.  And when happiness vanishes, and parishioners ask their churches why they don’t have happiness, well… the religious leaders tell them that they don’t have enough faith in their prayers or that they are not praying in the right way, for if they were, they would be happy. 
But what about joy?  Well, joy is what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel reading.  You see, joy is not flimsy or shallow like happiness.  Joy is not an artificial feeling or an emotion.  Happiness is typically connected to our feelings and our things and our health and wealth, but not joy.  Food, comfort, entertainment, health, and wealth cannot bring you and me joy. 
Baptized Saints, Jesus invites us to pray not because we lack happiness or health or wealth but because we have Him.  When we have Jesus, we have everything that we could possibly need.  And so because we have Jesus, we pray that our joy may be full - full in receiving grace upon grace. 
It is like this: joy desires, anticipates, and receives the Lord’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Yes, joy anticipates these gifts, looks to these gifts, receives these gifts, and rests in these gifts.  No chasing the tail; no carrot on a stick; no dashing after the wind, but rather, joy created in you and me - anchored in our gift-giving Lord. 
This is what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel Reading – eternal Joy, not temporary happiness. Listen to Jesus again,
“I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you…ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
Baptized Saints, the Lord answers prayer every time in His Word and Sacraments.  It is here, in His Church from His altar where He answers your prayers and fills you with His Word, His absolution and His Son’s very body and blood – joy.  Today, He fills you with joy – He answers your prayers confirming to you that you are clothed in Christ’s righteousness through Holy Baptism. 
He answers your prayers about sickness and death, giving you joy in the sure and certain confidence that death is not the end for those who go to sleep in the faith.
He answers your prayers about the sorrow over your departed loved ones giving you a joy that cannot be taken away.  Think of all those whom we love and have prayed for here but who still died; your children, your parents, spouses, friends.  Their happiness (and ours) turned to sadness, but their joy (and ours) goes on.  Though those whom we love are no longer with us, we know that they are with Jesus because they have been baptized and we know that we will see them again – that is joy.
He answers your prayers about the uncertainty of the future giving you joy that at the resurrection, you will be with all those people who have gone before you in the faith. 
Yes, the Lord answers your prayers with joy – that a day is coming when there will be no more death, no more sickness, no more sadness of parting, no more sorrow of death and suffering. 
These are the things that we pray for.  We ask God not for the desires of our heart, but for what He knows is best for our faith and our salvation. 
We pray for open ears to hear His Word and open hearts to receive it. 
We pray that He would lead us in all our ways to strengthen us. 
We pray that He would make our joy be full. 
In the name of Jesus: Amen.
This sermon is indebted – in parts – to Rev. Joshua Reimche’s sermon on John 16:23-33. 

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