I recently listened to an Issues Etc edition on prayer (above), and I thought there were some very helpful and insightful points in there. Over all, I really enjoyed it. But I would like to respectfully offer a contribution to the conversation. The following is a revision of a post I wrote on propterchristum.blogspot.com.
God will in fact listen to the prayers of His own. He does not tell us to pray merely for moral support to remind ourselves that God is there and in control while He just does what He wants anyway. No, God actually listens to your prayers, sanctifies them, and answers them. And His answer is always yes.First, God listens. He has commanded us to pray, and He promises to hear us. So He listens. He listens to the pleas of mercy for your body and your soul. Sometimes it feels like your body is getting worse and worse. You see loved ones die, and you wonder if God really heard their prayers. But God has heard the prayers of His saints who have gone before us. And He does hear the prayers of the saints today.
God sanctifies our prayers. Paul writes in Romans 8:26 that the Spirit intercedes for us when we pray. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us through His Word and Sacraments, and He thus sanctifies our prayers. So you might pray that Susie Smith will go out with you. The Spirit might sanctifiy that prayer that God would provide for you a good wife, not necessarily Susie Smith. Or maybe the Spirit sanctifies that prayer that God would simply provide for your bodily needs. And then the Holy Spirit teaches us by His Word what we are to pray for by pointing us, for example, to the prayer which our Lord Jesus taught us, and pointing you to the promises of God. Then, the Holy Spirit strengthens you through the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, which all flow from and receive their efficacy from the vicarious Atonement of the sinless Son of God. This forgiveness is not only the ultimate answer to prayers, but by this, He reminds you who your Heavenly Father is — better yet, He reveals your Heavenly Father to you — that He is a God who forgives. And if He has forgiven you, you may know that He wants to hear your prayers.
God answers prayers. St. John describes Jesus in chapter 17 praying to the Father. He asks that the Father would glorify Him, and for your sake, God glorified Him by first of all having Him lifted up on the cross. He was lifted up, and in this way, God loved the world by giving His only Son into death for the sins of all. He gives to all believers the right to be called children of God. So if God answered the prayer of His only Son, and you are united with His Son through the grace and faith of your Baptism, then God certainly answers your prayers. What a thing for Jesus to pray for! He prayed that the entire plan of Salvation would be fulfilled in Him! Hanging on a cross and pierced for our transgressions, we see that God has given to Jesus what He has desired and asked for. He desired death so that you may live! That is His glory, and that is God’s answer to you! So pray! Because God answers.
Finally, God always says yes to His believers. The fact that God answers our prayers is not very comforting unless His answer is yes. When it seems like God didn’t answer your prayers, you might hear explanations from others that God did answer, and He simply said no or not yet. But God says yes! Jesus is His yes to us! Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that all the promises of God find their yes in Jesus. These are the promises of God, and one of them includes Jesus’ words that “whatever you ask the Father in His Name, He will give to you”, and “Ask, and you shall receive…” (John 16:23-24) But what about Paul’s prayer to God to take away his affliction (2 Cor 12:8-9)? God said that His grace is sufficient for him, and that His power is made perfect in weakness. The answer was yes, maybe not from carnal eyes or ears, but to faith, the answer was yes. Paul by faith already possessed the promises of God; even though he pressed on to make them his own, Christ has already made him His own (Phil 3:12).
In Jesus’ Name, we find healing from all sickness, the raising of the dead, the feeding of our bodies and our souls, and even the calming of storms. All of these miracles of Jesus prove His divine authority over the remnants of sin that have corrupted His creation. Through Him all things were made that were made, and as Paul Gerhardt writes, the Father “lays the One into the grave who built the earth’s foundation.” Yes, Jesus restores creation, and this is not by means of a gradual change through a pious expression of Christ’s presence through a covenant with His Church. No, He did this by dying for your sins and rising for your justification. He does this by forgiving you your sins. How does Jesus establish His Church and preserve her in unity? By the bond of peace, that is, the forgiveness of sins, the promise of the Holy Spirit! (John 20:21-23; Eph 4:3) If your sins are forgiven, then all your prayers are answered whether you can see it or not.
And you cannot truly see it without eyes of faith. This is why Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)” Those who are born of the Spirit and live in the Spirit, that is, by faith in Christ, can look with confidence to Christ as God’s yes to all their prayers.
So if you are assailed by bodily sickness, financial burden, or family problems, then pray! Don’t think that these prayers will not be answered with a merciful yes. And if they seem like they have not been answered, ask yourself this question: Am I forgiven of my sins? And to find that answer, listen to the Word of God! The answer is yes! Yes you are forgiven, and you hear it and receive it whenever you go to Church! The cause of all family problems, diseases, and every heartache is sin, and it was placed on Christ. He gives you His righteousness in exchange, and from this flows every good thing. So seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, which is yours by faith, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)