Questions on Prayer

I feel like I should not worry about this, but it has been eating away at me. Silent prayer. I have been alone for 13 years and now my children are both adults. Being alone doesn't bother me, but I have always prayed constantly in my head, not out loud. I pray a morning and evening prayer and even "talk" to God in my head throughout the day if I need to reach out for help or to thank Him. So, I guess my question is, does He listen to me as much as those who verbally speak their prayers? In Matthew 18:20, it says, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Are my petitions weaker for being alone and silent? I do attend church regularly and love the people and fellowship, but that is only once or twice a week and I pray every day. Again, I know I shouldn't worry because God is, well, God, and has no limitations. But, my sinful nature needs confirmation and support and I thank you for any inspiration you can provide.

God certainly does listen to and answer your silent prayers as much as those who verbally speak their prayers. Prayer is communication with God. Since God is all-powerful and all-knowing, that communication can be verbal or unspoken.

Think of Hannah in the Old Testament. She prayed to the Lord without speaking (1 Samuel 1:12-13). God heard her prayer and answered it. Or, think of Abraham’s servant who described “praying in my heart” (Genesis 24:45). That also was a prayer God heard and answered.

So, keep communicating with God in prayer—in spoken words or simply with thoughts. As a child of God, your words and thoughts are reaching God’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

Finally, Matthew 18:20 teaches that the Lord is present in a special way when his followers gather in his name. As a child of God, you can be assured that the Lord is with you even when you do not join with other Christians in prayer and worship (Matthew 28:20).

Is it ever okay to pray with a non-WELS Christian? I have heard some say that it is not because the WELS is the only true church. I have heard others say that in personal situations, it is up to your own discretion. I would like to know if a Christian friend in college and I can say a prayer of thanksgiving before we eat. Thanks.

The reason for refraining from praying with people who are outside of our fellowship is not because we do not consider them Christians. We do not pretend to be the only church whose teachings are entirely biblical; the kingdom of  God is not limited to WELS. We believe we are holding to the truths of God’s word. If others accuse us of error in doctrine or practice, we are certainly willing and interested to listen, and see what Scripture says about their claims and our confession.

The reason for not praying with people who are outside of our fellowship is because Scripture teaches us to work for and preserve the unity of faith (Ephesians 4:3), and not to pretend there is unity when there is not (Romans 16:17; 2 John 10;11).

The Bible does not speak of prayer fellowship any differently than other forms of fellowship like worship and joint gospel work. Not praying with your friend can be a good testimony to the truths of God’s word and, perhaps, lead to a meaningful discussion of what the Bible teaches about fellowship principles.

What does it mean to pray nine times a day?

It sounds like you might be asking about something called a “novena.” The origin of the term is Latin for “nine.”

Novena refers to the Roman Catholic practice of praying a prayer for nine days (or compressing the time frame to one day on which a prayer is prayed nine times). Such prayers are often addressed to the saints.

The Bible tells us to pray only to God, of course. And, while we are to be persistent in prayer (Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 18:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:17), Jesus tells us not to think that the wordiness of our prayers is going to impress him (Matthew 6:7-8). As Christians, we want to remember that prayer is powerful (James 5:16) because of the One receiving the prayers not the person praying.

Recently my church, a WELS church, changed the words to our Lord's Prayer. The word trespasses was changed to sin. I believe that only God or a called servant may forgive sin. Why was this change made? This issue is very disturbing to the older members of the congregation to the point that some are considering leaving our church.

On the two occasions when the Bible records the Lord speaking the prayer that is named after him, Jesus used different words for violating God’s holy will. That is not surprising, as the Bible does as well. It speaks of “sin,” “debt,” “transgression,” “trespass,” among other terms for disobeying God.

In the Lord’s Prayer we find in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus used the word “debt” – “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” In the Lord’s Prayer we find in Luke’s gospel, Jesus used the words “sin” and “debt” – “Forgive our sins as we forgive everyone indebted to us.” There is a Greek word for “trespass,” but that word does not occur in Matthew or Luke’s account.

So, how did we come to speak “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”? We can thank the Anglican Church for that. For hundreds of years already, the version of the Lord’s Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer has focused attention on forgiving “trespasses.” When the time came for German Lutherans in our country to begin utilizing English liturgical materials, they adopted the version of the Lord’s Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. Tradition has led many Lutherans in the United States to continue using that version.

If your congregation recently began using the “contemporary Lord’s Prayer,” substituting “sins” for “trespasses,” it is not doing anything wrong. “Sin” is a more accurate translation of the original Greek than “trespass.” And, whether we use “sin” or “trespass,” we are acknowledging in the Lord’s Prayer that we have acted contrary to God’s holy will and seek his forgiveness.

In addition, we also speak of forgiving those who sin against us. Speaking the news of forgiveness is not limited to pastors. Keep in mind that in the Lord’s Prayer you and I speak of “forgiving those who sin against us.” That is what God, elsewhere in the Bible, tells us to do. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

I would encourage you—and others in your congregation who share your view—to speak to your pastor and allow him to show you how the words of the Lord’s Prayer in the original Greek can be translated into English.

We recently attended a Bible study on the Lord's Prayer. The pastor who led that study stated "the more you pray, the more trouble will come to you." Is this a correct statement? I thought prayer was supposed to bring relief to the sinner, knowing that if you ask, God will answer. Also, since God has commanded us to pray, why would He do so if it brings on trouble?

As I do not have the context in which the pastor made that statement, I can only propose a possible meaning. It goes like this: Satan’s goal is to destroy faith. If he sees Christians exercising their faith through prayer, he could very well ramp up his attacks on that person—with the ultimate goal of trying to destroy that Christian’s faith.

That is one way of looking at that statement, but you would really need to speak with the pastor who led that Bible study to understand what he meant.

God certainly invites and directs us to pray to him (Psalm 50:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). God promises to answer our prayers (Matthew 7:7) according to his wisdom and love (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). So, let’s keep conversing with our God through prayer—no matter what troubles Satan may try to throw our way.

What would be the best synonym for the word “sake” when used in the phrase “for Christ’s sake”? Thanks.

Here is a prayer from Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal – “Lord God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Forgive my open sins and my secret sins. Forgive the sins I know and the sins I do not know. Forgive the sins I did to please myself and the sins I did to please others. Forgive them all, gracious Lord, for Jesus’ sake” (page 134).

What does it mean when we ask God to do something for “Jesus’ sake”? “Because of what Jesus has done” is a way of understanding “for Jesus’ sake.” In the prayer above, we ask God to forgive our sins. We do not ask God to do that because we are deserving of his kindness. No, our sins deserve condemnation. We ask God to forgive our sins because of what Jesus has done. What Jesus did was to live life as our perfect substitute and then take on himself the punishment our sins deserved. When we ask God to forgive our sins, as in the prayer above, we do so on the basis of what Jesus Christ has done for us (Titus 3:4-6).

Howdy, I have a question about prayer. I understand that prayer is a very important part of our lives when being a Lutheran (or any religion for that matter). But when I pray, it feels empty inside, like there's no real meaning to it. Am I praying correctly? I begin my prayers with, "Dear Father in heaven", and end them with "Amen", but I think there's more to praying correctly than how it's formatted. Can you help me with why my prayers seem so shallow?

It might be helpful if you were to think of how you would answer this question: “What is prayer?” How you look upon prayer and what you think about it can be in line with what the Bible says about prayer, or it might deviate from that.

Prayer is the privilege Christians have of speaking to God. Prayer is the Christian’s worshipful conversation with God. Prayer is the Christian’s heart-to-heart talk with God. That conversation can include “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 2:1). That conversation is a running dialogue with God throughout the day.

When you say that praying leaves you feeling empty, I would encourage you to keep emotions in proper perspective. God’s law (2 Corinthians 7:8-11) and God’s gospel (Psalm 51:12) can certainly produce emotions of sorrow and joy in our hearts and lives. What we want to be careful about is basing our relationship with God on our emotions.

The same caution is applicable for prayer. When you and I pray to God as his redeemed children, we know and believe that he will hear our prayers and answer them in the best way and at the best time. You and I might have different emotional levels attached to that knowledge and faith when we pray at different times of life and in different circumstances. Yet, keep in mind that the power of prayer does not lie in our emotions. The power of prayer lies in our all-powerful God.

What I do not know is the content of your prayers. Even without that knowledge, I can suggest that, if you are not doing so already, you might want to supplement your own personal prayers with prayers prepared by others. There are many prayers available in our hymnal, on the synod’s website and in prayer books. Using those prayers can certainly expand your prayer life. Perhaps you would also find value and benefit in prayer journaling. Northwestern Publishing House has numerous resources for your prayer life.

I hope this gives you some help. God bless you.

I am having a hard time grappling with the healing stories in Scripture. Jesus and the apostles healed people physically, mentally, spiritually, in every way. There are numerous passages and we are expected to accept them at face value. We also read in John 16:24 and many other passages that we are to ask in Jesus' name and we will receive. My disabled adult son almost died three years ago from a severe heart infection. In fact, he was under hospice care for three weeks until he started to get better, without any real treatment. Many people were praying for him. People in our church were calling it a miracle. He was put on a minor heart failure drug and for several months evidently had no problems. Then we came to learn he had advanced kidney disease, and he requires catheterization four times a day, which severely limits his ability to travel or do anything in a "normal" way. He has had numerous urinary tract infections since then. His life has drastically changed, as has ours. My wife and I are getting on in years and are very fearful for his future. I feel like the "miracle" was a joke, as now, he is sicker and more disabled than he ever was before the heart problem. I've been praying for his physical healing, also for wisdom to know God's will for him. I am getting nothing. Can you help?

You are correct in noting that the healing miracles in the Bible are true; they did take place. Then, again, what we need to keep in mind is that all those people on the receiving end of God’s miraculous power experienced death (and those who were raised from the dead experienced death a second time). Their physical healing was not permanent. Was there sickness or prolonged sickness before death took place? We are not told.

To all the Bible passages that speak of God’s promise to answer prayers, we need to add other Bible passages that speak of God’s love and wisdom that go beyond our understanding (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-36). God’s wisdom and love may lead him to answer our prayers in ways that differ from our requests (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), but we recognize that God always has our best—our eternal best—in mind (Romans 8:28).

I encourage you to continue to pray for your son, yourself and your family. Then, be sure to give the Lord plenty of opportunities to speak to you through his word (Colossians 3:16). Remember the meaning of baptism: that God has made you his own dear child. (The same is true for your son.) Be a frequent guest at the Lord’s Supper to receive in the most personal way possible the forgiveness of sins. Satan would like nothing more than for you to question and doubt God’s love. Using God’s gospel in word and sacrament provides the Holy Spirit with opportunities to convince you all the more of God’s great love for you and your family.

There are good Christian books that can apply God’s word to your family’s situation. One such book is When Jesus is There. The description of this book is: “Topics include having a child with a serious illness…” It is available from Northwestern Publishing House.

I hope you are able to speak with your pastor about these matters. He is in a position to address the spiritual needs of your family. God bless you and your family.

My dad, who passed away some years ago, used to periodically offer a similar table prayer to "Come, Lord Jesus" using more antiquated language. The rest of us would join our hearts but not our lips, so I never learned it and can only recall that it used "mayest", "thou", et cetera. Was this a prayer that he'd likely created or repeated from another individual, or was there such a Synodical Conference version penned and published (my father was raised in both LCMS and WELS congregations)? If the latter is true, I would appreciate receiving the words.

I have no way of knowing, but perhaps your dad might have used Psalm 145:15-16 from the King James Version: “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.” The word “mayest” is not in those verses, but those words of the psalm writer have been the basis of table prayers for generations.

How can I be confident that God will answer my prayers, considering James 1:6-7? Every day in my life I am struggling with sin and temptation (especially sins of doubt). I realize that I cannot win this spiritual battle on my own, and that I need God’s power to resist these temptations. But because I am struggling with the sin of doubt, James 1:6-7 makes it seem to me that God is not answering my prayers. I am sorry for my sins and I would really love a God of grace to forgive me, but for some reason there is something in me that doubts the whole Bible even to be true. Considering James 1:6-7, will God answer my prayers? Will he help me fight temptation? Am I misinterpreting this passage? Thanks.

To begin with, a God of grace has forgiven you (2 Corinthians 5:19; Romans 5:18-19; 1 John 2:2). Your words tell me that you recognize the forgiveness of sins you possess through faith in Jesus Christ.

Your words also lead me to think of the man who approached Jesus one day and said, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). That man spoke for you and me and Christians in general. We praise God the Holy Spirit for connecting us to Jesus Christ in saving faith, but we also recognize that there is always room for growth in our faith. The Holy Spirit uses the gospel in word and sacrament to nurture and strengthen our faith.

In James 1:6-7 the inspired writer is addressing the problem of praying but doubting: doubting that God will hear prayers and answer them. The doubts you have expressed are connected to biblical content: is the whole Bible true? The Bible answers that question.

Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Lord did not qualify that statement by saying that some or most of God’s word is truth; he said all of God’s word is truth. The Holy Spirit led the apostle Paul to underscore that statement: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

God desires to strengthen the faith he has created in you (Isaiah 42:3). He wants you to pray to him, and he has promised to hear and answer (Psalm 50:15). He has armed you to fight temptations (Ephesians 6:10-17).

So, keep using the means by which the Holy Spirit can strengthen your faith—the Bible and the Lord’s Supper. Remember your baptism by which God made you his own child. Speak to God regularly in prayer, knowing and believing that he will hear and answer in the best way and at the best time. God bless you.

If we as WELS Christians belong to the Universal Christian Church as we confess in the Apostles' Creed, why is it a sin for us to pray with our fellow brothers and sisters who might be of a different denomination or Lutheran synod? Aren't we all Christians?

Your question illustrates the difference between the Holy Christian Church (the invisible Church) and visible churches.

You are correct in noting that we believe that there is a “Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints,” as we confess in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. That Church consists of people throughout the world who have a common faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Because God alone knows what is in a person’s heart (1 Samuel 16:7; 2 Timothy 2:19), we call that Church “the invisible Church.”

What is visible to you and me is where people have aligned themselves with their church membership. By joining a church, people have committed themselves to the doctrine and practice of that church. We cannot look into people’s hearts and see what they believe, but people can tell us what is in their hearts by their words—and their actions, by the doctrine they embrace via their church membership.

“Aren’t we all Christians?” you wonder. Individuals and groupings of people might call themselves Christians and yet: deny the inspiration of the Bible, deny infant baptism, reject the real presence of the Lord’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, deny original sin, believe in a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth, etc. False teachings like these are serious and, finally, can be threatening to saving faith. This is why Scripture teaches us not to practice church fellowship with those who believe or teach contrary to Scripture (Romans 16:17).

When there is unity of faith with other Christians, then we can express that unity by praying together, receiving the Lord’s Supper together and combining our resources for mission work and educational efforts. When unity of faith does not exist, we refrain from those joint activities.

Refraining from those joint activities does not mean that we consider the people involved to be outside the Christian faith. Again, faith is a matter of the heart. God alone knows who belongs to his Church. Refraining from praying with people, for example, who call themselves Christians, results when we compare their church’s teachings to the Bible’s teachings and find that the teachings do not agree. Refraining might be challenging, but it is the right thing to do. It is a testimony to the truth of Scripture.

Should you pray to the Holy Spirit?

We do pray to the Holy Spirit when we pray to God. A prayer to the Triune God is a prayer to the Holy Spirit.

Can we address a prayer specifically to the Holy Spirit? Certainly. For example, we do that in our churches on Pentecost Sunday. This is the Prayer of the Day for that festival: “Holy Spirit, God and Lord, come to us this joyful day with your sevenfold gift of grace. Rekindle in our hearts the holy fire of your love that in a true and living faith we may tell abroad the glory of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Father, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

Romans 8:26-27 teaches that the Holy Spirit is very much involved in our prayer life. Along with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit hears and answers our prayers in wisdom and love.

This may seem like a really simple question, but why do we pray? And what are we supposed to pray for? I find prayer comforting because it reminds of all God's promises, but I can be reminded of God's truth without speaking to him. I also know that God tells us to cast all our cares on him and to thank and praise him, but is that really the only reason we pray? Because God tells us to? Why is prayer so important and what power does it hold?

We pray because God invites and directs us to pray to him (Matthew 7:7; Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). We pray because God promises that he will hear and answer our prayers (Psalm 50:15; 91:15; John 15:7). We pray because God tells us that prayer is “powerful and effective” (James 5:16). James chapter five illustrates how God acted on Elijah’s prayers. James 4:2 explains that God can manage his blessings in our lives to encourage us to pray to him.

When it comes to the content of our prayers, 1 Timothy 2:1-2 provides guidance: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

As God speaks to us through his word, so prayer provides God’s children with the opportunity and privilege of speaking to God. Prayer rounds out the two-way conversation between God and people.

Hello. I just wanted to clarify something that I have been told about the churches in the Wisconsin Synod. I am an Anglican Catholic, which is a continuing church of the Episcopal Church. Do you teach that it is biblical to ask Mary to pray for us? I do not believe that anywhere in the Bible does it say that we should ask Mary, or any other "saint," to intercede for us. I know this is Roman Catholic doctrine, but our church now is leaning towards this as well. I was told that you teach this doctrine. Could you please advise me if you do, and what is your biblical basis for this? And, if you do not, I will advise those who gave this misinformation. Thank you very much for taking the time to read this and I will greatly appreciate your clarification. God bless.

We do not teach that it is biblical to ask Mary (or any other person who has died) to pray for us. We teach that prayer is an act of worship and that God alone is to be the object of our worship and prayers.

God instructs us to pray to him (Psalm 50:15; Matthew 6:9-13). The Bible speaks of Jesus being our sole mediator (1 Timothy 2:5-6; 1 John 1:21) and intercessor (Hebrews 7:25). Nowhere does the Bible direct us to pray to followers of God who have died. Nowhere does God promise that prayers addressed to people, and not him, will be answered. God does promise to hear and answer our prayers to him (Isaiah 65:24; Matthew 7:7; 1 John 5:14-15).

Thank you for contacting us and allowing us to speak for ourselves on the matter. Do pass along this information to those who informed you otherwise. God’s blessings to you.

Is there a reason why we as the WELS don’t appear to emphasize fasting as a Christian discipline? (Or maybe we do, and it’s just been my experience to have not heard much about it?) If a believer is considering a fast as a means to draw closer to God in prayer, how would one go about it? Thank you!

Fasting falls in the area of Christian freedom, so an emphasis on that practice will vary from person to person.

“As is the case with any adiaphoron, motives for fasting can be important. Some of the literature I have seen speaks of fasting serving the purpose of ‘assisting and enhancing’ our prayers. In view of that, you may want to ask yourself: ‘Am I thinking in any way that God is going to hear and answer my prayers because of something I am doing? Am I fasting like the Pharisees—thinking that fasting will put me in a better standing with God and make me superior to non-fasting Christians?’ Any thoughts like these would rule out fasting.”

The paragraph above is from a February 2015 column in Forward in Christ. This link will take you to that column. It will address the subject of fasting with more detail than I can provide here.

What does God say about prayer and when and how often we need to do it ? I do pray to the Lord for dinner, problems , bad days or frustration, church, etc., but it seems like that's the only time I go to the Lord. I would like to know if what I am doing is the correct thing, and not that I only go to God when times are not good. Can you provide any passages for my concern? Thanks.

Rather than seeing prayer as an obligation, the Bible teaches that prayer is a privilege Christians enjoy. God promises to hear and answer the prayers of his children (Psalm 34:15, 17; Matthew 7:7).

God certainly instructs us to come to him in prayer in times of trouble (Psalm 50:15), but those are not the only times to pray or the only kinds of prayers to offer. The Bible teaches us to speak to God with “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving (1 Timothy 2:1); it directs us to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Prayer completes two-way conversation with God. Through his word, the Bible, God speaks to us (Hebrews 1:1-2). With prayer, we have the privilege of speaking to God.

So, I encourage you to look upon prayer as conversation with God. Think of how conversation with family and friends often goes: it takes place numerous times throughout the day and night. Similarly, you can look upon prayer as a running conversation with God throughout the day and night. The sight of life’s beauties can move you to breathe a brief “Thank you, Lord.” prayer. Observing people struggling in life can lead you to a short “Bless them. Lord.” prayer.

The conversations we have with God throughout the day can be long and short. They can take place as we walk and drive, eat and rest. They do not need to fit a certain structure.

Like anything else in the Christian life, there is room for improvement in our prayer life. When we have neglected prayer or used prayer selfishly, we use prayer to confess our sins: “Have mercy on us, Lord.” In response to a prayer like that, God responds: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist” (Isaiah 44:22). That is two-way conversation between a Christian and God in action. God’s blessings on your prayer life.

What does Jesus mean when he says in Matthew 7:7, “…knock, and the door will be opened to you.”

Jesus means to say that he promises to hear and answer prayers. Any and all prayers? No, only those prayers that are addressed to the Triune God.

The answer may not be what we desire or communicate to God, but the answer will be the best for us at the time.

I am hearing about contemplative prayer and centering prayer. Because I can’t find a crystal clear definition of either, I’m not certain whether they’re the same or different things. If either involves emptying the mind, I realize that’s of Eastern religion and not biblical. Yet I hear of so-called Christians doing these practices, and want to respond biblically. Please enlighten me on these terms.

The terms are often used interchangeably. The terms describe an approach to prayer associated with Christian mysticism. That approach seeks to affect one’s consciousness by means of repeating words and employing breathing techniques. This has the supposed purpose of assisting people to listen to the voice of God.

Considering this, you have reason to be concerned about the practice. Prayer certainly is communication with God, but that communication is not to consist of “babbling” (Matthew 6:7). Communicating with God in prayer also does not mean that we put our minds in neutral (1 Corinthians 14:15). No, prayer is communication with God that involves our entire being.

While prayer is our means of communicating with God, God has told us that he communicates with people through his word, the Bible (Hebrews 1:1-2). We do not look for God to speak to us beyond his written word.

Do remind others of the wonderful privilege of prayer that God has given his children. Your reminders can also include what the Bible does and does not teach about prayer.

Concerning prayer with those who are not of the same denomination, I understand the WELS' position on fellowship and prayer. However, is it okay to pray with friends or colleagues who are not WELS members if I am leading the prayer? The same question goes for those who are still unbelievers, but are learning about God.

We are able to pray with people when we enjoy unity in doctrine. I would encourage you to have conversations with your friends or colleagues to compare their beliefs with biblical teachings. With church membership, people commit themselves to the doctrine and practice of their church. Your conversations with your friends or colleagues would likely reveal if they support and uphold false teachings or if the confession of faith they make with their membership and their personal confession of faith are at odds with one another.

When people are not united in doctrine, it does not matter who is leading the prayer. Such prayer is to be avoided. There are exceptions of course.  For example, in my own home I can offer table prayers in the presence of others who may or may not join inwardly in what I say.

Your last scenario is different in that people have not committed themselves to the doctrine and practice of any church. More than that, they are interested in learning what Scripture teaches. Prayer with such people can be done.

Certainly, we can pray for anyone, and Scripture encourages us to do that (1 Timothy 2:1). Praying with people is a blessing and privilege Christians enjoy when they are united in faith. When people are not united in faith and pray or worship together, they overlook biblical fellowship principles.

There is much more than can be said about prayer fellowship. You may be interested in reading materials on the topic from the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Essay File.

Is it alright to pray for friends or family whose religions are different from yours? Thanks.

Certainly. We can pray for anyone. In fact, Scripture directs us to do that (1 Timothy 2:1). Biblical fellowship principles enter the picture when it comes to praying with others.

So, do pray for friends and family. When it comes to their spiritual lives and the spiritual lives of others, you can follow the example of the apostle Paul and pray that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened (Ephesians 1:18).

I have a question concerning the ESV version of the Bible published by Concordia Publishing House. In the prayers section at the end there is a prayer called "Soul of Christ." It was written by Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. The prayer starts, "Soul of Christ sanctify me." What is the meaning of this? Doesn't the Spirit sanctify using the means of grace? My pastor thought the term "Soul of Christ" a bit "Romish" and confusing. Better to start such a prayer with "Holy Spirit sanctify me," or "Spirit of God sanctify me." Your comment.

The prayer has been attributed to Iganatius of Loyola, but it appears to have been written well before the lifetime of Ignatius. The prayer has a long history of usage by Roman Catholic Church members in connection with their daily Mass. Phrases in the prayer highlight the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who took on human flesh.

When it comes to the Triune God’s actions toward the world and the people of the world, specific acts are ascribed especially to each person of the Trinity: Father, creation; Son, redemption; Holy Spirit, sanctification.

Sanctification means to “set apart.” In the wider sense of the word, the Holy Spirit sanctifies people when he calls them out of the unbelieving world to be holy people in God’s sight through Spirit-given faith (1 Corinthians 6:11). In the narrower sense of the word, the Holy Spirit sanctifies Christians by leading them to detest sin and live life God’s way (Psalm 119:104, 112). As you noted, the Holy Spirit sanctifies people through the means of grace.

While the work of sanctification is especially ascribed to the Holy Spirit, it is not surprising to read that the Bible also speaks of Jesus’ role in sanctification (Hebrews 2:11). We find something similar when the Bible teaches Jesus’ involvement in creation (John 1:1-3)—a work that is especially ascribed to God the Father.

I understand the confusion that can result with a prayer that begins “Soul of Christ, sanctify me…” Lutheran worshipers appreciate the clarity and comfort of a prayer like this: “O Holy Spirit, come to me with your comforting Word, which alone can drive away my doubts. Direct me to my Savior, Jesus, that I may trust in him with my whole heart. Amen.” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, page 134)

When we pray, do we pray to God or Jesus?

The Bible teaches that there are three persons—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—and yet one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 8:4). This means that if we pray to the Father, we are praying to God. If we pray to Jesus, we are praying to God. If we pray to the Holy Spirit, we are praying to God.

When it comes to our prayer life, we can address God. We can also address specifically the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit.

What a rich blessing we enjoy with God’s gift of prayer! God speaks to us through his word, and he enables us to speak to him in prayer.

Hello. I am in my 50's. I was raised Catholic, 'officially' left the church at age 18, belonged to no church or nondenominational churches, then went back to the Catholic church a few years ago. I stopped attending after feeling a failure at doing all that was required to be a Catholic, emphasis on 'doing.' I have recently been wanting to attend a church again but, after the recently revealed comments about homosexuality and the acceptance of that lifestyle by Pope Francis, I have rid myself of any lingering doubts that the Catholic church expresses God's will for our salvation most accurately. My question is this: where does WELS draw the line when praying with Christians of other denominations? For example, when Christians in a city hold a vigil against abortion, or peace throughout the world? When my family (parents, siblings, etc.) are together for a meal, we pray out loud, "Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, through thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen." Is it really wrong to join in universal pray with other Christians with prayers that we all agree on? I ask because I have been looking at both the LCMS & WELS churches to become my lasting earthly, spiritual, home. Thank you for your time.

“Whether we worship together, commune together, pray together or do church work together, a unity on the basis of God’s word is necessary.”

That quotation is from a brief paper that would be valuable for you to read, as it provides a more in-depth response to your questions than can be done through this question and answer service. The paper is from the Essay File of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and is available here.

When it comes to common prayers, you will want to keep in mind that it is not the content of a prayer or the form of a prayer that determines whether or not we pray with others. The usage of a common prayer does not suspend scriptural fellowship principles (Romans 16:17-18; Ephesians 4:3-6; 2 John 10-11).

Beyond reading the paper mentioned above, the best way to receive answers to your questions is by speaking to one of our pastors. I encourage you to do that. He could also explain the route to church membership. God’s blessings to you.

Having been chosen by God, we of course are given the peace of knowing eventually we’ll be in heaven, regardless of what happens on earth. But while we are on earth, especially those of us who are young and have quite a while, do those people less fortunate in terms of physical and mental well-being have any teachings to rest their hope on? I do understand that good things come out of bad situations. We can learn and use them to help others and learn to rest on God instead of earthly things. But I’m wondering, when we pray persistently and faithfully that, if it is his will, he delivers us from whatever kind of suffering or poverty we may be facing, is that something we have any scriptural grounds to be hopeful for when we pray for that? Or is it something we shouldn’t focus on? A lot of devotions I see focus on having hope for after we die as an answer to our earthly suffering. While I plan to continuously stay reminded of that, at the same time, I want to know how I should approach and view the here and now too. I’ve been trying to understand verses such as Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 12:12, 1 Peter‬ ‭5:10. Thank you.

Prayer is a great privilege Christians have. Through prayer, we can communicate with God. That communication can include petitions, requests, that we present to God. “Can we pray for deliverance from temporal suffering or poverty?” you ask. We certainly can.

Think of the last petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil.” Luther explained the petition this way in his Catechism: “In conclusion, we pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would deliver us from every evil that threatens body and soul, property and reputation, and finally when our last hour comes, grant us a blessed end and graciously take us from this world of sorrow to himself in heaven.” In that petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for final deliverance from this world of sin, but we also pray for deliverance from earthly troubles before death takes place. Since we do not know what God might have in mind for us, we pray with the attitude and words of “your will be done.”

2 Thessalonians 3:2 gives us an example of someone praying for deliverance from earthly troubles. In fact, the apostle Paul was requesting the prayers of fellow believers for that purpose. We find a similar request in Romans 15:31. Matthew 26:39 informs us that Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father for the “cup of suffering” to be removed from his life. But he prayed, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Jeremiah 29:11 is often taken out of context. The verse contains a specific promise made to the exiles who were in Babylon. Romans 12:12 encourages us to be “patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.” Such prayer can also include requests for God to alleviate or remove our affliction, if that is his will. 1 Peter 5:10 reminds us that our earthly troubles are temporary; a glorious future awaits.

So, keep offering “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving” to God (1 Timothy 2:1). Be assured that God hears and answers all the prayers of his children.

I was a WELS Lutheran. (Now, I attend a Missouri Synod church.) One thing that I still feel I need a better understanding, and was part of the reason I felt called to leave the synod, is praying with family. Why does WELS feel it is incorrect for me to say a table prayer or the Lord's prayer with my Christian brothers and sisters? Thanks in advance for helping me understand your perspective.

It would be beneficial for you to read a thorough explanation of what the Bible teaches regarding fellowship, including prayer fellowship.

Church Fellowship, available from Northwestern Publishing House, provides such an explanation. Here is an excerpt: “The New Testament does not treat prayer fellowship separately from other forms of fellowship. Prayer as an act of fellowship is simply treated as one element among many others. The early Christians ‘devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer’ (Acts 2:42). There is, therefore, nothing in Scripture to suggest that prayer should be treated any differently from any other expression of fellowship. Since God-pleasing prayer always flows from faith, every prayer is an expression of faith and therefore an act of worship” (pages 48 and 49).

Hello! I remember being taught in Confirmation class in the 70s that God does not listen to the "prayers" of non-Christians, and that they are not real prayers at all. Has the WELS changed its stance on this, or is my recollection faulty? Thank you.

Your recollection is correct. The Bible teaches that there is only one God, the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; other “gods” do not exist (Isaiah 43:11).

The Bible teaches that God hears and answers the prayers of only those who are joined to him in faith (Psalm 34:15-16; Hebrews 11:6; 1 Peter 3:12). In the sermon on the mount Jesus explained that the prayers of unbelievers amount to “babbling” (Matthew 6:7). The prayers of non-Christians are words addressed to gods who do not exist, and so they are meaningless and idle words.

Because this is the timeless message of the Bible, the “stance” of our synod has not changed.

But rather than ending my response at this point, I do want you to know that we strive to share God’s word with people in our country and throughout the world, so that they may know Jesus Christ in faith, enjoy his salvation and then, with your question in mind, know with certainty that the true God hears and answers their prayers as his children in faith. The conversion of others is what we express in this prayer: “O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth and have sent your messengers to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near. Grant that by the witness of your Church many may be brought into your kingdom and worship you, the only true God; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Christian Worship: Manual, p. 476)

If God is going to do His will according to the plan He has for you, what's the point of praying?

We pray because God invites and directs us to pray to him (Matthew 7:7; Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).  We pray because God promises that he will hear and answer our prayers (Psalm 50:15; 91:15; John 15:7).  We pray because God tells us that prayer is “powerful and effective” (James 5:16).  That same section of James illustrates how God acted on Elijah’s prayers.  We have many reasons to pray to our God.

Your question addresses the kinds of prayers that we call “petitions,” prayers in which we make requests of God.  You know that we utilize prayer for other reasons though.  We pray to God to give thanks to him.  We pray to God to communicate, among other things, our thoughts, our fears, and our concerns.  Prayer is finally communication with God.  As we communicate with other people daily on a variety of issues and subjects, so we have opportunity to converse with God about the issues of life—and to do that daily.

We may not understand all the mysteries of God’s will, but this part of his will we do know:  he wants us to employ the privilege of prayer.  God speaks to us through his Word, and through prayer he makes it possible for us to speak to him.  He wants us to pray, and he delights in our prayers.  “The prayer of the upright pleases him [God]” (Proverbs 15:8).

Hello! Is it OK that I do the sign of the cross before and after I pray? Also, may I ask why do we say, "In your Son's name" or "In Jesus' name," etc.? Thanks!

Martin Luther would be happy with your practice of the sign of the cross.  In his Small Catechism (in the Concordia Triglotta) he included this preface to the Morning Prayer:  “In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:  In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen.  Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer” [which we know as Luther’s Morning Prayer].

Similar wording precedes his Evening Prayer:  “In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:  In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen.  Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer” [which we know as Luther’s Evening Prayer].

Making the sign of the cross—in the morning, in the evening, before and after prayers—is purely optional for Christians.  God does not command nor forbid it.  (We call that an adiaphoron).  If that practice is beneficial for you in that it reminds you that you are a redeemed child of God, maintain it.  Of course, ask yourself the reason why you have that practice.

As far as praying “in Jesus’ name,” we use those words in our prayers, or we pray with that attitude without using those specific words, because we recognize that it is only through Jesus that we can approach our God in prayer (John 1:12; 14:6; 16:23; Galatians 3:26-27; Ephesians 3:12).

I grew up in a WELS church that had a church bell that they rang every Sunday at the beginning of the service, then they tolled the bell 3 times during the Lord's Prayer. Could you tell me the meaning behind the Lord's Prayer toll?

I grew up with a similar experience.  Medieval monks are credited with the custom of ringing a bell three times during the Lord’s Prayer.  The idea was to alert people in the area surrounding the monastery or church that the Lord’s Prayer was being spoken in those buildings and they could join in from a distance.  The bell peal at the beginning, middle and end of the Lord’s Prayer helped those distant prayers keep pace with those who were praying the prayer inside the buildings.

Today that custom of ringing the church bell three times during the Lord’s Prayer has largely lost its practical function in our society, but it still adds beauty and dignity to our worship.  And, like the ringing of the bell at the start of the worship service, it is a reminder to the church’s community that corporate worship is taking place.  One of our hymns puts it this way:  “Bells still are chiming and calling, Calling the young and old to rest” (CW 529:1).  Jesus wants to give the weary rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28), and so we invite sinners to find rest for their souls through the gospel—even inviting them by the ringing of church bells.

Why don't we ask Mary (the mother of Jesus) and dead Saints to pray for us as well as praying to Jesus? Is there somewhere in the Bible that says we shouldn't or that somehow Jesus' mother is not an important person?

The fact that a person is important has nothing to do with whether we are to pray to that one. People living on earth can do things to help us, but only God can answer prayer. The first commandment forbids us to worship and pray to anyone except God. To pray to any person as we pray to God is idolatry.

The dead in heaven cannot hear us. They are removed from the earth, so it does no good to pray to them. Also, there is no need to pray to them. We can pray directly to God as Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer. When we can pray to God himself, why would we want to pray to a man or woman?

Jesus is God. The dead saints are just that—dead saints. Why would we pray to dead saints (even those in heaven) when we can pray to the living God who invites our prayer and promises to hear us (Psalm 50:15)?

I have two loved ones who are battling cancer, and I don't know how to pray for them. Do I ask for their healing even though it looks grim? I know God's will is already known to him . . . so do I ask for a miracle? How and what do I pray to our Lord for?

There is no doubt that the Lord is presenting you with some challenging situations. Knowing how to pray is not always an easy task. We want to accept God’s will and his providence over our lives and the lives of our loved ones. But we realize that he also invites us to pray.

We may wonder why God does this, especially if he knows what he is going to do anyway. Here we simply have to trust that our prayers do make a difference because God says they do. He tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Hezekiah even gives us an example of how God altered his course of action because of the prayer of one of his people (Isaiah 38). Our prayers make a difference. They play a part in God’s governance of the world.

Let’s explore what God’s Word says about how we should pray. The Lord invites us to “call upon him” (Psalm 50:15) and to “cast all our anxiety on him” (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus adds, “My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 16:23). Although it may sound as though Jesus is giving us a blank check, we understand his words alongside of other sections of Scripture where God teaches us that we always pray with the attitude, “Not my will but yours be done” (Matthew 6:10; James 4:13-15). However, these passages do point out that we are to pray with confidence, knowing that we can ask for anything and that God will hear that prayer and consider our request. In Philippians 4:6 the apostle Paul states, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

You certainly have some matters that are weighing heavily on your heart and mind. God invites you to bring these matters to him in prayer. He also adds that you can ask for what may seem impossible recognizing that what may seem impossible to us is possible for God (Matthew 19:26).

Considering these passages, it is appropriate for you to pray for a miracle in the lives of your loved ones. You can pray that the Lord will heal them from their cancer. But as you pray for this miracle you accept the fact that God may not work a miracle in this case. This does not mean God did not hear your request. It does not mean that God did not answer your prayer. God always hears our prayers and answers them. But when he doesn’t give us what we want, he gives us something better. That is not always easy to understand in this life. We may not see how God is giving us something better by allowing a loved one to suffer through an illness and perhaps even die from that disease. Yet we have his promise that he will do what is best for us and our loved ones.

Is it okay to pray for a miraculous healing?

It is proper to pray for healing and to ask your pastor or a fellow Christian to join you in such prayers. Nowhere has Scripture declared that divine healings have ceased, nor has Scripture anywhere advised that we should not include such matters in our prayers.

It is wise, however, to have realistic expectations. Not all the sick and dying were healed when our Lord served among people, and not everyone was healed among the apostles or those they served. Paul was denied healing of a physical ailment he asked to be removed (2 Corinthians 12:8-10), Paul’s coworker Epaphroditus almost died and was not quickly healed (Philippians 2:25). Trophimus was not miraculously healed (2 Timothy 4:20), and Timothy was instructed to use medicinal remedies rather than being healed (1 Timothy 5:23). God has always been selective and has not given a guaranteed promise of miraculous healing to his dearly loved people. Since the time of the apostles, the phenomenon of miraculous healings has apparently substantially decreased in number. Perhaps this is because one of the purposes of miracles is no longer needed. Originally God provided them to substantiate the trustworthiness and truth of the Apostolic New Testament (Mark 16:20).

When you pray for healing, do so as a humble child of God and ask that God’s will be done—and tell him you pray that healing is indeed his will. Ask confidently, knowing that he is not only fully able to heal but also able to sustain you in illness and use sickness for your spiritual and eternal good as well as for his glory.

Hello! I was in a Faith/Spirtuality class. The instructor is Roman Catholic. She made a statement that she had recently learned that Lutherans do not pray for the dead and that she can't believe that we do not. How do we Lutherans know that they went to heaven. She needs all the prayers she can get both now and forever. She needs to be cleansed. She could not wrap her finger around our choice not to. Please explain so I have clarity. Thanks!

We do not pray for those who have died because in the case of Christians those prayers are unnecessary, and in regard to unbelievers those prayers are futile.

When death occurs, judgment also takes place (Luke 16:19-31; Hebrews 9:27).  When people die, their souls are immediately in heaven or hell.  There is no intermediate state.  There is no need to pray for anyone who is in heaven; theirs is a perfect existence in the presence of God.  It would do no good to pray for someone whom we believe to be in hell; God’s judgment is final and our prayers would not affect their condition.

Of course, if people misunderstand what the Bible says about salvation, they will likely misuse prayer in praying for those who have died.  If people think that they—in any way—contribute to their salvation, there will be doubt.  Questions and requests like these might then arise:  “Have I done enough?” “Can I do enough?”  “Do something for me after I die, like praying for me.”

How sad that is.  Scripture presents salvation as an accomplished fact and truth.  Jesus lived up to his name which means “Savior.”  He won our salvation.  He announced that on the cross when he cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  Salvation is God’s doing (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-7).  Because Jesus did everything necessary for our salvation, Christians can be absolutely sure that when death comes, they will be in heaven.  We have the Lord’s own word on that (Mark 16:16; John 3:16; 5:24).

Is it OK that I do the sign of the cross before and after I pray? Also, may I ask why do we say, "In your Son's name" or "In Jesus' name," etc.? Thanks!

Martin Luther would be happy with your practice of the sign of the cross.  In his Small Catechism (in the Concordia Triglotta) he included this preface to the Morning Prayer:  “In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:  In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen.  Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer” [which we know as Luther’s Morning Prayer].

Similar wording precedes his Evening Prayer:  “In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:  In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen.  Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer” [which we know as Luther’s Evening Prayer].

Making the sign of the cross—in the morning, in the evening, before and after prayers—is purely optional for Christians.  God does not command nor forbid it.  (We call that an adiaphoron).  If that practice is beneficial for you in that it reminds you that you are a redeemed child of God, maintain it.  Of course, ask yourself the reason why you have that practice.

As far as praying “in Jesus’ name,” we use those words in our prayers, or we pray with that attitude without using those specific words, because we recognize that it is only through Jesus that we can approach our God in prayer (John 1:12; 14:6; 16:23; Galatians 3:26-27; Ephesians 3:12).

I have heard people say, "I was praying in the spirit," and am wondering if this is something different than regular praying. How do you define "praying in the spirit"? Also, I have recently been approached by a friend who is suggesting that we should "pray in tongues." This is private prayer versus the public speaking in tongues and supposedly a deeper prayer language given by God. I don't get it and would appreciate your thoughts on this. Thank you.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”  That is the instruction we find in Ephesians 6:18.  It comes right after the directive to “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).  The Holy Spirit is vitally important in our faith.  The only access to God the Father is through faith in Jesus his Son (John 14:6), but no one is able to confess faith in Jesus without the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart (1 Corinthians 12:3).  To “pray in the Spirit” is to pray to God in the faith the Holy Spirit has created in the heart.

Some churches and individuals believe that praying “in the Spirit” is done by praying “in tongues.”  By “tongues” they usually mean language that is unintelligible to others and, perhaps, even them.  While God of course can do anything, there is nothing in Scripture that tells us to expect the gift of immediately speaking in known, intelligible languages as in Acts 2.  Nor does Scripture speak of our need to communicate with God in syllables that are mysterious to others and us.

Prayer is a wonderful gift from God.  It enables us to communicate with him.  How much more wonderful is the communication between God and us!  God communicates to us through his word; he comes to us in word and sacrament.  It is through his gospel—his communication to us—that God deepens our faith.

How does the WELS promote active participation in prayer? Much of our service is so scripted (all for good reason I know) and so are additional prayers for before and after Communion, baptism, opening/ close of day, or before dinner. I think back to my WELS grade school days - our devotions and our Christ-Light book prayers were scripted as well. It is one thing to have prayer examples so that something important in our prayers to God aren't missed, but I'll speak for myself, and likely others, that it is so repeated that sometimes I fail to focus, to listen, and truly pray from the heart. I can't help but see a disconnect. My point is that the WELS is near and dear to my heart, and has given me a heart for Jesus, but I believe that we aren't taught to actively pray to the Lord. I don't understand why other denominations or non-denominational individuals feel so free to pray off the cuff. Are there any initiatives on this? If not, I'm strongly interested in hearing your comments. Thank you!

My response will address “prepared prayers” in worship services and the teaching of prayer in general.  I hope that is adequate.

You already acknowledge good reason for “scripting” parts of our worship service.  In Christian freedom our pastors—in worship services—can offer prayers that they or others have written ahead of time, or they can speak prayers that are not written out.  While many pastors offer ex corde prayers in settings such as meetings, Bible classes, visits to hospitals, nursing homes and private residences, they often prepare prayers as part of their general worship service preparation.  Such prayer preparation can offer the same advantage as writing out the sermon:  the pastor will be able to choose his words ahead of time, and there is less likelihood of using the same words and phrases.  In addition, this preparation can reduce and eliminate the worshipers’ uncomfortableness and sense of awkwardness when the person praying is trying to find the right words.

On the other hand, there are pastors who can offer ex corde prayers week after week in worship services with freshness and variety, and with ease.  For them, printed prayers are a luxury more than a necessity for their role as worship leader.

I have used the terminology ex corde without explaining it for others who may read your question and this response.  Ex corde refers to praying “from the heart,” when there is no printed prayer in front of a person.  Obviously I have no problem with that definition.  What can concern me is when people think an ex corde prayer is more spiritual—or better—than a prayer that has been written out—by the person praying or by someone else.  That is when I like to say this:  even when I use a prayer that someone else wrote, that is as much of a prayer “from the heart” as the prayers that are called “ex corde.”  And, incidentally, using prayers written by others will often take me out of my own little world and lead me to pray for other people and for other things.

Regarding the teaching of prayer in WELS, I can only comment on what I see and hear.  When I go through the book of James with college students, I ask them what others have taught them about prayer:  how to have a balanced prayer life in offering “prayers, petitions, intercession, and thanksgiving…for all people (2 Timothy 2:1).  I regularly hear acronyms and memory hooks that can guide them in their prayer life.

Could we do better in our teaching and modeling of Christian prayer?  Certainly.  We can do better and grow in all aspects of our Christian life.

What we want to keep teaching is that prayer is the privilege God has given us whereby we can speak to him; prayer is a conversation we have with God.  He speaks to us through the word, and we speak to him in prayer.   Because of God’s invitation to pray and his promise to hear and answer our prayers, we can come boldly to him with our “prayers, petitions, intercession, and thanksgiving.”

I often read in Christian publications and in our own WELS literature the phrase "for Jesus' sake." This often appears at the end of written prayers and in the prayers said at the altar in my home church. I really bristle at this. For Jesus' sake? Really? He is holy and gave us eternal life through His holy blood. Jesus doesn't need us to pray for him. It is we poor sinners who need prayers of intercession. As a life-long WELS member, I finally have to ask, what does this phrase mean, as I obviously am missing the meaning?

Your question illustrates how words can have multiple meanings.  “Sake” can mean “for the benefit of” or “on account of.”

The expression “for Jesus’ sake” at the end of prayers does not intend to say that we are praying for (“for the benefit of”) Jesus.  “For Jesus’ sake” means that we are coming to God in prayer, not pleading our own merits, but (“on account of”) Jesus’ merits.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  When we end our prayers with “for Jesus’ sake,” we are acknowledging that Jesus is the one who has bridged the gap between a holy God and sinners.  “For Jesus’ sake” has the idea of asking that our prayers be heard and answered, not because of who we are but because of who Jesus is.  And of course whether or not we use that expression, that thought is foundational to all our prayers.

So, keep presenting your “requests, prayers and intercession” (1 Timothy 2:1) to God.  God will hear and answer your prayers for Jesus’ sake, because he has “reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Mark 11:24, especially in the KJV, states that whatever you ask for in prayer will be answered. How can you put this passage in perspective of when you pray for a specific thing that is not happening or will not happen, such as healing of a serious or terminal illness?

What we need to do is take that promise of answered prayer in Mark 11 and keep it in the context of what God says elsewhere in Scripture about prayer.

When it comes to praying about our physical health and other bodily needs, we pray with the attitude of “your will be done” (Matthew 6:10; James 4:13-15). We can boldly and confidently pray for good health and recovery from sickness, but we offer those prayers with the trust that God knows what is best for us and will do what is best for us.

Sometimes God’s answer to prayer—and repeated prayer (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)—is “no.” In that case, he has something even better in store for us. Such an answer from God is reason to praise him. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20)

So, keep bringing your “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 2:1) to God. You have his word that he will hear your prayers and answer them in the best way and at the best time.

Sometimes when I am struggling with something, I will say a prayer asking God to show me what I need to hear, and then I will open the Bible and see what it says on the pages I opened up to. Sometimes it seems to fit the situation and be encouraging, sometimes it doesn't seem to fit, and sometimes it is discouraging. Is it okay to do this? And am I just missing God's point when I don't see how it fits my situation?

Sometimes people do not know where to start reading in the Bible, so they do what you describe. They say, “Lord, show me where you want me to read” and randomly open their Bible and start reading wherever the Bible happens to open. This has long been known as the “lucky dip” method. The Lord could give blessing in this way, but we have no promise (or Bible example) that he will. In general it is not the best way to read his Word.

To show some of the dangers in the “lucky dip” method, consider the following illustration that has been around for generations: The story is told of a man who used this method. The first verse he happened to turn to was Matthew 27:5 which says Judas “went away and hanged himself.” Since he was not sure how this verse applied to himself, he flipped to another passage and the Bible fell open to Luke 10:37: “Jesus told him, Go, and do likewise.” The man was quite upset and he did not know how he could ever obey that, so he decided to turn to one more place. Again he opened the Bible at random and to his horror his finger fell upon John 13:27: “What you are about to do, do quickly.” Each of the verses are taken out of their context and end up giving messages that are not helpful or suitable.

Here are a few encouragements that have been around a long time. They point to a better and richer way to use the Bible.

  • Read systematically. When we read a book, a story, a letter or an essay, we generally start at the beginning and read through until we get to the end. This is how the writer wrote it, and this is the best way to read it. The same should be true with the books of the Bible. The best way to read is to start at the beginning of a book and continue until you get to the end. When Paul wrote the book of Romans, he did not write chapter 13 first and then chapter 8. He began with chapter 1 and then wrote chapter 2, etc. Shouldn’t we read it this way to enjoy his message?
  • Read carefully. Pay close attention to each word. Be careful not to let your mind start to daydream. (To check this you can always ask yourself: What did I just read?)
  • Read inquisitively. As you read the Bible, be asking questions such as these: Who is the author or speaker? To whom is the passage written or who is the speaker addressing? What are the main ideas? Other key questions that will help to bring out the meaning of the passage as are follows: Is there any command to obey? Is there any promise to believe? Is there a good example to follow? Is there any sin to avoid? Do I learn anything about God? Do I learn anything about humans—me? Is there anything I can thank God for?
  • Read lovingly. Think of a young woman in love with her fiancé who is separated from her by many miles. How do you suppose she would read his love letters? As soon as the letter arrives in the mail she would open it and read it all the way through with great interest. Then she would likely read it again, this time slowly. She would think about every word. She would lovingly meditate upon every phrase and think to herself, “I wonder why he said this?” Even after she finishes reading the letter she would remember much of what was contained in the letter and she would continue thinking about it throughout the day. Read the Bible in that way! The Bible is God’s love letter to us.
  • Read prayerfully. Trust the Holy Spirit to teach you. Make it a habit to pray before you read. Psalm 119:18 is a good example of such a prayer. It is the Lord that gives understanding (2 Timothy 2:7). In this way the reading of God’s Word may serve as a constant source of joy and wisdom to your heart!

During the holidays I come into contact with relatives of other denominations. What is the WELS' position on praying with them? For example, at a Catholic sister's home they want to say grace before the meal. Are we not part of the "whole Christian church on earth"?

There is one Christian church (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 1:23; 4:12). It consists of people who trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior (Galatians 3:26). Because only God can look into the heart (1 Samuel 16:7) and see saving faith (2 Timothy 2:19), we call this the “invisible church.”

Since God alone can see what is in a person’s heart, you and I understand what people believe by their profession of faith. A person’s membership in a visible church (where you can see who the members are) is a profession of faith. Membership implies that the person’s faith and the church’s teachings are the same. From there, it is a matter of comparing the teachings of a person’s church with the Bible.

When there is unity in faith among people and the churches to which they belong, then we can worship together (Hebrews 10:24-25), pray with one another (Acts 2:42) and work together to proclaim God’s word (Joel 1:3; Mark 16:15).

When there is not unity of faith among people and the churches to which they belong, God instructs us to not practice religious fellowship with them (Romans 16:17-18; 2 John 10-11). That includes not praying with them.  While it can be painful to implement those instructions when it comes to family relationships, doing so lovingly can demonstrate that God comes first in life (Matthew 10:37-38).

The problematic scenario you described in your question can be resolved if the host of a gathering holds to the practices of his own family altar and does not put others in awkward or compromising situations by asking for their participation. If the host of a gathering offers prayer on his own, others can respectfully follow the guidance of Scripture and their conscience.

Chapter Seven of This We Believe, a statement of belief of our church body, addresses the subject of church fellowship in more detail. This link will take you to that chapter.

I am dealing with a friend who belongs to a community free church. He believes that all you need to do is just pray. I have been telling him that it is good to pray, but you need to take action. He prays about getting a house, but doesn't take any action to make it happen. Could you direct me to Bible passages or stories about this subject on prayer with action? Thank you.

A few sections of the Bible come to mind. In James 5:14-15 the inspired writer instructs his readers who are physically sick to get medical help and to turn to the Lord in prayer. Seeking help for physical problems includes prayer with action.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus instructed his drowsy disciples to “watch and pray” (Matthew 26:41). Christian vigilance includes prayer with action.

When Nehemiah encountered opposition to rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, he prayed to God and posted a guard 24/7 (Nehemiah 4:9). That account illustrates how concern for our personal protection includes prayer with action.

I hope these sections of Scripture are helpful for you in your conversation with your friend.

If a non-WELS Christian leads a prayer with other non-WELS Christians and this person only reads the Lord's Prayer as the prayer, does this still constitute corporate prayer and therefore would preclude a WELS Christian from participating in the prayer? If there is more to the person's prayer, would it be wrong to participate in only the part in which the Lord's Prayer is recited?

It is not the content of a prayer or the form of a prayer that determines whether or not we pray with others. The usage of a common prayer does not suspend scriptural fellowship principles (Romans 16:17-18; Ephesians 4:3-6; 2 John 10-11).

We pray with others when there is oneness in faith. And when there is unity of faith, we can pray with a familiar prayer, like the Lord’s Prayer, or with other prayers.

Who is "your holy angel" in Luther's morning/evening prayer ?

The holy angels are those angels who did not join in with Satan and other angels in rebelling against God (2 Peter 2:4). The holy angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). The holy angels carry out God’s command “to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). The “holy angel” in Martin Luther’s prayers references any of the heavenly host whom God might choose to use to carry out his good and gracious will in our lives. Might God use a single angel on occasion? Yes. Might he use more than one angel on occasion? Yes.

The Bible does not state specifically that God has assigned a guardian angel to each Christian. While it would be comforting to know that God has matched one angel to us for life-time service and protection, it is even more comforting to know that God employs angels—plural—in his providential care of each Christian.

God’s gracious use of angels in our lives provides another reason for praising God. “Lord God, to you we all give praise; To you our joyful hymns we raise That angel hosts you did create Around your glorious throne to wait. But watchful is the angel band That follows Christ on ev’ry hand To guard his people where they go And break the counsel of the foe. O Lord, awaken songs of praise For angel hosts that guard our days; Teach us to serve you and adore As angels do forevermore.” (Christian Worship 196:1, 5-6)

What is Sozo prayer and WELS' stand on the subject? I am concerned for a family member who may be participating in Sozo. Thanks.

Sozo is the English transliteration of a Greek word meaning “to save, to rescue, to deliver.” It is a word in the New Testament that speaks of God’s powerful love for people. Unfortunately, some people have co-opted that word for a ministry about which you are rightly concerned.

Sozo ministry describes itself as “a unique inner healing and deliverance ministry aimed to get to the root of things hindering your personal connection with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. With a healed connection, you can walk in the destiny to which you have been called.” The premise of the ministry is that people have created false beliefs based on emotional wounds from the past. Healing supposedly results from sessions in which individuals recall and confess specific sins that have caused resulting problems, and identify and renounce satanic lies.

Obviously, God’s will is that we confess our sins (Luke 13:1-5; Acts 3:19), but the descriptions of the sessions of Sozo ministry portray God communicating to people and strengthening them spiritually apart from the means of grace. “The leading of the Holy Spirit” is prominent, as the individuals seeking help enter a near-trancelike state.

It is helpful to recognize that Sozo ministry originated with Randy Clark, a healing evangelist who is associated with the “holy laughter” movement.

You would do well to speak to your family member. Ask questions for greater understanding of the situation. Point out the dangers of that ministry, and direct your family member back to Scripture. If your family member is in need of Christian counseling, suggest that he or she go that route for help and not a ministry that misrepresents God and his word. God bless you.

My grown child is stumbling greatly in her faith. Though I understand that God predestines some for heaven and does not do the opposite, I find myself stumbling in my prayers for her. I'm afraid that if she wasn't chosen for heaven, my prayers for her are useless. How can I accept his will, if that means my daughter will be in hell? At the same time, I know God doesn't want anyone in hell. I find myself going in circles. What should my prayer be? How can I be at peace about this?

Because I do not know many of the details of your situation, I hope my response will be applicable.

A starting point is that faith is strengthened through word and sacrament. Is your daughter in touch with God’s word? Is she attending worship services? Are there Christian influences in her life? If the answer is “no” to any of those questions, that is something for you to address with your daughter. Also, please don’t underestimate your own Christian example and influence.

Regarding your prayer life, keep praying for your daughter. None of us can peer into the heart of another person. Pray that your daughter sees life and uses life the way God has intended, and that she uses wisely the time of grace God has given her.

Jesus certainly cares about those who stumble in the faith. In his gentle treatment of people during his earthly ministry, Jesus fulfilled the prophet Isaiah’s words about him: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3: Matthew 12:20). Jesus does not want to snuff out faith that is flickering; he wants to fan it into flame. But that’s where the Bible and the sacrament of Holy Communion enter the picture: the Lord strengthens faith through his gospel. That’s why you want your daughter to be in contact with the gospel in word and sacrament.

Be reminded that faith in Jesus saves. The weakest of Christian faith saves. That’s because salvation does not depend on the strength of our faith. Salvation depends on the strength of our Savior, and there’s no one more powerful than him. He has defeated sin, death and hell for all, including your daughter.

Be reminded also of God’s general promise:  “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

You would benefit from having a conversation with your pastor. Do contact him. God bless you and your daughter.

Many times as I am riding my motorcycle through the countryside, I talk to God and thank him for the beauty of his wonderful creation: the beautiful blue skies, the majestic clouds, the rolling landscapes, the green crops in the fields, and even the wonderful smells in the fresh air of the countryside. These are little things that are often overlooked when traveling by four wheels, and I thank God for them as I am riding on my motorcycle. Is it okay to talk/pray to God in this manner or should our prayers and conversations with God be more formal with our heads bowed, eyes closed and our hands folded? Thank you.

While the Bible describes different prayer postures (bowing – Exodus 34:8; kneeling – 1 Kings 8:54; standing – Mark 11:25; lifting up hands – 1 Kings 8:54), it does not command us to follow a certain posture. And in the scenario you describe, that is a good thing!

It might be helpful to be reminded what prayer is: it is conversation with God. Prayer can include “petitions…intercession and thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 2:1). Conversations with God are not limited to certain times of the day, designated places or restricted topics. Think of prayer as a running conversation with God throughout the day and night. As you see the beauties of creation, for example, you tell him how kind and good he is to care for the world he created. As you see someone in need, for example, you ask him to care for that person—through your efforts and the efforts of others. If we see prayer as a running conversation with God throughout the day, we will move beyond any thinking that prayer is limited to times and circumstances, and regulated by postures.

So, keep enjoying the beauties of God’s creation on your rides. Keep telling God how much you appreciate how he fills your world with beauty. And be safe!

I'm attempting to write a devotion about prayer as an introduction to our group's prayer request cards. I'm a little stuck on this notion that I want to include in my devotion: What are the benefits of prayer to the person who is praying? And can you back it all up with Scripture references, please? I've been searching the web and finding discussions about prayer by many denominations, and I want to be sure I have something biblical. Thank you!

If we are going to think about benefits of prayer for the person who is praying, I could suggest the following. It is God’s will that Christians pray for others (1 Timothy 2:1). The new self in Christians desires to follow God’s will (Psalm 40:8). When we do pray for others, we can be reminded that we are doing what God wants.

Another benefit for the person praying is seeing prayers answered. God promises to hear and answer our prayers according to his wisdom (1 John 5:14-15). It is encouraging for the person who prays to see an answer to prayer in someone else’s life. That encouragement can lead the person praying to become ever more zealous in approaching God in prayer “with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12).

Finally, a benefit for the person who is praying for others is that the person is becoming more selfless (Philippians 2:4).

I began this brief response with the word “if.” I did that because I usually don’t think about the benefits I can derive by praying for others. I realize there can be pure motives in finding joy and satisfaction in doing God’s will, but consciously focusing on the benefits I can derive by praying for others, or helping them in other ways, can easily lead me to have the wrong motive for such actions. When it comes to an opportunity to do what God says, I find it easier to take the “Nike approach” and just do it.

I hope I was able to give you some help for your devotion. God’s blessings to you and your group.

Are there problems with praying for the blood of Jesus to protect our home, family, etc.?

There is certainly meaning in “the blood of Jesus,” isn’t there? The Bible makes statements like these: “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). “Since we have now been justified by his [Christ’s] blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:9) “In him [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7). “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).

Praying for “the blood of Jesus to protect our home, family, etc.” calls to mind the blood of the Passover lamb that was applied to the doorframes of the Israelites’ dwellings prior to the tenth plague (Exodus 12:7). Because the lamb pointed ahead to Jesus and his sacrificial work, it comes as no surprise that the New Testament identifies Jesus as “our Passover lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7).

“Are there problems with praying for the blood of Jesus to protect our home, family, etc.?” you wonder. A “problem” I could foresee, since we do not typically use that terminology, would be confusion in the minds of others with whom you shared the contents of your prayer life. Those people might wonder what you mean by that expression. Their questions would give you an opportunity to explain what you mean.

Another issue is that someone might wrongly identify you with part of the Christian world today that is known for “pleading the blood of Jesus” in their prayers. Some of those people put a great deal of emphasis on the person praying in order for the prayer “to work.” There is even a detailed plan and a web site to explain how to “plead the blood of Jesus.” A Christian known to be using the prayer language of others can wrongly be identified with them and their theology.

Beyond those “problems” of misunderstanding, we certainly enjoy a great deal of freedom in formulating our prayers to God for his protection and guidance. The “blood of Jesus” fits into that freedom.

Based on Zechariah 1:12-13, is it correct to say that "angels pray for us (i.e., for Christians)"? Thank you!

We know from the Bible that angels do praise and worship God (Isaiah 6:2-3; Luke 2:13-14; Revelation 5:11-14). Angels rejoice when the Holy Spirit leads sinners to repentance (Luke 15:10).

There are no biblical references to created angels offering petitions to God. The angel in Zechariah 1:12 is the angel of the Lord, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ before his incarnation. That Scripture verse gives us a glimpse into a conversation within the Godhead. The angel of Zechariah 1:13 is the angel referenced four verses earlier.

Zechariah chapter one does not teach that angels pray for Christians. Other parts of Scripture speak of something far greater than that—the fact that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, intercedes on behalf of his followers. In John 17:20-26 Jesus prayed for his followers of all time. Romans 8:34 tells us that Jesus intercedes for us. Hebrews 7:25 speaks of that intercession. 1 John 2:1 does the same. How humbling and comforting it is to know that you and I are part of the Lord’s conversations with his Father.

There have been recent press mentions about a possible mistranslation of the "Lead us not into temptation" petition in the Lord's Prayer. Does WELS have a comment or position on this issue?

There is no mistranslation involved in the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. “Lead us not into temptation” is an accurate translation of the Greek. The verb can mean “lead, bring in or carry in.” The challenge can be answering the question: “What does this mean?”

I cannot improve on Martin Luther’s answer to that question in his Small Catechism: “God surely tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or lead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins; and though we are tempted by them, we pray that we may overcome and win the victory.”

Luther offered similar thoughts in his Large Catechism: “This, then is leading us not into temptation, to wit, when He gives us power and strength to resist, the temptation, however, not being taken away or removed. For while we live in the flesh and have the devil about us, no one can escape temptation and allurements; and it cannot be otherwise than that we must endure trials, yea, be engulfed in them; but we pray for this, that we may not fall and be drowned in them.”

Luther’s thoughts point to James 1:13-15: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Scripture clearly teaches that God does not tempt anyone to sin. Scripture plainly identifies Satan as “the tempter” (Matthew 4:3). When we use the prayer Jesus taught us, we do what he first told his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Mark 14:38).

As we let “Scripture interpret Scripture,” we understand what “Lead us not into temptation” means and does not mean. That approach to biblical interpretation helps us understand other Bible passages that, on the surface, can be confusing.