“When you pray, say: Father.” (Luke 11:2)
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)
There are two kinds of prayer – the prayer of unbelief and the prayer of fait; the prayer from the spirit of old Adam and the prayer of the Spirit of Christ.
The prayer of old Adam begins with “I” – “I thank God I’m not like all the others. I just want to thank you, Lord. I just want to pray, Lord.” The prayer of the Spirit of Christ begins with God: Lord, have mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy. Our Father.” The prayer of old Adam we know from birth with our first infant cry that demands attention to confirm that we are the center of the universe. The prayer of Christ is taught by the Spirit of Christ with sighs and groanings too deep for words.
The prayer of old Adam is self-justifying, self-referential, and self-credentialing. It is the Pharisee in the temple proudly praying, “I thank God I’m not like men.” “I tithe, I associate with the right people, support the right causes, vote for the right candidates, read the right books, subscribe to the right magazines and confessions, and signal my superior virtues whenever possible on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And I’m especially thankful that I’m not like that tax collector back there, that prostitute, that lesbian, gay, trans, bi, queer, that leftist (if you’re a rightist) or that rightist (if you’re a leftist), that Democrat, that Republican, that..…fill in the blank on whosever shoulders you are standing on to get God’s attention.
The prayer of old Adam comes with an armload of gifts, bribes to curry the King’s favor. “Look at all that I’ve done for you, sacrificed for you, given to you. Now in return, this is what I want.” The prayer of unbelief is full of sound and fury signifying nothing, big on words, short on meaning, devoid of faith, babbling away as though God should be impressed by our vain attempts at verbal bribery. As Luther put it, a pagan prayer is full of words devoid of meaning; a Christian prayer is few in words rich in meaning.
The prayer of old Adam in us prays “My will be done.” He advises, informs, demands, diagnoses, prescribes, dictates. The prayer of unbelief seeks results – signs and wonders, name it and claim it, believe it and it’s yours. The prayer of unbelief is focused on method and technique, getting the words just right, the cadences just so, the motivations pure, as though God were our Divine Theater Critic who art in heaven, just waiting for us to flub a line or chant off key.
The prayer of faith is self-denying and without credentials. It is the publican in the back of the church, beating his breast with tears of sorrow streaming down his face, staring at his shoes, barely able to lift his eyes toward heaven, who can only stammer out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner. It’s an empty-handed, broken-hearted beggar, a homeless hobo on the Rodeo Drive of Religion. The desperate father of a sick child, the grieving mother, whose only son is being carried to his grave, the scorned sex worker who dared to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry them with her hair much to the chagrin of the properly religious onlookers. It’s the thief on the cross, his life ebbing away in a shameful and cursed death as a terrorist, a murderer, an insurrectionist. “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” It’s the girl who cuts herself just to feel alive, the drunk at a bar seeking solace in a glass, the outcast, the lost, the lonely, isolated, and broken. It’s that desperate man or woman who sees nothing but darkness ahead and wants to exit life and considers suicide to be a “viable option.”
The prayer of faith knows it doesn’t know how to pray, it has no words, but recognizes that whatever words we say and however we speak, sing, or chant them, the Spirit gathers them up and delivers them to the High Priest, Jesus Christ, with ineffable sighs and groanings that defy translation. The prayer of faith has neither diagnosis nor prescription. It prays, “Not my will but they will be done,” content to pray into the darkness and the silence, knowing, trusting, believing that God’s grace is sufficient.
To the unbelieving world, the prayer of faith appears to be a form of religious insanity, what atheist Richard Dawkins calls a “god delusion,” in which otherwise intelligent, rational, educated and sane people talk to a God they do not see and cannot hear with no guarantee of a desired outcome who answers them in the depths of silence. Our Invisible Friend who are in heaven.…
To the religious world, the prayer of faith appears shameless, reckless, even “cheeky.” How dare you call upon the Almight Creator of the Universe as “Abba, Father, Papa, Daddy?” How dare you, a creature address your Creator as though you were coming to your old man sitting in an easy chair? You should be groveling on your knees with your face in the dust! How dare you, a sinner, come before the all-holy, all-seeing, all-knowing God and Lord and speak to Him on such close and intimate terms? Who do you think you are, a prince, a princess, a royal son or daughter?
Jesus said, “When you pray, say, ‘Father.’” The Son knows what pleases the Father, and it pleases the Father to hear His children cry “Abba.” It pleased the Father to send His Son into the world, to bear our Sin in His flesh, so that all who believe on His Name would have the right to say, “Our Father” by virtue of their baptismal adoption papers.
You are baptized into Christ, my dear brother and sister. You have received the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit that cries out in you “Abba, Father.” You are a child of God in God’s beloved Child. When you pray, the phone rings in the heavenly throne room, and though the Father may be relaxing in His favorite recliner, the Son picks up the phone and says, “Dad, you have to take this, it’s family.”
You may call God “Father” with delight. It’s been given you in the water of Baptism when the Our Father was spoken over you and entrusted to you to pray as one of the family. You may call God “Father” and come to Him as dear children coming to their dear Father in heaven.
I’m aware that the image of “father” can be a painful one for some. Maybe the father of your first birth was not so approachable or even available. Maybe he abused or hurt you in some way and gave you a scorpion when you asked for an egg or a serpent instead of a fish. Maybe he hit you rather than embraced you, or put you down when he should have picked you up.
But this is not your Father in heaven. He is the father who runs down the road to embrace his prodigal sons and daughters still reeking from the pigpen. He is the father who goes out in to the field to seek the lost religious son and plead with him to join the party for his brother. He is the father who sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, not to rehabilitate the world, not to transform the world, not to fix the world, but that the world might be saved through His dying and rising.
The prayer of faith is indeed reckless, bold, shameless. In the Greek they said called it ἀναίδεια. In Yiddish, they would call it “chutzpah.” Prayer is holy chutzpah – the chutzpah of a woman repeatedly going before a crooked judge demanding justice. The chutzpah of a pesky neighbor who bangs on the door of his friend at midnight to borrow bread for sandwiches because he has an out of town guest and forgot to go to the store. It takes chutzpah to do that. Holy chutzpah. You don’t have a leg to stand on, but you do it anyway. You don’t have a single chip in front of you, but you play the hand anyway. You have nothing with which to bribe the king, and you stand before Him and dare to say “Our Father” as if you were his child, because that is who you are.
It’s Father Abraham, negotiating with God on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, as though he was dealing for a rug in a Persian marketplace. “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty. How about 45. Do I hear 40. 30. 20. How about ten. And the Lord says, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” That’s chutzpah!
Ten righteous souls. They couldn’t find even ten! That’s how bad it was! They couldn’t find ten righteous souls to save the city! It makes our day look like the Vienna Choir Boys on tour. Maybe Abraham should have whittled God down to one. For the sake of one righteous man, would you spare the city? But then, stop and think. There is no one who is righteous, not even one. Not you, not me.
For the sake of one righteous Man, God did save the world. Our Sin in exchange for Christ’s righteousness. In Him you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, worked by water and Spirit, by which the old adamic flesh was put off in the circumcision of Christ, in whom you were buried in Baptism, and raised with Him through faith, and are seated in Him at the right hand of God. In Christ, old Adam is crucified, and you are raised, glorified, and seated in Christ at the right hand of the Father.
Not only that but now as we speak, Christ dwells in you, filling you with the His fullness, just as the Father and Spirit dwell within you. That means that when you pray, you are not praying to a God way out there somewhere, a God far away out beyond the heavens, but a God in whom you live, move, and have your being, and who lives in you. When you pray, “our Father” it is Christ who prays in you, it is the Spirit of Christ calling out from within your being to the ear of your Father who is within you just as you are seated next to Him in Christ. You don’t have to shout to get God’s attention. He is ever near as Christ is near.
The ancient form of Christian prayer and worship called upon the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, respecting the distinction of Persons. We pray to the Father, through the mediation of the Son, in words carried by the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that carried the words of the prophets to the pages of Scripture.
You have the Holy Spirit. You are baptized. Of this, you can be certain. And with the Spirit, you have the Son, Jesus your elder Brother, your Savior. And with the Son, you have the Father who sent Him. The Persons of God are indivisible. Where One is, there the other Two are. They abide in you as you abide in God. Your life is hidden with Christ in God; and God is hidden in You. This is the double mystery of the faith and the great secret of prayer.
You are God’s child, chosen, forgiven, holy, elect in Christ His Son. And it is in Christ, and through Him, and with Him that we pray with all the holy chutzpah of dear children coming to their dear Father in heaven and say, “Abba. Our Father.”
In the Name of Jesus,