PRAYER is a 6 part series taken from Dr Nichterlein’s Essay presented at the South Australian District Convention, ELCA, held at Adelaide, South Australia, March 3-9, 1949, that has been adapted for the web by the ELCR webmaster Helen Kilpatrick. All original content has been preserved with images, extra divisions, headings and formatting being added for ease of reading. The full original un-adapted article is available for download on the archives page.
This article follows on from the previous article – Part 3 To Whom Should We Pray?
For What Should We Pray?
Some say they do not pray because they have no requirements. What a very poor life theirs must be. Requirements? Is not our life full of needs and requirements? Are we not constantly requiring things that the grace and goodness of God must supply? We have need if we would reach the life eternal. We need temporal and we need spiritual blessings.
Praying for spiritual and temporal things
The leper asking Jesus to cleanse him of his awful disease was asking for a temporal blessing. The publican who prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” was praying for a spiritual blessing. Jesus once said to His disciples, “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” That did not mean that He was giving them an open cheque on heaven that they could fill in to any amount they desired. He asks for faith in connection with their prayer, and the prayer of faith is always one that conforms to God’s will. Such a prayer will ask for temporal blessings conditionally, “Lord, if Thou wilt.”
And so also in asking for such spiritual blessings as are not necessary unto salvation, the prayer will be a conditional one. A Christian may wish that God would give him a special gift of eloquence, so that by powerful reasoning he might easily be able to stop the mouths of those who oppose God’s truth. It would be quite in order to ask for such a gift, but it would need to be a conditional prayer. Another may desire to hold a special office in the congregation. It is quite right to ask God to grant him that. Yet, although it is something spiritual he is asking for, it must be a conditional prayer. But when we pray, “Lord keep us steadfast in the faith unto the end that we may enter the kingdom prepared for us,” there is no need to say there, “Not my will, but Thine be done,” because God has told us it is His holy will that we should continue in the faith unto the end.
In our catechism we learn that in prayer we may ask for “everything that tends to the glory of God and to our own and our neighbour’s welfare, both spiritual and temporal blessings.” For “such spiritual blessings as are necessary for our salvation we should ask without condition; all other gifts, with the condition that God would grant them to us if they tend to His glory and our welfare.” We may not always express the condition when saying a prayer, but in that spirit our prayers for temporal gifts must be offered up.
Praying in the Name of Jesus
It has already been said that the only prayer acceptable to the Most High is that offered up in the name of Jesus. “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” What does it mean to ask the Father in the name of Jesus? It means simply that when we pray we have the firm confidence that our prayers are acceptable to the Father because we have been redeemed through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Sin is rebellion against God. Sinners are rebels. Have rebels any right to petition the king? Will the king be pleased to receive a request for favours from such as do not want him to reign over them? Will not the king turn a deaf ear to their petitions? So also we are of ourselves not worthy of the things for which we pray. We are by nature enemies of God. But through our Redeemer Jesus Christ we are under the grace and goodwill of God. And for His dear Son’s sake He hears our prayer and grants our petitions. And when we offer up our prayer in that spirit we are praying in the name of Jesus.
The Christian’s prayer is always a prayer in the name of Jesus, although the name of the Redeemer may not be mentioned in his prayer, as, for instance, it is not mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer. When the Christian prays at table, “The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing,” he has, it is true, not mentioned the name of Jesus. Nevertheless, inasmuch as he believes that his prayers are acceptable to God for Jesus’ sake, he is praying in the name of Jesus. At the same time it is fit and proper that we state at the end or beginning of our prayer that we are asking this in the name of Jesus. Most of our collects, the short prayers used in our liturgical service, therefore close with the words “Through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord,” or similar words. We thereby indicate that we are asking this in the name of Jesus.