Lord, Teach Us to Pray
A sermon based on Luke 11:1-13
Sunday, July 24, 2016 – Pentecost 10C
In the movie, Meet the Parents, a young man is meeting his girlfriend's parents for the first time in order to ask for her hand in marriage. In one scene, they're gathered around the dinner table and the girl's father asks their guest to lead the prayer. He struggles for a minute or two trying to come up with the words to say and finally blurts out a rambling prayer with disjointed thoughts and a few lines from a 70's song.
Jonathan Edwards, an 18th century preacher, once said, "Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life." You see, there's no such thing as a Christian who doesn't pray any more than there is a Christian who doesn't do good works. Both are natural byproducts of who we are in Christ.
But perhaps, when you are asked to pray publicly, or even when you pray to God on your own, you feel more like that young man in Meet the Parents and don't really know what to say. Jesus' disciples once felt like that. They noticed that he spent a lot of time in prayer, and they knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples how to pray, so they wanted Jesus to teach them to pray.
This morning we can learn a lot about prayer from listening in to Jesus' conversation with his disciples. First we're reminded how we sinners can even pray to a holy and sinless God at all. Then we learn from Jesus what things we should pray for. And finally, we learn how to pray—with bold persistence. Listen now to Jesus' teaching on prayer as it's recorded for us in Luke 11. We begin with the first four verses…
1One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." 2He said to them, "When you pray, say: " 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.' "
I. How Can We Pray?
Before we discuss Jesus' instruction, perhaps we first ought to discuss what prayer is and how you and I can even presume to pray to a holy, sinless God. I mean let's face it, we're anything but sinless and holy. And we even demonstrate that by the way we pray.
This prayer that Jesus gives his disciples—called the Lord's Prayer—is the most used prayer in the world! It's estimated that on Easter Day two billion Christians, read, recite or sing the words of this prayer. I'm guessing that most (if not all) of you here could easily recite the longer version of the Lord's prayer (found in Matthew 6). My 3-year-old son knows it by heart.
But in addition to being the most used prayer it's also probably the most abused prayer. Because we all have it so well memorized, how many times haven't you rattled through the whole thing without thinking any part of it? And even if you were sincere in praying it at the time, how well have you seriously tried to do what you prayed for God's help to do?
We pray, "hallowed be your name," "God, may your name be honored and regarded as holy by the world and especially by us." But then we use God's name in a way that's anything but holy. We give God a bad name, calling ourselves his children, but misrepresenting him and his love in the way that we live.
We pray "your kingdom come," "God, may you continue to rule in our hearts and in our lives and in the hearts and lives of others." But we don't let him rule our lives. Instead we take the throne and call our own shots. And being so absorbed in ourselves, we hardly do a thing to spread his Word of grace so that his kingdom—that is, his ruling—might come to the hearts of others.
And we tend to focus our prayers on the material things, even though God's model prayer only has one petition for something that's not spiritual in nature. And even then, we pray "give us this day our daily bread," while we grumble and complain that we don't have more and more stuff—a nicer car or home, the latest fashions or gadgets. We don't find contentment with the countless blessings God showers on us day after day, but pray "gimme' gimme' gimme'."
We pray "forgive us our sins" half-heartedly asking God to look the other way while we do what we know he hates, the whole time holding a grudge against someone else for some minor offense against us. And we pray "lead us not into temptation" right before we run out looking for temptations to fall into.
And every sin—every time we pray this prayer without meaning any of it— is like another slap in the face of God. Each sin acts like a barrier between us and him—a barrier so thick that no prayer can penetrate. Isaiah 59:1-2 says, "Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities [that is, your sins] have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear."
Each time we sin it's like smashing the phone with sledge hammer. Or, if you remember the old wired, phones, it's like cutting the cord with a scissors. On our own, there is no way that we can get through to God. There's no way we deserve to. We pray to our "Father in Heaven," but we don't even deserve to be called his children. We only deserve his wrath, here on earth and forever in hell.
So, how can we poor, miserable sinners that we are, possibly dream of praying to God? How could we ever presume to call him Father? You know the answer. It's through Jesus. We just heard Paul remind us in our second lesson, "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins." (Colossians 2:13)
Christ, the God-man, the one in whom all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, lived a perfect and sinless life in our place. He always kept God's name as holy, always sought his kingdom first, was always content, always forgave, always resisted temptation. And he gave that perfection to us crediting it as our own. Then he took our sins on himself, crediting them as his own. He suffered hell on the cross as the penalty of our sin so our every sin would be forgiven.
Now, though we were once spiritually dead, we're alive in Christ. Now though we were God's enemies, we've become his perfect and sinless sons and daughters and with our every sin removed, we can pray to our Father, like a little child talking to daddy.
II. What Should We Pray For?
So, what things do we ask of our Father in heaven? [Jesus] said to them, (in verses 2 to 4)"When you pray, say: " 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.' "
Each petition has enough to discuss for a sermon of its own, but, for the sake of time, let's cover them in a more general way. The model prayer that God gives us has only one request for anything material. Four others in Luke (six in Matthew) deal with spiritual things. What sorts of things do you think Jesus was encouraging his disciples (and us) to pray for?
In response to God's great love for us in forgiving our every sin and removing the barrier that once barred us from him, we no longer live to serve ourselves, but to serve him in thanksgiving. Likewise, our prayers are no longer self-centered, seeking only material things for us to enjoy in this life.
God knows we need food and clothes and shelter and we can pray for these things. But notice how he puts it: "Give us this day our daily bread." We pray only for our daily needs, trusting that God will care for tomorrow's needs when tomorrow comes. And we pray for daily bread—only what we need to survive that we might continue to serve him. We don't need to pray for our daily shrimp and steak or our daily boats and RV's. We can be content with the blessings God has given us—especially the spiritual blessings.
Those, Jesus points out in the Lord's prayer, are the more important blessings by far. We therefore pray that God's name be kept holy in our lives as we strive to keep what's truly important a priority in our lives and remember the cross and Christ crucified for us. We pray that he might rule in our hearts more and more and that his kingdom would be spread through us to others. We pray that he forgive us our many sins, trusting that he will forgive us because of Jesus and the cross, eager to forgive others the small debts we perceive that they owe us. We pray for God's strength to resist the temptations we face each day and help us do what's right.
These are the things, Jesus tells us, for which we should pray. And we can pray boldly and persistently, trusting that he's eager to bless us.
III. In What Way Should We Pray?
After teaching them what to pray for in the Lord's Prayer, Jesus gave them a few illustrations of how they should pray. He said in verses 5 to 10, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7"Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. 9"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Imagine it's midnight. You've been in bed, sound asleep for a few hours already, when suddenly you hear someone pounding on your front door. After your heart rate slows a bit, you head to the front door, and look through the peephole to find your next door neighbor looking frantic. With the chain securely fastened you open the door enough to find out who's hurt and he tells you, "Quick, I need a loaf of bread!" How would you respond?
"What's your problem, buddy? It's midnight! You woke me up! You woke up my kids! Now is not the time to be asking me for favors!" You might slam the door and head back to bed. But he's persistent. You hear him pound on the door again, even louder this time. You head back to the door and he shouts, "Come on, man! My mother-in-law's here with her two sisters! They're hungry! Give me some bread!"
I'm guessing that even if you didn't particularly care for this neighbor—and let's face it, by this time you probably wouldn't—you'd still give him all the bread you had just to get him to leave you alone.
If that's the way we respond to a neighbor we may not particularly like, how will God—who loves us enough to sacrifice his son for us—respond? So in the same, bold, persistent way, we can pray not to some grumpy neighbor, but to our loving Father. We can pray big! And we can pray with the certainty that God will answer us with a blessing.
James reminds us "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." (James 1:5-6)
And we can ask with such courage and with persistence because of the gracious promises God gives. Jesus tells us to ask, seek and knock, but in the Greek these verbs are present tense. Perhaps a better translation would be "Keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking." Why? Because he promises he'll respond. And he even repeats the promises in verse ten, "For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." That's a powerful promise from God! He will answer our prayers in a way that's a blessing to us.
And he drives the point home with one more illustration in verses 11 to 13: 11"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
We fathers sometime give our children what they want and need out of a sense of duty or obligation, or maybe sometimes just to get the kids to leave us alone. "Dad, can I? Dad, can I? Dad, can I?" "Fine! Just go in the other room!" Even though as sinful parents our motives aren't always selfless, still, none of us would give something harmful and venomous to our children when they ask for food!
So if we earthly fathers can be pestered into giving-in and giving a child what they need, how much more readily won't God, who loves us enough to send his own son to hell our place, be eager and willing and ready to jump at the chance to bless us? Paul reminds us in Romans 8(:32), "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?"
And unlike human fathers who are sometimes unable or unwilling to give what's best or don't know what's best for their child, God will always give us what's best. He may not give us what we want or what we ask for, but he'll always give us what we need. Like a human father denying his child the candy he's pleading for, and instead gives him more spinach to eat, so too God might not let you win the lottery no matter how long you plead because he knows it wouldn't be good for you. He might not grant you health and a quick recovery for the cancer that plagues you because he knows the suffering will draw you closer to him and that, like the spinach that seems so horrible to the child, it will make you stronger and healthier spiritually.
What a privilege we have in Christ! With our every sin removed we can pray to God! What a blessing we have from him, knowing that no matter what we ask for, he will answer in a way that blesses us. What an encouragement we have to make full use of this awesome gift and boldly, persistently, pray to God, just like Abraham did.
A friend of mine shared the story of his young niece who was in the middle of potty training. After filling her Pull-Up® her father looked at here with a stern look and asked, "Why didn't you go in the potty?" With a sheepish look she asked, "Daddy, are you mad at me?" "Well, I'm not happy." To which she replied, "I have an idea, daddy." She went over to him, diaper still loaded, and pressed his hands together and said, "Dear Jesus, please help daddy not to be mad at me. Amen." She looked up and said, "There, daddy. Now are you mad at me?" (And, of course, her prayer worked.) J
You see, no matter how young or old, no matter who the audience, in Christ—with our every sin forgiven—we know our daddy isn't mad at us. So we can approach him boldly, confidently, and often. Let's make better use of that awesome gift of prayer. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.