The Marks of the Church: Prayer, Praise, and Thanksgiving

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service

Dear people who pray, praise, and give thanks: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The true Christian church, or God’s holy people, is recognized by prayer, praise, and thanksgiving to God. God has given the command to pray, and He has given His promise that He will hear the prayers of His people. Thus, the church prays. God has sent His only Son to die for our sins and He gives us eternal life, so the church praises God for His salvation. God has poured out on His church both temporal and eternal blessings, so the church responds in thanksgiving. Therefore, you can recognize the true Christian church by prayer, praise, and thanksgiving to God.

The church prays. Not with unintelligible babbling that is fruitless for the mind. Not with lofty words of show. The church prays humbly, but with all boldness and confidence asking our heavenly Father as dear children ask their dear father. We can pray to God with all boldness and confidence because He has commanded us to pray and has promised to hear us. If even sinful fathers know how to respond to the requests of their children with good gifts, do you think God will do worse? If even sinful fathers won’t give their children things that are harmful, do you think God will give us what is harmful for us? Thus we can pray with all boldness and confidence. God will hear our prayers and answer in the way that is best.

The church praises God. Not with unintelligible babbling that is fruitless for the mind. Not with empty repetitions of meaningless nonsense. A great problem in Luther’s day was that the church conducted worship in Latin, even though the common people did not know Latin. Even nuns and monks who memorized services never knew what they were saying, so Luther called it droning that is not prayer or praise to God because they could not understand what they were saying and consequently could learn nothing from it.

The church in our day doesn’t have that same problem. Rather, we have everything in our native language, but so much of it is nonsense that it might as well be in a foreign language since we can learn nothing from it. Many congregations have discarded the divine liturgy and replaced it with the weekly whims of a music band. The best hymns that point to Christ and His means of grace have been replaced with empty songs that emphasize feelings and emotions. The best hymns that tell us about what Jesus has done for us have been replaced with songs about us.

We also have not been immune to this, even though we have been working on learning good hymns and weaning ourselves off the empty sentimental stuff, but it is a work in progress. It is an important work in progress, however, because it is important what the church of God sings.

Hymns teach, so it is important what they teach. Our hymns of prayer are prayers to God, and it is important what we pray. Our hymns of praise and thanksgiving are prayers to God, and we need to remind ourselves why we praise God and why we give Him thanks. We need to pay attention to what the hymns teach. Otherwise, with some hymns, we will be tempted to just look at the number of verses and complain that the hymn is too long and it will feel like a chore and burden to sing it.

The church of God prays, praises, and gives thanks. We gather primarily to receive God’s gifts to us in Baptism, Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar, but we also respond with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. If our prayer, praise, and thanksgiving is a response to God’s gifts, it should sound like a response to God’s gifts; it should draw our attention to God’s gifts.

Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving is not confined to the Divine Service, however. Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving also take place in the homes of the people of God, in hospital beds, in cars, wherever they are. First Thessalonians says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (5:16-18)

It is not easy to pray without ceasing. John Bunyan said, “Prayer will make a man cease to sin, as sin will make a man cease from prayer.” This is true. Sin is the reason why we don’t pray as much or as often as we should. When we fall into sin, we are hesitant to approach God immediately in prayer because of our guilty conscience. We struggle to pray to God for the removal of sin that our sinful flesh wishes to retain.

However, when we are in a continual spirit of prayer, we are always ready to pray. When good things happen to us, our first reaction is to pray. When bad things happen to us, our first reaction is to pray. When temptation comes, our first reaction is to pray. Prayer is critical for our relationship with God because it keeps Him and His will for us in mind, and reminds us that we are His holy people.

Only God’s holy people can pray. Romans 8 says, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” (v.14) How can someone pray to God when they do not know God? They cannot. Prayers to someone out there up high in the sky are not prayers to God. Only God’s children can pray to God.

Prayer is based on God’s promises in Christ Jesus. We can pray to God only through Jesus, because only He has died to forgive us our sins. We cannot pray to God on our own merits. The only reason why God hears our prayers is because our sins are covered by the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. God hears our prayers because of Jesus, and only because of Jesus.

Thus, it is a mark of the true Christian church that she prays, praises, and gives thanks to God. These all flow from the forgiveness of sins that God’s holy people have. Because we are forgiven, we pray. Because we are forgiven, we praise God. Because we are forgiven, we give thanks to God.

The Christian holy people is recognized by prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. Where people gather to pray, praise, and give thanks to God according to His Word, there is God’s holy people; there is the true Christian church. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

*Our midweek Lenten series is based on Martin Luther’s On the Councils and the Church, as found in the primer A Christian Holy People, which is available from Lutheran Press both affordably in print and free electronically (lutheranpress.com).

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