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Lord, teach us to pray

LUKE 11:1-13

Pentecost 10 | August 14, 2022 | Pastor Ryan Cortright

11 On another occasion, 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 also taught his disciples.”

2 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. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, as we also forgive everyone who sins against us.[c] And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”

5 He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and tell him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine who is on a journey has come to me, and I do not have anything to set before him.’ 7 And the one inside replies, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give it to you.’ 8 I tell you, even if he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his bold persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

9 “I tell you, keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep seeking, and you will find. Keep knocking, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives. The one who seeks finds. And to the one who knocks, it will be opened.

11 “What father among you, if your son asks for bread, would give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, would give him a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, would give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are 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?” (EHV)

One helpful way to reflect on what you read in the Bible is to ask yourself what was surprising or unexpected. What was the most surprising thing you heard in our Gospel reading today? This is the line that caught my attention: Jesus was praying. Now, maybe that doesn’t surprise you. We know that Jesus prayed on many occasions, but if all the things the Bible says about Jesus are true… that he is all-powerful, able to calm storms, raise the dead, and turn water into wine, then why did he need to pray?

And the question I found myself asking is this: why would I ever think I don’t need to pray? Maybe you are like me, though, when it comes to prayer. I understand that I should pray. But I’m a “I’ll figure-it-out-on-my-own” kind of guy and prayer can become an afterthought; something I turn to after I’ve tried everything else. Prayer is like dialing 9-1-1, you only do it in cases of emergency. Besides, I know that God works all things for my good. So, in a strange way, I can twist my lack of prayer into evidence of my great faith.

A Christian’s prayer life can be a good measure of their spiritual health. When Jesus’ disciples saw him praying and wanted him to teach them how to pray, Jesus didn’t say, “If you decide to pray, this is one way to do it.” No, he said, “When you pray.” When you pray implies that you will pray. Just like a person who is alive will breathe, a person who has faith will want to pray, even if we’re like Jesus’ disciples and don’t always know exactly how to do it.

We can get a false impression of prayer if the only time we hear prayers are when we come to church. Here at church our prayers are more formal, and there’s a good reason for that. Here we pray together, which means that we usually have prayers that have been written out beforehand. The downside to that is that we may start to think that our prayers have to be overly formal, almost rehearsed; that we can’t just open our mouths and talk to God from our hearts even when we’re not exactly sure what to say. Now, Jesus did give his disciples a model for prayer; a pattern to follow. But before we ask the question: what should we be praying for? let’s first answer the question, “How should we pray?”

Jesus says we ought to talk to God as a child talks to their father. In fact, Jesus answered his disciple’s question about how to pray by first saying who we are to pray to: our heavenly Father. Don’t let the magnitude of this escape you. The God who created this entire universe; who may feel at times too big to care about our little problems, or too far away to hear our faint prayers… this God wants us to call on him not as the Big Guy Upstairs, but as our Father. And he is our Father in the truest sense of the word. Not only do we derive our life and existence from him, but when we were enemies of God, born into sin and deserving of his just punishment, he rescued us. He reached down and adopted you as his own at your baptism. If you ever say to yourself, “What business do I have praying to God and calling God my Father?” Know that you have every right to do so, because God has called you his son. God has called you his daughter.

The other night I was walking with Isabel and she told me that she was deciding not to be the youngest in the family. We had a conversation about things we can decide, like where we live or who we marry, and things that God decides, like who your parents are, whether you are a boy or a girl, or whether you are the oldest or the youngest in a family. You can’t call God our Father because you chose him. You can call on God as your Father because he chose you. And, as Jesus says, if earthly, imperfect fathers want was is best for their children, how much more our heavenly Father. So we can pray confidently. We can pray boldly. We can pray trusting that no problem is too small to bend our Father’s ear or that no problem is too big for him to handle. We can pray trusting that he will not only hear our prayer but that he will answer it according to his perfect will and in our best interests.

You could say that God answers our prayers in one of two ways. He can say, “Yes,” or he can say “I have something better.” Obviously, “I have something better” is another way to say, “No.” But, if we trust that he truly acts in our best interests then we can trust that even when God appears to be ignoring us or doing the opposite of what we are asking, he is not giving us a scorpion when we’ve asked for an egg. He’s making us an omelet.

There was a man in my first congregation who had become very discouraged in his faith. He and his wife had worked their whole careers with the hopes of retiring and traveling around the country in their RV in retirement. Soon after they retired his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Their plans changed and this man found himself caring for his ailing wife and praying that God would make her well again. In the span of a few years she died and now, a few years later, he couldn’t shake his anger at God that he did not heal her. In his mind, the only right answer to his prayer was that she would be well again. What do you think I told him? I said, “God did answer your prayer. She is free from all her suffering. She is with her Lord and one day, her body will be raised free from disease to live with God eternally.”

I have to tell you that he didn’t say, “Pastor, you know what, you’re right.” He didn’t come back to church. It took several years for him to heal and grow. But, I can tell you that I did his funeral and before he died he confessed his faith in Jesus.

How are we to pray? Like a child who entrusts everything into the hands of his loving Father.

What are we to pray for? We heard Jesus say, I tell you, keep asking, and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Did any of you buy a lottery ticket for the recent Mega Millions lottery that topped 1 billion dollars? Did you pray that you would win? Maybe even made a deal with God that if you did, you might share a little with him? Of course, Jesus never promised that you’d win the lottery. He probably knows that the money would ruin many of us. But what did promise? Something much better. How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

When was the last time you asked God to give you his Holy Spirit? Maybe those exact words haven’t come out of your mouth, but you ask God to do that every time you pray, “Thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer. What is God’s kingdom other than his working of faith by the Holy Spirit in our hearts and the hearts of others?

Like I mentioned, Jesus did not give us the Lord’s Prayer so that our prayers could be put on autopilot and so that we don’t have to think about what we are saying. He gave it as a model for our prayers. When we look at the Lord’s Prayer we should take a step back like and see its general shape and contours. What are we praying for in this model prayer? We’re praying that God’s name be kept holy. We’re praying that his kingdom come and that his will be done. We’re praying for our daily bread and for forgiveness as we forgive others. We’re praying for deliverance from temptation and from evil. If you want a review of what those petitions mean you should take your Small Catechism off the shelf this week.

We’re praying that we, who call God Father, would truly live as his children in this world until he delivers us out of it into his kingdom.

Far from prayer being the spiritual version of dialing 9-1-1, it is the communication that exists whenever a person has faith in Jesus and calls upon God as their father. Like any father, we can be sure that if our prayers have been sparce or non-existent for a time, he does not push us away. Instead, he calls us back to him. He invites us to pray and promises that he will never turn his ear from his dear children.

I know that you might say, “That was a nice sermon about prayer.” We can all agree that prayer is a good thing, but that alone will not help someone to start praying more. If someone asked me, “Pastor, how can I become more regular in my prayers?” My one suggestion would be to set apart a regular time for prayer. When you have your morning coffee, before you pull out your phone to scroll Facebook, pull out your Bible and read a chapter, then spend two minutes in prayer. Of find some other time when you can regularly shut off all the other distractions and spend time in prayer.

Jesus knew his Father loved him. That’s why he prayed. We know our heavenly Father loves us. That’s why today we say with Jesus’ disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

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