From the Word
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.
John 16:23, RSV
The Lord points out five things necessary to constitute true prayer. The first is God’s promise, which is the chief thing and is the foundation and power of all prayers. He promises that it shall be given if we ask. He promises that we may be sure of being heard in prayer; he even censures the disciples for being lazy and not having prayed. It is truly a great shame to us Christians that God should upbraid us for our slothfulness in prayer.
The second requisite in true prayer is faith. We must believe that the promise is true, and must not doubt that God will give what he promises. The words of promise require faith — a firm, undoubting confidence that God’s promise is true. Such faith and definite assurance the Holy Spirit must impart; without the Holy Spirit surely no prayer will be offered.
The third requisite of true prayer is that one must name something definitely for which he prays, as for strong faith, love, peace, and for the comfort of his neighbor. One must actually set forth petitions as in the Lord’s Prayer.
The fourth element in prayer is, that we must earnestly desire that the petition be granted, which is nothing but asking. It is an intercession of the Spirit that cannot be uttered. When Zacchaeus sought to see the Lord, he did not feel how strongly his heart wished that Christ might speak with him and come into his house.
The fifth requisite of prayer is that we ask in the name of Christ. This is nothing more than that we come before God in the faith of Christ and comfort ourselves with the sure confidence that he is our Mediator, through whom all things are given to us and without whom we merit nothing but wrath and disgrace. We pray aright in Christ’s name, when we thus trust in him that we will be received and heard for his sake and not for our own.
All these five requisites may be complied with in the heart without any utterance of the mouth. But oral prayer is necessary to kindle and encourage prayer inwardly in the heart. We must not specify to God the time, place, person, and measure, but leave all that to his own free will and cling only to asking.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 176–77.