"Battle Cry of Faith--The Lord's Prayer"
Small Catechism, The Lord's Prayer
(sixth in a catechetical series)
It’s not so bad that children ask, “What did you bring us?”, is it? It’s not purely out of selfishness or entitlement, I think. You see, we fathers actually teach our children to expect something when we bring gifts home from our trips. They learn that this is what dad does. And dad does this because he loves his children.
That’s how it is with our heavenly Father. It’s what our spiritual father, Martin Luther, has pointed out out in the Catechism, especially in the Creed. God has withheld nothing from us. He has given us Himself and His entire creation. He then gave us His only-begotten Son. Then He gave us His Holy Spirit and the age to come. So no wonder He exhorts us to run to Him and ask for His blessings “with all boldness and confidence” as “dear children ask their dear father.” God has tenderly invited us to do so!
What does it mean to pray? Quite simply, to pray is to ask. This is the heart and core of prayer. Now this may sound a bit odd to our ears. In fact, it may sound like “gimme, gimme, gimme.” And isn’t that rather self-centered and selfish? Well, in our human relationships, it can certainly reveal a sense of entitlement. “We deserve it! We ought to have it!” But when it comes to our relationship with God, it actually reveals something of our standing before God. We never don’t need everything from God; we are never independent from Him.
We’ve seen this in previous weeks. Everything we are and have comes from God Himself. As St. Paul asked, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). You and I did not deserve to be born. We did not earn or merit it. We did not deserve this life. God did not owe it to us. Instead, we receive all of life as a gift. We, you and I, exist solely as gifts of God. And so our life and our lives are completely dependent upon God. We live from the gifts of God. That’s what it means to be creatures and not the Creator. You and I will never not need food and drink, family and friends, good weather, health for our bodies. And so God tenderly invites us to ask, and to receive all these gifts, and many more, with thanksgiving.
But at the same time, we are fallen creatures, sinful creatures. You and I stand before God always needing to be cleansed from sin, constantly restored to God’s favor and grace. It may seem anything but natural to go before God and ask for forgiveness and a new lease on life. Some may call that the height of chutzpah. And yet, right here, right at this point, is where God approaches us and tenderly invites us to call Him “Father.” He does this so that He might not frighten us or chase us off. Instead, He extends His hand so that we may take it. And because of Jesus, we have been adopted as His children. Because of the Holy Spirit of His Son who comes into our hearts, we can cry out, “Abba, Father.” As long as we live in this current age, there’s not a moment when we do not need to ask for God’s forgiveness and favor. And we are bold to do so because of Jesus Christ.
So what does Jesus give us in the prayer that He has taught us? Seven petitions. Seven requests. Our Lord wants us to open our arms wide—much like a child on Halloween opening a pillowcase wide to receive as much candy as possible.
Yet prayer is no easy task…at least not in this life. And that’s not just because we may have our doubts or questions. It’s because when we pray, we actually place ourselves on the front line in the battle between God and Satan. You see, the moment the Spirit enters our hearts and kindles faith in God, at that very moment we then turn to God crying, “Abba, Father.” At that moment, we also turn our back on Satan. And Satan considers that a declaration of war. Nothing infuriates him more than to have someone liberated from his prison and returned home as a child and heir of God. So Satan, with every fiber of his being, sets out to deprive us of faith, to destroy our faith, and to turn us against our Lord who has created and redeemed us. So it’s in prayer that we especially encounter the struggles of faith. After all, the struggle of the Christian faith does not happen before faith. The struggle begins with the birth of faith!
C. S. Lewis captured this beautifully in his book The Screwtape Letters. In this book, an apprentice devil named Wormwood seeks the advice of his uncle Screwtape, a senior devil and tempter. Wormwood has been assigned the task of overseeing a young man who is not a Christian. Wormwood’s task is to make sure the man does not become a Christian. As long as the man is not a Christian, Wormwood’s job is pretty easy. But one day, the man meets a young Christian woman. Their relationship develops, and the young man becomes intrigued by Christianity. Now Wormwood has to kick it into high gear and find ways to prevent the man from becoming Christian. When the man does become a Christian, Wormwood’s challenge is to bring him back into the clutches of “Our Father Below,” who is Satan. So senior devil Screwtape has to write some letters to Wormwood and advise him in this battle, especially on how to destroy the man’s faith once it is kindled.
So it is with us. In each of the seven petitions, we pray above all for the most precious gift that God can give us—the gift of faith. The gift of faith is the very relationship God wants us to have with Him. So we pray against unbelief. We pray against all of Satan’s attempts to undermine our faith and to tear us from the gifts of God and His love. Satan knows his time is short. So he pulls out all the stops. He holds nothing back. He begins by trying to undermine the name and Word of God. He continues undermining faith in that Word. He even seeks to keep us from receiving our daily bread, the necessities of daily life, in peace and with thanksgiving.
As Peter reminds us, our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). But rarely does he make a frontal attack that we can prepare for as we defend ourselves. Instead, temptation most commonly sneaks up and attacks us from behind. To say it another way, temptation ambushes us in ways that we never see coming.
Consider this analogy. Sometimes a husband and wife decide to divorce because their love has simply gone cold. They never intended it to happen. They never wanted it to happen. Instead, it happened without them even realizing it. They got married and things were great. But then life got busy, they pursued their careers, they raised their children, they found less and less time for each other, and they eventually found themselves little more than roommates. They didn’t just wake up one day and decide to stop loving each other. No, it happened without them realizing that it was happening.
That’s often how it happens with Christians who fall away from Christ. They never intend it to happen. They never want it to happen. It just happens. Perhaps they move to a new city for a new job. They find a new doctor, a new dentist, new stores, new friends, and a new church. They attend church a few weeks, then miss a few weeks. They attend one week, then miss five weeks. Before they realize, they are no longer attending at all. God has become distant and drifted off their radar screen. In other words, a Christian doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide to renounce the faith. Instead, they drift away without realizing it. Preserve us from this, dear heavenly Father! This is why St. Paul exhorts us, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
Through this Lenten season, though, we’ve seen that we do not stand alone in this battle. We do have Someone who goes into the battle ahead of us and fights for us:
“But for us fights the valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is,
Of Sabaoth Lord,
And there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever” (LSB 656:2).
He is the One we follow through Lent and soon to Good Friday and Easter. He is the One who fights for us. So His victory is our victory. He has given us His Word that we tightly hold onto. And no one can snatch us out of His hands. He is the same One who has given us the privilege to run to our heavenly Father, the same One who created and rules over every galaxy, every star, every planet, and every living creature. This is why Martin Luther can describe our prayer life as our greatest weapon in the fight against Satan. After all, in our prayers, we enlist the aid, the support, and the power of our heavenly Father. Amen.