Last week, Archbishop Justin Welby called upon every Anglican church to join in prayer for our country. Imagine if the call had instead come from our Prime Minister or Parliament? Imagine our government urging us to pray about membership of the European Union. Hard to imagine? In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma is officiating today at the National Day of Prayer at Absa Stadium in Durban. The prayers will be for, amongst other things, successful and peaceful 2016 Local Government Elections as well as for the further consolidation of democracy. Leaders of religious and civil society are joining the government in praying also for national unity, social cohesion as well as for rain and the promotion of water conservation under the persistent drought conditions. Lord teach us to pray like that. Please turn with me to Luke 11 and let us learn from Jesus about the importance of prayer (11:1-2), the content of prayer (11:3-4), the practice of prayer (11:5-8) and the assurance of prayer (11:9-13). We are looking for answers to four questions – when we should pray, what we should pray, how we should pray and why.
- The Importance of Prayer: When we should pray
“One 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.” He said to them, “When you pray, say…” (Luke 11:1-2)
The question the disciple asks Jesus is intriguing. They would have been attended services in the synagogue and Temple from childhood. They would have prayed three times a day in the morning, afternoon and evening. They would also have been familiar with the spontaneous prayer of blessing. Moses had admonished the Israelites not to forget the Lord when they entered the Land:
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God…” (Deuteronomy 8:10-11)[i]
The cure was to remember God’s care by offering a short prayer of thanks, or blessing. For example, “Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, King of the Universe.” The blessing reminded them that God is the source of every good thing.
The word for bless, barak also means “to kneel”. When we bless God, we bow to worship him. Paul insists, “Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
So if prayer was in their DNA, why did the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray? Was it because they were envious of John’s disciples? Possibly. I suggest it was more because they observed how frequently and informally Jesus prayed in a way so unlike the formality of the Pharisees. Luke, for example, records Jesus praying at His baptism (Luke 3:21), before He chose the Twelve (Luke 6:12), when the crowds increased (Luke 5:16), before He asked the Twelve for their confession of faith (Luke 9:18), and at His Transfiguration (Luke 9:29). The disciples knew that Jesus often prayed alone early in the morning (Mark 1:35). They understood the importance of prayer to Jesus: When should we pray? Continuously.
- The Content of Prayer: What we should pray
“‘Father hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:3-4)
We call this “The Lord’s Prayer,” not because Jesus prayed it (He never had to ask for forgiveness), but because Jesus taught us to use it as a model.
There is nothing wrong with praying this prayer word for word, whether, personally or corporately, just as long as we do so intentionally. It is easy to “recite” these words from memory without even thinking about the one to whom we pray, or what we are saying. You know what it feels like when you are speaking to someone and they are looking right through you. Well, God hears our hearts as well as our lips, and often in prayer they don’t synch. Jesus intended this to be a pattern, to guide us in our prayers, not a mantra to be repeated mindlessly. So what does this prayer contain that makes it a model prayer? Three things:
2.1 Praise to our Father
“Father hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” (Luke 11:3). You know that a person’s name represents their reputation. This week various politicians have been compared with Hitler in an attempt to tarnish their names. Once a name has been tarnished it is hard to restore it.
Israel had repeatedly profaned the name of God among the other nations by disobeying him. Jesus is instructing his followers to be faithful to God and for their prayers to reflect that. In this model prayer we are asking God to use us to accomplish what He wants.
This is how His name is glorified. Now notice, this prayer assumes we can call Almighty God, our Father because we have acknowledged Jesus, the Son of God is our Saviour and Lord. We pray that God’s sovereign purposes will be revealed in us more and more till the day Jesus returns visibly, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Then every knee shall bow. Praise to our Father.
2.2 Penitence for our Sin
“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Luke 11:4). We are to act in a way that acknowledges our indebtedness to God’s grace. Jesus is not saying that God’s forgiveness is conditional on us forgiving others. Unless I do forgive others their sin against me, I have not really repented of my own sin.
That is why forgiving others enables us experience God’s forgiveness. Praise to our Father. Penitence for our sin.
- Petition for our Needs
Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:3-4)
Once we are right with God our Father and seeking His perfect will, we can bring our requests to Him.
Our specific requests. In an age of food security it may seem strange asking God for our daily bread. But in most of the world it is not certain where food will come from.
We can ask Him to provide our needs for today, material and spiritual, not tomorrow, not next year but today. This demonstrates our dependence on Him. We ask for his provision, for his presence and his protection. When you reflect on these short and simple prayers, imagine there are blank spaces between the petitions for you to add specific requests, for yourself and others. The content of prayer. What do we pray? Praise to our Father. Penitence for our sin. Petition for our needs.
- The Practice of Prayer: How we should pray
“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” (Luke 11:5-8)
Frequently when Jesus used an illustration he as misunderstood. When Jesus described himself as “the Bread of Life” and compared himself to the Passover Lamb
“…the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?””… “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”” (John 6:52, 60).
On another occasion Jesus warned the disciples about the corrupting influence of the Pharisees: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.” (Matthew 16:6-7)
Why does Jesus use this illustration? Offering hospitality to strangers is a basic Middle Eastern custom. (Gen. 18:1ff). If a person refused to entertain a guest, he brought disgrace on the whole village and the neighbors would have nothing to do with him. Refusing a request for help would bring shame on himself, his family, and his village; He would get up and met the need because his reputation would be at stake. Do you see what Jesus is saying? God answers our prayers because he cares for his children but he also cares for his reputation. Jesus tells us to pray “Father hallowed be your name.” because when God’s children pray, God’s reputation is at stake. The way He takes care of His children is a witness to the world that He can be trusted. So, on this occasion, Jesus is not saying that God is like a crabby neighbour. In fact, He said just the opposite. If a tired and selfish neighbour will help a bothersome friend, how much more will a loving Heavenly Father meet the needs of His own children.
Our relationship with God is not based on friendship but sonship. And unlike our neighbour God our Father never sleeps, never gets impatient or irritable, is always generous, and delights in meeting our needs. Jesus is illustrating from the lesser to the greater. If shameless audacity and persistence eventually works on a neighbour, how much more will persistence bring blessing as we pray to a loving Heavenly Father. Phillips Brooks said that prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of His willingness. Persistence in prayer is not an attempt to change God’s mind but to align ourselves where He can trust us with the answer. The importance of prayer: When we should pray. The content of prayer: What we should pray. The practice of prayer: How we should pray.
- The Assurance of Prayer: Why we should pray
“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. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If 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!” (Luke 11:9-13)
The tense of the verbs Jesus uses is not obvious in our translation. Jesus is saying “Keep on asking … keep on seeking … keep on knocking.” In other words, don’t just come to God only in emergencies, but converse with your Father continually. To use a driving analogy, is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tyre?
The Apostle Paul instructs us likewise, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). As we pray, God will either answer or show us why He cannot answer. Sometimes God needs time to prepare us for the answer. Note that the lesson closes with an emphasis on God as Father (Luke 11:11–13). Because He knows us and loves us, we never need to be afraid of the answer He gives. Again, Jesus argued from the lesser to the greater: if an earthly father gives what is best to his children, surely our Father in heaven will do even more. The father’s ultimate gift is His own Spirit. He meets our daily needs – for bread, and our eternal needs, His Spirit. Tonight we have been learning at the feet of Jesus about prayer. Prayer is simply taking to God our Father. We have seen the importance of prayer: When we should pray. The content of prayer: What we should pray. The practice of prayer: How we should pray. And the assurance of prayer: Why we should pray. So lets do so now. I’m going to pray the Lord’s Prayer and pause between each sentence to allow you to make it personal.. Lets pray.
With grateful thanks to Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Word) and Michael Wilcock, The Saviour of the World: the Message of Luke’s Gospel (IVP)
[i] Ab excellent source on blessing: http://ourrabbijesus.com/articles/blessings-everywhere/