Lord, Teach Us To Pray

July 24, 2016 – The 10th Sunday after Pentecost – “Lord, Teach Us To Pray” – Luke 11:1-13

 Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”   And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” – Luke 11:1-13 NKJ

“Teach us to pray.”  If you asked a Tibetan monk, he might direct you to a Buddhist prayer wheel-  a spinning cylinder on a rod, wrapped or engraved with Buddhist prayers.  Spinning the prayer wheel, so they say, is just as meritorious as orally saying the prayers.

In Islam you would be directed to the five prescribed daily hours of prayer at which you kneel on your prayer rug facing Mecca and begin with the words Allah Akbar, meaning “God is the greatest.”

A Jewish priest might direct you to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem where throngs of people daily write out their prayers on little scraps of paper and tuck them into the cracks and joints between the great stones which once were the foundation of the grand Jerusalem Temple.

The Pope would direct you to the Catholic Rosary in which you would repeat  five sets of ten prayers to Mary,  each set preceded by one Lord’s Prayer and followed by the Gloria, keeping track of the count on a string of Rosary beads.

In a Pentecostal church the people might encourage you to pray with tem in tongues, which according to their belief is the gift from God of a mysterious heavenly prayer language unrecognizable to anyone.

The disciples were moved and inspired as they witnessed Jesus at prayer.  “Lord, teach us to pray,” they said.  The disciples had observed that when Jesus prayed great things happened.  At his baptism Jesus prayed and the heavens opened, the Father spoke, and the Spirit descended upon him (Luke 3:21,22).   Jesus prayed before miraculously feeding the 4,000 (Matt 15:16) and again the 5,000 (John 6:11) .  While praying Jesus healed a deaf and mute man (Mk 7:31-37).  Nailed to the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Mt 27:46).  In his dying breath Jesus prayed, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).   Yes, the disciples understood the power of Jesus’ prayers, and they wanted to learn to pray like him.  “Lord, teach us to pray.”

So Jesus taught them what we know as The Lord’s Prayer.  Each phrase, or petition, is packed with meaning and instruction.  Jesus meant the Lord’s Prayer as a model, or outline, of what ought to fill a Christian’s prayers. He did not intend it as the solitary prayer ever to be prayed by Christians.  It is not an exhaustive list of what we should or could ask.  It is a representative model encompassing all that we ought to pray for.

“Our Father in heaven” — God wants us to think of him as our dad, even as he thinks of us as his dear children.

“Hallowed be Thy name”  —- God, may your name be holy in my life as I conduct my life according to your Word and teach others to do the same. Who dares go to God in prayer, or expect an answer,  when he prays with no intention of honoring God’s name in word and deed?

“Thy kingdom come” —  You may hold membership in a number of organizations, but the most important thing to belong to is the kingdom of God.  The Republican Party will pass away. The Democratic Party will Pass away.  America, Britain, China, Russia, Germany and all the great kingdoms of the world will pass away, but the kingdom of God will stand forever.  Make sure you belong to that kingdom.  Membership is limited to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that faith happens only by the invitation of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel.

“Thy will be done,”  — God’s will is carried out perfectly in heaven,  but we pray that His will might be carried out among us on earth too.   All of humanity’s problems result from people refusing to learn and do God’s will.  God’s will is understood only through the Scriptures, and we Christians are the ones who must spread that Word through the word of our mouths and by the strong message of how we live our lives.  Do you want to change the world?  Then live by the words, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

“Give us this day our daily bread…”  — All that we have is from the hand of God.  Nothing of good is produced in this world apart from the power and blessing of God.  If we have but bread to eat, and one suit of clothes, and a humble hut to live in, then God has kept His promise to sustain us, and we must learn to be content.  God’s primary concern for your physical life is to sustain you for the purpose of knowing, trusting, and persevering in saving faith in Jesus Christ.  By his immeasurable mercy and grace he often blesses us with much more than we actually need or require for survival.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” — God has promised to forgive all of our many sins, no matter what they may be.  Christ’s sacrifice has paid the penalty for every sin and every sinner.  But those who refuse to forgive others only prove that they really do not understand forgiveness at all. If you are convinced that you are right in withholding forgiveness from others, how can you think that God isn’t right in withholding forgiveness from you? Nurturing an unforgiving spirit harms and eventually destroys faith.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  — Though God permits us to be tested in many ways, God never tempts anyone to sin.  That’s the devil’s work.  Rather God defends his children when they are tempted, and he teaches them and gives them the weapons to defeat and overcome every temptation.   Above and beyond protection from all earthly danger,  we more earnestly pray for God’s protection from unbelief and the damnation which follows.

This is the pattern of prayer that Jesus taught His disciples.  These are the things he taught them as the top priorities for their prayers.  Jesus followed up with encouragement to so pray.  We should pray not to try to impress God or to get his attention, but because he loves to help his children.  “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves….”  Jesus’ point is that for us mortals there are limits even to what friends will do for friends.  But not with God.  He is never put out or bothered by requests that come from sincere and faithful hearts.  He has promised to answer and to help.

Encouraging persistence in prayer, Jesus said “Ask, seek, and knock.”   But regarding what kind of requests?  Jesus himself answers.  “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 them, 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?”   We imperfect, fallen humans know how to give good gifts to our children.  But God knows the best, most necessary gift you must have-  the Holy Spirit and His gifts.   So while we are busy asking for prosperity, success, good health, favor, honor, and popularity, God is listening to see whether we ask for spiritual things—  forgiveness, faith, love, hope, peace, patience, endurance, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and a forgiving spirit.  God will never answer “no”  to those requests.  It is God’s pleasure to fulfill your request.

This model prayer taught by Jesus is a powerful prayer, for it is perfect, and it is from the lips of God’s Son, our Savior.  When you do not know what to pray, you can rely on this perfect prayer.  When you are so frightened, or anxious, or sorrowful that you can barely bring yourself to pray, you can offer these precious treasures taught by Jesus.  When you find yourself attacked by Satan, tempted and tormented by his tricks, above all other prayers pray the Lord’s Prayer.  Luther wrote:

“At such times (of severe temptation), your only hope or comfort is to take refuge in the Lord’s Prayer and to appeal to God from your heart, ‘Dear Father, Thou has commanded me to pray; let me not fall because of temptation.’ Then you will see temptation cease and eventually admit defeat. Otherwise, if you attempt to help  yourself by your own thoughts and counsels, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil a better opening…. Prayer can resist him and drive him back.” (Large Catechism, 6th Petition).

Jesus warns that prayer, including the prayer he taught, must not become a mere mechanical ritual of repetition. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. –Matt 6:7   When you rattle off the Lord’s Prayer without thinking it becomes little more than the Buddhist’s prayer wheel, or the mindless rosary, or a good luck charm. Pray in faith in Christ Jesus with your mind and heart set on spiritual, not merely earthly requests.  Pray with full confidence in the power of God’s Word.  At the sound of this prayer Satan must flee, for he cannot stand up against the words of Christ or against your faith in the Savior who loved you enough to die for you on a cross.  Too often we imagine that fighting against Satan’s tempting power consists in cursing him, debating him, or resisting him with human will power.  But Satan likes all of that.  It’s like a game to him.  Rather let the words taught by our Lord flow from your heart and past your lips, and the devil will quickly flee.   Thank you, Lord Jesus, for teaching us how to pray.