As I begin the New Year, I find myself meditating on the fruits of justification by faith, especially the great principle that it brings us access to God. Paul says that through Christ, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2a). The work of Christ opens the door to the Father. Once we stand before him, he assures us that he loves us and wants the relationship to continue. In this life, that relationship abides through prayer. We often know exactly how we want to speak to the Father, but as Paul says in Romans 8:26–27, at other times we may not be so sure. Then the Spirit guides our prayers:
For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
It is true that we don’t always know what to pray. Do we want to pursue a new job or a new opportunity at work, or not? We see a friend in a troubling romantic relationship. Shall we pray that the couple works through those problems, or that they end their connection? When we feel that someone has hurt us, we pray that the offending party repents, but we wonder how to pray over our own role in the tension.
A moment in Martin Luther’s life illustrates the point. Luther had a friend and co-laborer named Frederick Myconius. Myconius led the Reformation in Thuringia, 130 miles from Wittenberg. When Luther heard that Myconius was on his death bed, Luther composed a rambling letter that opened with praise for Myconius’s clear desire to depart and meet the Lord. Next, Luther began to lament his loss and said he would gladly die in Myconius’s place if he could. Then, after a ministry update, the tone shifts and Luther suddenly exhorts, almost commands, Myconius to live so he may yet serve the Lord’s church: “Farewell, dear Frederick. The Lord grant I may not hear of your departure [death] while I am still living. May he cause you to survive me. This I pray. This I wish. My will be done . . . not for my own pleasure but for the glory of God’s name.”
When Luther’s letter arrived, Myconius was too weak to speak. Yet he soon began to recover. He lived almost six more years, weeks longer than Luther. Myconius had been convinced that he would die shortly, but when he read Luther’s letter, vitality returned. Myconius said Luther’s letter made him “think that I had heard Christ say to me, ‘Lazarus, arise.’” Luther’s letter is cited as an example of boldness in prayer, and the conclusion certainly is bold, but a thorough reading reveals two men struggling to find God’s will. Myconius was ready to die and meet his Savior—until his friend informed him that the church needed him to live. And at first Luther was ready to bid his friend a fond farewell, until he started to recount recent church news, which seemed to stir the thought that Myconius must live. So Luther’s letter ends with singular boldness, based on confidence that he has access to God through prayer (Rom. 5:2). Perhaps we would see more fruit if we prayed so boldly. And yet, neither Luther nor Myconius immediately knew what to pray or what to desire. So the Spirit helps us to pray as we should and intercedes for us when we hardly know how to intercede for ourselves.
May we follow this path in 2020. Justification grants us access to God. At times, we are confident that we know how to make use of that access. But on other occasions we are uncertain. May the Lord grant us patience to persevere in prayer and a desire to follow the Spirit as he teaches us how to pray.
Dr. Dan Doriani is Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology and VP at Large for Covenant Theological Seminary.
 Martin Luther, “To Frederick Myconius, January 9, 1541,” in Letters of Spiritual Counsel, trans. and ed. T. G. Tappert (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1960), 47–49.