Saturday, July 23, 2016

Lord, Teach Us to Pray!

Luke 11:1-13 Every little Lutheran knows that prayer is “speaking to God in thoughts and words” but during my years as a pastor, questions about prayer come up more than just about anything else.  “Pastor…
  What should I pray for in this or that situation?  How can I know I have received God’s answer?  Is it o.k. to pray for certain things and outcomes?  What can I do to have a more consistent prayer life?  How can I learn to truly pray:  “Thy will be done”?
Prayer is the most basic spiritual practice of the child of God, it really is the simplest thing to do, and yet we continue to have questions and concerns about our life of prayer.
And so the Lord speaks to us in his Word today, and invites us to join the circle of disciples as they listen to him and learn more about our life of prayer.  The Bible says:
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
            Jesus was a man of prayer.  Throughout the gospel accounts of those first-hand witnesses of his life, Jesus is shown praying-- again and again. 
He attended the synagogue on the Sabbath-- and he travelled to the temple for the high holy days—but public worship was not the whole content of his spiritual life—he was also a man of personal, private prayer.  Think of that!
Jesus was God in human flesh—his messianic mission was vital—the press of human need was constant—and yet Jesus always made time for prayer.  His prayer life was so deep and so profound that it made a powerful impression on all those who knew him-- and they wanted the same kind of prayer life for themselves—and we should too. 
Our attendance at public worship is important and there is no substitute for it—but it is still insufficient (all by itself) to give us all of the spiritual benefits and blessings that the Lord wants to bestow upon us as his children.  Many of those come through private, personal prayer which is why we join our voice to the disciples and ask Jesus to teach us to pray.  Jesus answers, “When you pray, say:  “Father…”
That we can address the living God of the universe as “Father”-- is the most important thing that we are going to learn about prayer.  It is the story of our salvation and the foundation for our life of prayer.  God is truly our Father and we are truly his children and that relationship exists ONLY because of Jesus Christ. 
The Bible is perfectly clear about this:  our access to God—our confidence to come to his throne and ask him for what we need—comes only in one way—and that is through faith in Jesus.  His death and resurrection has opened the way for us to be restored to what we were created to be—and that is God’s children. 
That is what it means to pray in Jesus’ name—not as a magical formula—but in firm faith that God really is our Father and we really are his children on account of Jesus and so we can go to God and ask him for what we need just as children go to their earthly fathers.  And so what should we ask for in prayer?  Jesus says:
Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.  And lead us not into temptation.”
            Please note:  out of all of the things that Jesus teaches us to ask for in prayer—only one of them pertains to material things—and that petition (for daily bread) is for the basics of life.  We need to hear that!
I think it’s fair to say that most of our prayer requests are about material things and earthly blessings—our health and our finances and our families—and there is nothing wrong with asking for these things.  But God’s priorities for us are first and foremost and finally, spiritual. 
Our salvation is what God is most concerned about and so our prayer life ought to take on those same priorities:  1. that God’s name would be made holy through what we say and how we live our lives and what is taught in our congregation—2. that we would do our part to bring about his kingdom by making sure that we remain in the Christian faith and raise our children in the Christian faith and support the mission of the church—3. that we would abide in his forgiveness and because he has forgiven us—we would be forgiving of others--and 4. that the Lord would guide our steps each day of life’s journey to preserve us in faith and keep us from times of temptation and bring us safely to our heavenly home.
These spiritual priorities of the Lord’s Prayer are a wonderful corrective to our prayers that are often times filled with things that only matter for the here and now.
Every earthly, material, temporal petition has to be prayed:  Thy will be done.  But these spiritual petitions of-- hallowing God’s name and advancing his kingdom and living in forgiveness and avoiding temptation--can be prayed for with absolute confidence because God himself has promised them to us.  Jesus tells a little parable that exemplifies the boldness that we ought to have when we pray:
“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
            In the ancient world, bread was baked as needed.  For the friend’s needs to be met, the man in the home would have to get up in the middle of the night, remake the fire, warm the oven, mix the dough and bake the bread.  And not only would he do that—he would give his friend whatever else he needed  Jesus says that THIS kind of overwhelming generosity-- that can imposed upon at the most inconvenient times—with unexpected and abundant reults-- really exists between us and God. 
Jesus’ point is this:  We are not bothering God with our prayers.  We are not inconveniencing him.  We are not asking for more than he can deliver.  He is our Father and we are his children and there is NOTHING that we cannot talk to him about in prayer—for he has promised to hear and answer our prayer.  Jesus says:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
            In Luther’s Small Catechism, the question is asked:  Why do we pray?  And the answer is:  Because God commands us to pray and promises to hear us.  God wants us to be people of prayer—he wants us to talk to him and he desires that we would listen to him as he speaks to us in his Word.  And to assure us that we are not just speaking to an empty cosmos or engaging in an exercise of futility—he promises to hear our prayers.
You hear people say “Well, there’s nothing left to do but pray.”  But for the child of God, prayer is not a last-ditch effort when everything else that we have tried has failed—it is the first, middle, and last thing we do in an on-going conversation with our heavenly Father.  Prayer is not an act of futility—but an act of faith that God hears us. 
We have Jesus’ promise that “asking we will receive and seeking we will find and knocking the way will be opened unto us”.  But does this mean that if you and I ask the Lord for the winning lottery tickets he is bound to give them?  No.  He promises something infinitely more valuable.  Jesus says:
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
            All of us have enough sense to give our children good things.  None of us would intentionally give something to our child that would harm them.  And that is not just true of Christians but of all people—even unbelievers.  And if this wisdom is true of us as parents—how much more is it true of our heavenly Father! 
God is good—good beyond anything else than we can imagine—good beyond comparison to anything else that we call “good”.  He has demonstrated his goodness to us once for all in the gift of his Son.  The Bible explains it like this: 
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
The God who gave his Son for us is our Father.  That we believe this is because he has also given us the Holy Spirit—the presence of God in our lives who is the down-payment—the earnest money—the guarantee-- that all of the riches and wonders of God are also ours in Christ Jesus.
THAT is why we can pray “Thy will be done” with perfect confidence for our lives and for our families and for everything and everyone that we care about. 
We know what God’s good and loving will is towards us, because by the power of the Holy Spirit, we know his Son Jesus as our forgiveness, salvation, peace and hope.  God has already done that for us and so, as we pray for our daily needs, we can be confident that in all things—no matter what they are—God is graciously answering our prayers FOR OUR GOOD.
The lessons that Jesus teaches us today concerning prayer—who we are to pray to—what we are to pray for—and how we are to pray--are lessons that we will need to learn again and again over the course of our lives but they are only learned as we begin to be people of prayer.  May God grant this to us all for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.

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