New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
11 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 So he said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, may your name be revered as holy. May your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’
7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything out of friendship, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for a fish, would give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asked for an egg, would give a scorpion? 13 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!”
Sam was an amazing young man. He enjoyed physics, played goalie on the school soccer team, and was an excellent clarinet player. Sam liked to know how things worked.
As he was preparing for middle school, his parents gave him a desk top computer. It was a basic model to use to do his assignments. Within a couple of hours of receiving his new computer, Sam had taken it out of the box and taken it completely apart, much to his parents’ dismay. The pieces were all over the floor of his bedroom. Sam wasn’t interested in just reading the instructions or using the computer, he wanted to see for himself how the parts fit together. (By the way, Sam reassembled the computer with no parts left over. It worked just fine).
Doing something for yourself can be gratifying. When you do so, you have a better understanding of how the thing works. You can see the pieces, turning them over in your mind or in actuality, getting a sense of how they can be put together.
In a sense, in today’s text, the disciples are asking Jesus how to do something they don’t understand very well: “How do we pray? How do we understand the pieces so we can turn them over in our minds and use them?”
This question was prompted by observing Jesus. They saw how often he went away to pray and how important prayer was in his life. The disciples wanted to know more. They wanted the same experience as Jesus had described, to talk to the Father in a more intimate way than they did through the daily prayers they were used to. The disciples wanted to know and understand how to pray.
“Lord, teach us to pray…”
We often ask the same question, “Lord, teach us to pray…” And Jesus does. We read his instructions here in Luke and in the more familiar form in Matthew. These are the words of “The Lord’s Prayer” that we recite so often.
I wonder if the question being asked is larger than simply how to pray. It is a series of questions rather than just the one:
· Teach us how to pray – the words to use to ensure God hears us
· Teach us what to do – our posture before God and the right place to pray
· Explain how prayer works – what can we pray for; what if God doesn’t answer?
How to pray, the words to say, is the easy part…we think. The words are right there in the Bible. But sometimes these words don’t express what is in our hearts; the needs, concerns, or the depth of feelings we have. The truth is that any words will do not just the ones in The Lord’s Prayer. Use the words that are comfortable for you. You can even yell at God if you want. God knows what is in our hearts.
The words Jesus taught are an anchor. A foundation for us when all around us makes no sense or when we feel like we are lost in a sea of doubt. A place to return when we can’t pray on our own or don’t know what to say. And when we wonder if we are praying the right way if the answers don’t seem to come.
“Lord, teach us to pray…”
Teach us not only the words to say but what to do when we pray. Jesus answers this question with a parable, a common response from him that we often don’t understand. How much simpler it would be if Jesus just gave a straight forward answer.
The parable Jesus tells here requires context for modern day listeners. In a Galilean village the houses were simple – one or two rooms. The women baked bread in ovens in common courtyards. Neighbors would know who might have some left.
Hospitality was one of the most important values of the community. Welcoming guests was taken very seriously. Failure to provide for a guest brought shame on the host.
The man who went to his neighbor to ask for bread knew it would be inconvenient to wake his friend in the middle of the night. But the need to care for his guest outweighed the disruption of sleep for his friend’s family. Both knew the necessity of providing hospitality. Both of them, and the entire village, would be shamed if a meal were not served to a guest of one household.
Be persistent, Jesus says. Don’t give up praying even when you think you have prayed enough. Keep knocking on that door until you see God’s answer. There will always be an answer.
The parable is as much about the one who prays, the one who asks for help from his friend, as it is about the one who answers. The man had confidence in the one he was asking. Prayer is a two-way street between the one who prays and the listener. Prayer always changes the one who prays.
“Lord, teach us to pray…”
Teach us what we can pray for and what to do if the prayer is not answered. What can we pray for? Anything! Large or small. God will answer. God won’t give us snakes or scorpions. God will give us something good, even if it isn’t evident in the moment. God will give us much more than we asked for. Not only will God answer our prayer, God gives us the Holy Spirit who will teach us how to pray for what God sees as important for us.
If we can pray for anything, how do we explain unanswered prayer? I knew of a church that had a prayer ministry. Members of the prayer ministry team would visit those who requested prayer, lay hands on them, and pray fervently for their healing. Not everyone they prayed for was healed. When team members were asked why the prayer didn’t work, the person asking was told that they didn’t have enough faith or that they didn’t do their part (whatever that was) or that they didn’t ask enough people to pray for them.
These responses imply there are requirements to meet to have prayers answered. That the responsibilities for having prayers answered are ours. We have to do everything right so God will answer the way we want.
This type of thinking makes prayer hard. We have to know how to pray the right way. How to put all the pieces together to get the answer we are looking for. We look for the right mechanism or formula. To become an expert in the prayer process.
“Lord, teach us to pray…”
Jesus teaches us to look at who we are praying to. The Father, the one whose name is to be revered as holy. The first line of the prayer is an acknowledgement of who God is. God is the one who gives us what we need – our bread each day, forgiveness and the ability to forgive others.
Jesus tells us that God loves us far more than even the best of parents. God always answers our prayers, always gives us what we really need, always offers us the best life we can ever have. Life in God’s kingdom. A lifetime of following Jesus.
Prayer affirms our complete dependence on God. We acknowledge our need and God’s goodness. The wonderful grace God gives us. God’s love that is always ours to have.
Other than this, prayer is hard to understand. No matter how much we want to understand and to master prayer, we never will. We’ll never do it right – at least in the way we think is right. We’ll never understand why or how God answers as God does.
What we can be sure of is that God wants us to pray. All types of prayers, in all kinds of ways, and in whatever words we want to use. We can also be sure that God listens everywhere and all the time. There is nothing more important to God than being in relationship with us, God’s children.
Beyond this, we’ll never fully understand how prayer works and the ways that God answers and why. What we can be sure of is the God always brings himself into the midst of prayer and into the midst of our lives.
Where two or three are gathered, God is there in their midst.