Lord, teach us to Pray
Luke 11:1-13 24 July 2022
Prayer is a key discipline or practice of the Christian faith. It is one of the means by which we receive God’s grace. There are many books that purport to teach us about prayer. Some are classics and others are unhelpful. When I was flying out west, I took a popular book on prayer with me to read on the flight. I made it through chapter one and realized it was not speaking to me. Sometimes we go to secondary resources when we ought to go to the primary resource for Christian teaching, the Bible. In studying Christianity, one quickly realizes that prayer has been a part of our faith since the beginning. Jesus was a man of prayer. The early disciples were people of prayer. If we seek to effectively live out our faith without prayer, we are deceiving ourselves and miss the blessing.
Prayer is not easy for people who like action and doing. I remember being a little boy in Sunday school and the teacher would say, “Let us bow our heads in prayer.” Most little boys like movement, not quietly bowing one’s head. Even as adults some of us find prayer difficult. Perhaps it is difficult because we do not pray enough. It is easy to get distracted. And with all the digital distraction devices we do find it hard to concentrate. It is easy to come up with excuses. Prayer is not my thing. I don’t have time to pray. I’m much too busy to pray. And on the list goes. As one Army aviator once said, “The maximum effective range of an excuse is zero millimeters.”
I hate to admit it but my favorite prayer is, “Lord, get me out of this jam.” Or, “Lord, I need something.” It is good to remind ourselves that God is not a soda machine. You put your coins in, press the button and hope to get what you ordered. Are not most of our requests for material things or physical healing? Once I was at a rest area and in need of refreshment. I put my credit card in, selected a Diet Coke, and nothing came out. To say the least I was unhappy. What happens when we pray and our prayers are not answered exactly as we prayed? We are not just unhappy but we might blame God for not hearing or answering. Pastor Irwin Lutzer of Chicago wrote, “But sometimes we may be tempted to think of God as a Being who exists solely to respond to our wishes. We may think of our prayer time as we would be going to the supermarket to shop for groceries. Often we are tempted to bring a list of requests to God, thinking that he should do our bidding. When we don’t get what we have asked for, there’s a tendency to become disillusioned.” Maybe there is more to prayer than bringing our list of wants to God?
Prayer is more about God changing us than it is of God changing our circumstances. Sure, it would be nice if God would change our circumstances to what we want but that’s not the way he works. The best we can do is pray in God’s will, not our will. And the best place to learn God’s will is through reading the Bible. In Scripture, we learn who God is and what he wants. A number of years ago people were promoting WWJD—what would Jesus do. That’s a good way to begin thinking about the things of God but if one does not go to the Bible and seek the answer to the WWJD question one is likely to make up things out of one’s imagination. While God does sometimes change our circumstances, he more often changes us. Prayer is not so much what we can get from God as it is a means where God can change us into the man or woman he wants us to be. It is good to trust that God has our better interests in mind than perhaps we have for ourselves.
Jesus was a man of prayer. He often went off to a private place for prayer. There’s a hill on the north side of the Lake Galilee where he found a quiet place where he would retire for prayer. Jesus clearly sought God’s power and presence in prayer. The Messiah was a man of prayer. If Jesus was a person of prayer, we certainly ought to emulate him and be people of prayer. His disciples saw that he needed prayer and they came to him asking, “Lord, teach us to pray.” John the Baptist apparently taught his disciples by giving them a special prayer. The disciples recognized their need to learn how to pray, to learn how to be more effective in praying. While Jesus taught them a model prayer, I need to remind you that there is no magic formula for prayer. There are many ways to present oneself to God in prayer. The best way is to learn from Jesus and follow his teaching.
Jesus said to them, ‘When you pray, say:’” and he presents six simple ways we should pray. While we often pray the Lord’s Prayer, it is not a prayer to quickly pray through. It is much too important to quickly sail through it. Jesus begins the prayer addressing the Lord God as Father. Since he would most likely be speaking in Aramaic, he is telling us to address the Lord God as Abba. Abba is the name little Jewish children would address their fathers. When I was in line at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, I heard a little boy calling to his father. He called out, “Abba! Abba!” We are to recognize that we are praying to our heavenly Abba who is Father of all. Prayer is intimate conversation with our heavenly Abba. Recently I watched a movie entitled, “The Last Princess of Korea.” There’s a scene where her father, the Emperor, is at court. Before him are his ministers. Court life is formal and if one gets out of line is seriously bad news. The Emperor has the power of life or death over his subjects. Into this fearful situation comes his beloved six year old daughter and she violates court customs and interrupts him. What does he do? He calls her over and hugs her. Jesus tells us that the Lord God is our heavenly Abba who loves us even greater than the Emperor of Korea loved his favorite daughter. We can approach the King of the Universe and Creator of all as Abba, Father.
He then tells us to pray, “Father, hallowed be your name.” It can also be translated as holy be or holy is your name. It is hard to wrap our human brains around the holiness of God. He is totally other. He is perfect in goodness and righteousness. He is worthy of our reverence and devotion. The word “name” is not just a label designating God. Our names are basically labels we are given to designate us. Name in the ancient world indicated the essence of that person. The name of the Lord is about God’s power and character. The writer of Proverbs tells us, “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; and the righteous run to it and are safe (Proverbs 18:10).” It is tragic that in our culture the Lord’s name is trivialized and often taken in vain. We are wise when we recognize his holiness and not trivialize or utter his name in vain. Jesus teaches us to recognize the holiness of God.
He then teaches us to pray, “…your [Abba’s] kingdom come (Luke 11:2c).” We recognize that the Kingdom of God arrived in the person of Messiah Jesus. The kingdom of God is where God’s commands are followed fully. Jesus fully lived out God’s commands and his will. Today we live in the kingdom as we live out Jesus’ commands to us. Right now the kingdom of God is present but not in its fullness. There are a lot of sin and evil in this world. We pray that Abba’s kingdom will come in its fullness. The Gospel promises that one day the kingdom will come in its fullness. We are to pray that all the powers and authorities be subjected to Christ Jesus. We are to pray that every person will be submitted to Christ Jesus. We are to pray that his literal kingdom will come on earth where all sin, evil, sickness and death that we experience will be no more and that we will live fully in the presence of the Lord God.
Jesus teaches us to pray: “Give us each day our daily bread (Luke 11:3).” In praying this we acknowledge our complete dependence on God for everything we truly need and that we look constantly to God for all our physical needs. We recognize that he is the giver of all good things. It is hard for those of us who live with more than enough to grasp that God is the source of everything we need. However, it is good to recognize that God is the source of all good things.
He then teaches us, “Forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone who sins against us (Luke 11:4).” We know that the Lord is forgiving and that he is more willing to forgive than we are to receive his forgiveness. We like the forgiveness part. However, Jesus gets our attention when he says our forgiveness is contingent on us forgiving others. Being forgiven for our sins requires us to forgive those who have done a number on us. That’s a hard teaching. Since God is out for our very best, we ought to take this teaching to heart and follow it. I know how hard it is to forgive others. Sometime it takes a long time to reach the point of forgiving someone. Remember that forgiving others is not about feelings. It is about making a conscious, intentional decision to forgive, to break the chain of unforgiveness that ties us to the one who harmed us. Press on in prayer and God will help you forgive others.
The last teaching about prayer as revealed in Luke 11 is “And lead us not into temptation.” I don’t have to say much about temptation as we all deal with it. Temptation is part of being a Christian but giving into temptation is something we must resist. The best we can do when tempted is resist by saying “No!.” When King David was looking down from his palace and saw a woman bathing he would have avoided a lot of long term negative consequences if he had simply said, “No,” and walked back into his palace. Saying “No” to temptation and resisting it is the best alternative.
We learn many things from Jesus’ teaching about prayer. One of the big things we learn is that God seeks our prayers and wants to answer our prayers. Jesus tells us to be persistent in prayer and that we can pray with shameless audacity. Paul tells us, “Our God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).” One 19th century Anglican Archbishop wrote: “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance but laying hold of His willingness.” It is good to take everything to God in prayer as we know that he wants to be in relationship with us and he does answer our prayers.
Veterans Memorial Chapel -- Sermon preached by CH (COL) Michael W. Malone, USA RET