Ascension Day is almost here. It feels like Easter was only a couple weeks ago, but it’s the Fifth Sunday after Easter already! We’re about to celebrate our Lord’s Ascension into heaven. After He rose, He did not stay on earth with His disciples. Instead, on the 40th day He seated Himself on heaven’s throne.
Today we’re still hearing our Lord prepare His disciples for His Death and Resurrection on Maundy Thursday. Now the Holy Spirit uses these words to prepare us to celebrate Ascension and Pentecost. Jesus came from God when He was made man in Mary’s womb. His soul returned to The Father when He died. But then He rose. He went up to heaven on the 40th day and sent His Spirit 10 days later. He will soon return to judge all flesh.
The disciples had been with Jesus for 3 years. They loved it. It gave them a sense of pride, power, and popularity. He made them something more than the mere fishermen they feared they’d always be. They imagined themselves helping Him rule their land from Jerusalem, maybe even ruling all the world for Him. They dreamed of getting everything they ever dreamed of, yes, everything they were afraid to dream of!
Perhaps the best thing was they got to talk face-to-face with God. Their dreams weren’t reality; they weren’t going to be earthly kings. But talking with Jesus was real. It was as real as me talking to you now. They loved that. They didn’t want to let go of it. Not being able to see Him or talk to Him anymore – that made them sad. So on that Maundy Thursday night He told them they would still be able to talk with each other. Next Sunday He will tell us that He speaks to us through His holy Word, Sacred Scripture. Today He tells us to speak to Him in prayer.
Jesus does not want us to be absent from Him. He wants to hear from us. He does not want to be estranged from us. He wants to hear from you, each of you, every day, many times a day. Don’t think He doesn’t have time for you. Don’t think you spoke too much to Him yesterday or last week. Don’t be afraid you’ll say the wrong thing. He wants to hear from you. He knows everything: He knows what you need and will give it. He is almighty: He’s got time for everybody all at once! He died for you: He will never push you away – His love for you is that great; His arms were stretched out on The Cross in order to surround us with His love forever.
So He tells us to pray. It is a command. When God wants us to do something, we should do it. But it’s more than a command. Commands can be frightening. This is an invitation, an invitation filled with love, an invitation not to be resisted. St. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. Jesus Himself says that if you ask you will receive, if you seek you will find, and if you knock the door will be opened. He will answer your prayers. He will always bless you.
That’s why He invites us to pray to Him, and Him alone. The prophets of Baal called out all day to their god and he could not answer. Any person, any thing created by God – there is no promise when it comes to praying to them. They are mortal and cannot save. They cannot hear and answer prayer. Psalm 65 teaches us that He alone hears prayer: “O Thou that hearest prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come.”
Why does He invite you to pray to Him? Because you believe in Him. He does not hear just any prayer uttered by just any lips. He hears the prayers of those who believe in Him. Why? Because He loves you and you love Him. He is affectionate towards you and you are affectionate towards Him. If you hate Him, if you don’t believe in Him, you don’t want Him to answer you. So He won’t. Because you love Him, because you believe in Him, you want Him to answer you. Since He has promised to do it, He will. He will hear you. He will answer you.
What should you pray for? Let the commandments be your guide. Pray God to glorify His Name. Pray His Spirit to spread the Gospel throughout the world. Pray Him to bless those around you. Pray Him to bless them with true faith and to protect them. Pray Him to bless you and protect you. Pray Him for forgiveness and life eternal. Pray Him to help you think and do what is right in His sight. Pray Him to bless you in physical ways too. Pray for godly government and godly family. Pray for all people, for all the living. Pray for your family, for your coworkers, for the government, for all people across the globe. Review at home what Luther teaches us at the First Article, the Fourth Petition, and the Litany, and pray for those things, and then for whatever other reason you may need to pray.
How should you not pray? Don’t tempt Him. Don’t demand things from Him things He has not promised. Don’t pray out of envy or jealousy. How should you pray? Remember Who You are praying to. You are praying to a King, but you are also praying to your dear Father in heaven. All good things come from Him. Esther could not speak to King Xerxes unless he stretched out his scepter towards her. God already has stretched out His crucified arms to you in love, to gather you in like a daddy hugs his little boy and girl. So pray to Him boldly, confidently. That’s what faith is: it’s boldness, confidence, trust that God loves you for Jesus’ sake. Faith sets no limits, no demands. It boldly puts its requests in The Father’s lap and waits for Him to give back to us what’s best for us.
How does God answer? He may answer right away. He may give you exactly what you want. There are examples of that in Scripture. But He has not promised to do those things for you, certainly not all the time. He may answer a while later. He may give something entirely different. He sometimes decides it’s better for us to not get what we want so He can prepare us for the life to come; He does not want us to start to trust in the stuff and not care about Him. How should you react when He doesn’t answer the way you want Him to? Faith receives whatever He gives and believes He always gives us gems back. It trusts His Spirit gives us exactly what we need even when it goes against everything we think is right and best
So pray to Him. Don’t be afraid to do it. Don’t be afraid to be heard. Pray here at church, just not only here. Pray when you eat, at home and in a restaurant. Pray when you go to bed and when you get up. Pray at work and on vacation. Pray with your loved ones when they are dying. Pray when you are in danger. Pray when you are prospering. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Pray the prayers in the hymnal – that includes our hymns – and in your devotionals. Pray at any time, in any place. Pray, so in true faith you may say to Our Redeemer (TLH 456:4-5):
Be Thou my Shield and Hiding-place That, sheltered near Thy side, I may my fierce Accuser face And tell him Thou hast died.
O wondrous Love, to bleed and die, To bear the cross and shame, That guilty sinners such as I Might plead Thy gracious Name.