Does God Always Hear Our Prayers; Do We Always Pray Faithfully?

Text: John 16:23-33

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

If you and I had a penny for every time God was accused of not answering a prayer, well… we would be very rich. Yes, indeed, one of the biggest accusations against God is that He supposedly does not hear the prayers of people – that He does not answer our prayers when we need Him most. But there is a problem to this accusation, and that is this: it assumes that we are actually praying to begin with.  

Dear friends, I am not entirely sure, but if I were to guess, I would say that at least 50% of the prayers made in America – if not more – are not prayers prayed in the name of Jesus. But instead, they are requests, rants, and whining made in the name of the old Adam – the sinful nature.  

Consider our reading from the Gospel of John; we are told that if we ask anything of the Father that He will give it to us. However, three tiny words often get overlooked. These words are “in my name.”  In other words, we can ask anything of the Father – in the name of Jesus – and the Father will give it to us. But what does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name?  

Dear friends, to pray in Jesus' name is to pray according to Jesus’ promises. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray according to His Word and consistent with His will. One more time, to pray in Jesus' name is to pray according to Jesus’ promises and according to His Word and consistent with His will. Let’s make this really simple – prayers are the voice of faith, and they are not the requests, rants, and whining of the old Adam.  

Let me give you an example.  

I can recall a parishioner from a former church – let’s call him Bob. Bob was a farmer who had a lot of land. But one thing Bob did not have was an oil well. And so, Bob was very vocal about how he often prayed for an oil well on his land. Now, I remind you that when he prayed for an oil well, he did so in the name of Jesus. However, everyone that knew Bob knew that he was full of it, as they say. His prayers to God for an oil well were not according to Jesus’ promises or consistent with Jesus’ will. But instead, Bob’s so-called prayers were motivated by greed and coveting. Yes, Bob made many promises to God that he would fund missionaries overseas if he got an oil well. But everyone knew this was a smokescreen, for it was very evident that his so-called prayers were dripping with greed and saturated with a covetous heart. The point being, Bob really was not praying, even though the words in his mouth sounded pious and holy. He was not praying because He was not praying in the name of Jesus; he was praying in the name of Bob. His prayers were according to his greed and consistent with his coveting heart.  

Dear friends, the Father indeed hears our prayers, and He even hears the requests, rants, and whining of our sinful nature. However, mark this, the Father does not answer the requests, rants, and whining of our sinful nature because they are not consistent with the name of Jesus.   

Last I heard, Bob did not get an oil well; instead, he got four oil wells. Yes, four. To many, it seems that the Father answered Bob’s so-called prayers. However, contrary to all appearances, if I were to discern what happened to Bob, I would say that the Lord did not answer Bob’s so-called prayers but disciplined Bob by giving him what his sinful nature wanted. Yes, Bob was given four oil wells, but last I heard, the wealth of these oil wells was poisoning his soul, destroying his friendships, and ruining his family. It seems that the Lord gave Bob what he was demanding, not as a gift but as a way of disciplining Bob. 

Dear friends, think of all of this with another analogy. Think of a child who was just fed a fun meal at the State Fair. Perhaps a good hot dog, some fries, and a fun soda. And then, the child was given a hot fudge ice cream sundae. However, 10-minutes later, the child begins to demand cotton candy, a candy bar, and a lollypop. Imagine the child grabbing at his father’s pants while whining, stomping, and complaining, 
“Dad, give me cotton candy! I need a candy bar! I want a lollypop! Give me, give me, I need, I need!” 
Now, obviously, a good father will not give this junk food to his child, for the child’s request is neither good nor healthy. So, a good father ignores the child’s request and reminds the child of all the good things that he has just received. But then imagine that the child continues to whine, stomp, and complain. Imagine that the child begins to cry and yell. What is the father to do? As a way of disciplining and teaching the child, the father may decide to give the child exactly what he wants – the father may give the child cotton candy, a candy bar, and a big lollypop. And the child? Well, the child is delighted to consume. However, 10 minutes after the child devours the junk food and the high-fructose corn syrup runs through the child’s veins, the child becomes sick. And with the sickness, the child is humbled and then learns that the father was right. The child apologizes to and returns to the wisdom and care of the father in humility.    

Dear friends, often when we pray, we do so with flippancy. We often do not stop to ask the question: is this prayer in the name of Jesus, or is it motivated by my old Adam? Truth be told, we all have much to repent of regarding our prayer lives. Our prayers need to be shaped by the promises of Jesus. Our prayers need to be formed by the Word of God. Our prayers need to be in the name of Jesus and not in the name of ourselves.  

Lord, have mercy on you and me too.  

Consider our reading from the Gospel of John again. Even though you and I often Petition the Father with bad intentions, we are still invited to pray. We are told that the Father not only hears prayers in the name of Jesus but answers them as well. Everything that is asked of God in the name of Jesus, the Father will give. Perhaps some of the greatest news we can hear today is that God hears and gives not what is wanted but what is needed, for you and I are not enemies of God but His dear children. 

Baptized Saint, the Lord constantly forgives you and me and calls you to pray prayers that are shaped by the promises of Jesus and guided by His will. He does this not because He wants to withhold from you but because He wants to give to you that which is good. 

And so, you can pray in the name of Jesus, and you can do so whenever you have a need. You can pray knowing that the Lord hears your prayers and that you are not a bother. You can pray knowing that the Lord disciplines and forgives you and me when we ask for things that would harm us. You can pray not to limit God or specify the day or place in which He must fulfill your prayers, but pray knowing that He answers, yes, in His due time, according to His manner, and for your  own good. And for the times that you and I pray according to our own names and when our prayers are motivated by our sinful nature, well…. thankfully, the Father will either ignore our pleas or discipline us for our good, while constantly forgiving you and me on behalf of Christ our redeemer.  No matter what the result is the same; He does all that He does for you and me because He cares for you and me.

Baptized Saints, pray to the Father not to get Him to care for you or notice you, but instead because He already knows you and already cares for you.  Your Jesus is proof of that and the reason why you can pray in the first place. Pray to the Father, for it is a gift to you.  Pray and know with confidence that you belong to Him through the redeeming work of Jesus.

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

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