Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. In our text for today, our Lord is speaking with his disciples about the topic of prayer. He is about to depart from them and go to the Father. And so, in his farewell discourse with the disciples on Holy Thursday, our Lord made it a point to instruct his disciples regarding prayer. He specifically instructs them regarding how they should pray and for what they should pray.
2. The attitude with which our Lord instructs his disciples to approach God in prayer is most simply summarized by Martin Luther in his Small Catechism explanation to the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. Luther writes: Our Father who art in heaven. What does this mean? With these words, God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. Note the attitude Luther describes here. He describes children approaching their father with all boldness and confidence. It’s like a young, innocent child who approaches his father in the weeks leading up to Christmas to say, “Dad, for Christmas I want a new stuffed bear, a new firetruck, a motorized train set, and a remote controlled car.” The kid doesn’t doubt for a second that he will receive everything for which he asked. It doesn’t even occur to him that the things for which he asks might be unrealistic in any way. He approaches his father with all boldness and confidence expecting that his father will give him everything for which he asks. This same sort of boldness and confidence is the attitude we ought to have when we approach our heavenly Father in prayer.
3. Our Lord Jesus also demonstrates this in our text for today. At the end of verse 25, our Lord says to the disciples: “The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father” (John 16:25b). That word, “plainly,” is a word which plays a key role in this section. It is a word which occurs another time in this section when the disciples say to Jesus: “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!” (John 16:29). This word, “plainly,” is also related to the words, “take heart” in the final sentence of our text, when our Lord says: “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33c). The idea behind this word translated, “plainly,” in verses 25 and 29 is “speech that conceals nothing and passes over nothing.” For our Lord to speak “plainly” about the Father, he must speak both boldly and completely. It involves the idea of fearlessness, boldness, and confidence. Our Lord would do exactly this for his disciples in the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension when he instructed them completely about the Scriptures and the things concerning himself. During that time, he spoke to them in boldness and confidence, knowing that they could handle the things that he told them and that they would be able to faithfully carry the message that he passed on to them to the ends of the earth. But notice how at the end of our text it is this same sort of bold, confident attitude which our Lord exhorts the disciples to take up. He tells them: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart (or, be bold!); I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Just as Luther does in the Small Catechism, our Lord instructs his disciples, and by extension you and me, to be bold because he has overcome the world. By his death and resurrection, our Lord has given us access to the Father so that we do not need to approach him in fear and uncertainty. The Lord Jesus has overcome the world and has given us access to the Father so that we can approach him and every part of our lives in boldness and confidence.
4. That covers how we should pray. We should pray “with all boldness and confidence…as dear children ask their dear father.” But now we need to consider for what we should pray. I’m afraid that as we consider those things for which we should pray, you and I are far too narrow-minded and easily pleased. It’s as C.S. Lewis said in his essay titled, “The Weight of Glory”: “Our desires are not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” This fits exactly with what our Lord says at the beginning of our reading: “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23-24). Notice what these both have in common: they both speak of joy. Infinite joy is offered us, yet we fool about asking for temporal things of our Lord: “Help me pass this test. Help me get this promotion. Heal me of my sickness. Take away my physical struggles.” Now, don’t get me wrong. These are fine things to ask for. Our Lord who counts the number of hairs on your head cares about every single detail of your life. You should never be ashamed to ask for help passing a test or healing from a sickness. But if our prayers are restricted to these temporal matters and nothing more, then we are like the ignorant child who wants to make mud pies rather than go on a holiday at sea. This illustration hits the nail on the head because it reveals the true problem here. We can’t imagine the infinite joy our Lord offers us—we are incapable of it.
5. And so, how do we know for what we ought to pray? How do we come to imagine the infinite joy our Lord desires for us? Our Lord gives us a hint in the final verse of our text, which we considered earlier: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace” (John 16:33a). How do we find peace? How do we begin to understand and imagine the infinite joy that is being offered to us? Through Christ’s word. “I have said these things to you, that in me you might have peace—that in me you might find infinite joy.” It’s only through Christ’s word that we ignorant children begin to become aware of the infinite peace and joy of our Lord. Through his word, our Lord offers us a glimpse into the promise of eternal life which is ours in Christ. If we want to learn for what we ought to pray, we need to begin by reading God’s Word and first discerning for what he would have us ask.
6. I suppose I can’t end here without giving you at least a bit of a concrete answer as to what to pray for. An easy place to start is with the Lord’s Prayer. I can hardly think of more appropriate words of our Lord to meditate on when we’re thinking about the infinite joy that our Lord desires for us to imagine and to pray for. The hymn of the day that we sang, “Our Father, Who from Heaven Above” (#766 in the Lutheran Service Book) is a masterful reflection on the Lord’s Prayer written by Martin Luther. It’s a great place to start in reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer because in this hymn, Luther teaches us how to reflect on Scripture. He teaches us to hear the words of our Lord and to go beyond them, making them our own so that we might be shaped and molded by them into the kind of men and women who pray for those things for which our Lord would have us ask. Once we master the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer in this way, we can move on to the Psalms and the other parts of Scripture which teach us more and more about the infinite joy of eternal life that our Lord offers to us in Jesus. And as we learn and grow more and more in these things and as we are shaped more and more by the word of God, we will become more and more the kind of people who approach our heavenly Father in prayer with all boldness and confidence to ask for not only those temporal things which we desire for ourselves, but that we might also ask for those things for which our Lord desires us to ask of him. May our heavenly Father make it so for the sake of our Lord Jesus.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.