"Some Thoughts on Prayer"

LUKE 11:1-13

MAR 2, 2014



            Years ago Mother Teresa appeared on Robert Schullers television program The Hour of Power.  Schuller reminded her that the show was being carried all over the United States and in 22 foreign countries including her native Yugoslavia.  He asked her if there was one message that she would like to convey to all those viewers.  Her response was, "Yes, tell them to pray.  And tell them to teach their children to pray."

            I find it curious that the disciples had been with Jesus for months, roughly two years, and Jesus had not taught them how to pray.  If I had been Jesus, I probably would have made an issue of it at the very beginning with the disciples.  I would have said something like, "Prayer is the center of our ministry, and I want to begin our time together teaching you how to pray.  Get out your notebooks and write down after me, 'Our Father, who art in heaven ...'  Philip and Thomas, are you writing this down?  Geez, you guys.  Pay attention.  Write this down!"

            From the get go, I would have made sure that everybody knew the right way to pray.  But Jesus did not do that.  Instead, he simply prayed.  Throughout his ministry he prayed and he prayed and he prayed until the disciples eventually asked, "Teach us to pray."  Could it have been that prayer was so important that Jesus did not insist they learn how to pray until they themselves perceived they were missing something?

            As far as the records go, this is the only thing that the disciples explicitly asked Jesus to teach them.  This seems a little strange because they had prayed all of their lives. They had grown up in Jewish homes where prayer was a staple, but then when they began following Jesus, they saw what prayer meant to him. They had watched him go into prayer in one mood and come out in another.  They had watched him grow stronger through prayer and, they began to see that prayer was more than just begging God for the things they desired.  They saw how prayer influenced his life and they asked him to teach them this art of praying.

            Jesus responded to their request with a pattern and a parable.  Taking the parable and the pattern together, he gave them five things to keep in mind when praying.  Lets turn to those five things now.

            First, he says, when you pray concentrate on the Person to whom you are praying.  The first word of the prayer is "Father."  It comes from the Greek word "Pater" and it sounds both intimate and formal.  Other places in the New Testament when speaking of God as Father, the word is "Abba" which means "Daddy."  That's much more intimate and much less formal.  I'm not sure I ever addressed my earthly father as "Father,", at least not more than five times.  I seldom, if ever said, "Father, can I borrow the car?" or "Father, can I have a candy bar?" or "How was work today, Father?"  No, it was "Daddy" when I was a young child and "Dad" after that.  So "Father" sounds a bit formal, which makes sense ... this is God, after all, but it still rings with a sense of intimacy.   

            Think about it.  Jesus instructs his disciples to call the Creator of the Universe, "Father,"  not "Great and Mysterious God,"  not "The Ground of All Being," not "The Holy One of Israel," but "Father."  Somewhat formal yes, but intimate, loving as well.  And Jesus makes the point in the following parable that our Heavenly Father, is much more generous, more willing to give than the churlish neighbor who resists opening the door and giving his neighbor what he requests.  By the way, speaking of the parable, in Palestine travelers often traveled late in the evening to avoid the heat of the midday sun.  In Jesus' story such a traveler arrives at midnight at a friend's house, and hospitality being what it was in that day and time, he had to provide something for his friend to eat, but he's low on food, so he goes next door to his neighbor, but the door of his neighbor's house was shut.  In the mideast no one would knock on a shut door unless the need was imperative.  A shut door was like hanging a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the handle.  During the day the door of a typical Palestinian home was open and remained open all day, but when a door was shut, that meant the householder did not want to be disturbed.  Anyway, Jesus contrasts our Heavenly Father, to this reluctant homeowner, who did not want to open his door in the middle of the night.  Jesus said, "Your Father in heaven is nothing at all like that man.  You don't need to try to wear down God to give you what you need.  God is more than willing to give you what you need."

            God, of course, is not quite like that poster Trudy saw on Facebook a couple of weeks ago.  The poster read, "I saw it.  I wanted it.  I told Grandma.  I got it."  God is our father, not our grandmother, but when praying Jesus says, "Concentrate on whom God is.  Picture those days as a young child climbing up into your father's lap.  God is more like that than the reluctant neighbor who did not want to be disturbed."  Hallow that name.  Respect it.  Remember it. 

            Second, he says, when you pray, pray that your heart, your own community, your country and your world will reflect the Kingdom of God.  Jesus prays here, "Your Kingdom come." Matthew adds a little to what Luke has Jesus saying.  After "Your Kingdom come," Matthew adds, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  

            That aspect of prayer should not surprise us.  Unless we have read through Gospels recently, we may have forgotten Jesus' passion for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus came preaching the Kingdom.  It was the Kingdom of God that He said was the pearl of great price.  It was the Kingdom of God that was the treasure hidden in the field.  The Kingdom of God was the tiny mustard seed that produces a great tree.

            Every generation of Christians could use a passion for the Kingdom of God. It is unbelievable that two thousand years after Christ our world would still have as much hatred, as much violence, as much evil as it does.

            A little girl was kneeling beside her bed.  She says, "Dear God, if you are there and you hear my prayer, could You please just touch me?"  Just then she feels a touch.  She gets so excited!  She says, "Thank You, God, for touching me!"

            Then she looks up, sees her older sister, and gets a little suspicious. "Did you touch me?"

            The sister answers, "Yes, I did."

            "What did you do that for?" she asked.

            "God told me to," came the reply.

            God tells us to usher in the Kingdom of God where we live, where we work.  We are God's hands, God's feet, God's mouth in our world.  God is counting on us just as we are counting on Him to usher in the Kingdom of God.  

            When you pray, concentrate on God as a generous Father.  Pray that the world will reflect God's Kingdom, and third, pray that God will meet your daily needs.  "Give us this day our daily bread."  Now, a quick clarification.  We don't pray, "Lord, give us this day what we want."  We pray for God to give us what we need. 

            A parishioner came to see Bruce Larson one day.  Bruce asked him, "What do you need most?"  He replied, "A friend.  I don't have a single friend."  Larson said, "I believe that's a basic need in life just like bread, and the two of us prayed that God might supply his need."

            Some of you here this morning are old enough to remember televangelists Jimmy and Tammy Faye Bakker, their television show PTL, and their subsequent fall from grace.  After he spent time in prison Baker, said, I came to realize such greedy self-centeredness gets a lot of people in the pen, including myself. I believed the prosperity gospel.  I told people when you want a new car claim it and be sure to specify the options and colors you want.  I was wrong.

            When you pray, "Don't ask for what you want.  Ask for what you need."  How would that change our morning prayers?  What would happen to our prayers if we prayed for what we needed that particular day and not what we wanted?  I don't know about you, but it would change my morning prayers a lot.

            Fourth, regularly request forgiveness when you pray.  "And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us."

            Edith Bunker, on the television show All in the Family, described the confessional boxes in the Roman Catholic Church as "telephone booths to God."  Well, maybe they are not quite that, but every prayer must contain an element of confession.  We are not all God means for us to be.  We need God's mercy, God's compassion, God's amazing grace, and we also need ... speaking of praying for daily needs ... we also need the ability to forgive others.  The truth is, we don't always forgive everyone indebted to us, but when we remember how much God has forgiven us, we can be magnanimous toward those who have wronged us.

            A man said that the most significant person in his life was his grandfather.  The grandfather ran a feed and grain store during the Depression, and he gave credit to so many of his customers, who didn't have money to pay, that he eventually had to declare bankruptcy.  It took this man's grandfather years to earn enough money to repay all the liens against his business.  But on the day when the last creditor was finally paid, this old gentleman took his books, including all the records of all the people who had owed him money, and he burned them in a huge bonfire.  Incidentally, the amount he wrote off from his customers was $40,000 which is a lot of money today, but was really a lot of money in those Depression years.  With that $40,000 bonfire, he forgave his debtors as he had been forgiven by God, and he became the most significant person in his grandson's life. 

            Our final prayer is for guidance.  "And do not bring us to the time of trial."  It's a tricky world out there.  There are many snares.

            The year was 1864.  A Bowery bum with a slashed throat was brought into Bellevue Hospital in New York city.  The man was unable to recover from his injury because of a body weakened by excessive alcoholism.  He had a fever.  He suffered intense pain from the laceration on his throat.  He lost a great deal of blood.  He was suffering from malnutrition.  He survived for several days until finally he died at the age of thirty-eight.  He died with only a few cents in his pocket.  As the story unfolded, however, they discovered that this was not just another Bowery bum.  He had been well known all over America, famous for his songs.  He had charmed America into singing "De Camptown Races," "Oh! Susanna," "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair," "My Old Kentucky Home," and hundreds more.  His name was Stephen C. Foster. But on that cold wintry night in New York City, in 1864, he died, leaving behind the legacy of a wasted life.[1]

            Stephen Foster never intended to have his life end like that.  Nobody ever does.  It rarely happens in a big gulp, but with tiny nibbles.  But the nibbles are deadly.  One of the most important prayers we can pray is "Do not bring me to the time of trial" or as Jesus puts it in Matthew's gospel, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." 

            Have you heard the story about the young man who went ice fishing for the first time in his life?  He arrived with all his equipment and began to cut a circle in the ice.  Suddenly he heard a deep voice say, somberly, "Don't cut that ice."  The young man stopped, looked around, didn't see anyone, so he moved to a different part of the ice and started to drill another circle. Again the deep voice from nowhere announced, "Don't cut that ice."  Finally the young man yelled, "All right, what's going on here?  What are you bothering me for?  Just who the heck do you think you are anyway?" 

            To which the mystery voice replied, "I'm manager of the skating rink!"

            I wish God's voice were that easy to distinguish.  I would like to hear it boom out every time I'm about to do the wrong thing, but that is not the way life works.  We walk by faith, praying each step of the way for guidance.

            Back to Mother Teresa:  "Tell them to pray and to teach their children to pray."  Our Lord has given us the model for prayer.  Concentrate on the Person to whom you are praying.  Pray that our lives and our world will reflect God's Kingdom.  Pray for our daily needs, not wants.  Regularly request forgiveness, and pray daily for His guidance.

            In fact, let's do that now.  Join me in the Lord's Prayer.  By the way, I don't believe Jesus ever gave us the disciples this prayer as a rote prayer.  I don't believe he was teaching them to use these exact words whenever they prayed.  He was however giving them a pattern.  Five things to remember to do while praying.  Nevertheless, let's pray it together, not Luke's version here, but rather Matthew's version.  Let us pray. 

[1] Paul Aurandt, More of Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1980) pp.181-182.