Summary: Through prayer we speak to God as we do when we praise him. But our songs of praise are also meant to be an encouragement to one another.
Do you know what a monologue is? A monologue is when one person speaks while everyone else listens. Late night talk shows begin with a monologue. The host cracks jokes while the audience listens. A teacher lecturing on the habits of the South American sloth delivers a monologue while students take notes. Do you like this form of communication? It has its place, but monologues can quickly become tiresome.
Thankfully Lutheran Worship is not a monologue. Oh sure, parts of it are. What’s happening right now—the sermon—is a monologue. I preach. You listen. But the rest of the service is a dialogue–a conversation between two parties. We have Martin Luther to thank for this. Before the Lutheran Reformation people would stand (not sit!) for a two-hour service and do little more than listen while the priest chanted or spoke in Latin and a professional choir did the singing. As Luther sought to revitalize worship, he concluded that worship ought to be a dialogue. Certainly we need to listen when God speaks to us through Word and Sacrament, but it’s also proper and beneficial for us engage in conversation with God and with each other. We do this through prayer and praise. That will be our focus as we continue our sermon series on Lutheran Worship.
Let’s begin with how we speak to God through prayer. Praying is pretty simple and straightforward. Christians simply tell God what’s on their hearts. We don’t have to bow our head or fold our hands to do this (though that is often our custom). We don’t have to face a certain direction or say certain words. In fact we don’t even have to pray out loud for God to hear us. Prayer is so simple that even a two-year-old can do it. Yet it’s also something utterly amazing, for when we pray we’re speaking directly to the Creator of the universe!
To put that into perspective try phoning up the Prime Minister this afternoon. Do you think you would get through and actually get to speak with Stephen Harper? If you did get through, would he really care about what you have to say? And how long would he listen before he would cut the connection to attend to more pressing matters? And if you travelled to Ottawa to try to speak to the Prime Minister in person, how close would you get to him before armed guards would stop you? So what makes us think that God actually listens to our prayers? Armed guards may prevent you from speaking personally to the Prime Minister, but something even stronger should prevent us from speaking to the holy God: our sin. Would you be very eager to listen to someone who repeatedly made life miserable for you by their lies, their rudeness, and even their violence? So why should God want to listen to us who often think his commands are no better than annoying speed bumps in a parking lot?
Our text for this portion of our sermon gives us two reasons why we can be confident that God listens to our prayers. In 1 Kings 8 we have a record of the prayer King Solomon offered at the dedication of the temple. Listen to what he had to say. “May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive” (1 Kings 8:29, 30).
We can be confident, as was Solomon, that God listens to our prayers because he promised to listen, and because he is a God who forgives our acts of rebellion. But of course to make use of this open line of communication we can only do so through faith in Jesus. Because it’s only through Jesus that God forgives our sins. In other words people of other religions like Muslims may be serious about their prayer life but because they reject Jesus as the savior of the world, God does not listen to their prayers. I don’t say this to make myself feel superior. I offer this truth as a warning. For although I may profess faith in Jesus, if I don’t listen to his Word and put it into action, then neither does God listen to my prayers. The book of Proverbs puts it like this: “If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable” (Proverbs 28:9).
Brothers and sisters, don’t ever forget that having faith in Jesus is more than just saying you believe in Jesus. It means trusting his Word and being eager to put it into practice. No, you won’t be able to do this perfectly but when a true believer fails and falls into sin, he is also quick to seek God’s forgiveness.