Date: April 7, 2019 Transcript:
If you want to learn to throw a football, would you ask Aaron Rodgers or Roger Johnson? For sure, you should ask Aaron Rodgers. However, if you want to learn to do plumbing, wiring, painting or anything involving home repair, Roger Johnson is probably a much better option.
How about if we want to learn how to pray? Well a number of people could teach us something. Yet, no doubt, the greatest expert, the best teacher on prayer would be Jesus.
Friends, today our journey through the gospel of Luke brings us to Luke 11:1-13 (page 869). Here Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them how to pray. So that is what Jesus does. He gives them (and us) a basic lesson on prayer.
That is why the title this morning is “Prayer 101.” It is like the introductory course on this activity, which is a very important part of our relationship with God, and of our Christian life.
Now, I suppose some of you think you are ready for advanced teaching on prayer. A 300/500 level course, perhaps. You are maybe thinking, “Well, I know how to pray. This sermon isn’t really for me.” But friend, I would encourage you to stick with me this morning. I am not sure any of us have really mastered the subject of prayer.
Oh yes, lots of people pray. A Pew survey reports 55% of Americans say they pray every day. That includes 20% of those who consider themselves not religious and 6% of atheists, who pray every day. Only 23% of people say they seldom or never pray. So, when folks on Facebook say, “I will be praying for you,” they are probably telling the truth.
Yet, in my conversations with people both inside and outside our church, I have learned two things:
#1 Most of us, most Christians, don’t pray as often and as consistently as we know we should
#2 There is confusion, misunderstanding and misinformation about prayer, both in the church and in society as a whole.
We can all benefit from this basic lesson on prayer the Lord Jesus has for us. Let’s pause and take time to pray, asking the Lord to teach us about prayer this morning.
Luke 11:1 – He (Jesus) was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.”
Now, the Bible does not say what John taught his disciples. Perhaps it involved a certain form of prayer, maybe even a prayer they memorized. As he proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, John likely taught his follower to pray a little differently than Jewish traditional prayers.
As the Messiah, what Jesus has to say will be a little different than what John taught. In responding to the request, “teach us to pray,” Jesus is practical:
Luke 11:2-4 – He said to them, “Whenever you pray, say, Father, your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone in debt to us. And do not bring us into temptation.”
Most of you recognize this as The Lord’s Prayer, though the Christian Standard Bible, which I read, is certainly shorter than the prayer many of us have memorized.
Our version of “The Lord’s Prayer” is not taken from this passage, but Matthew’s gospel. Don’t be troubled by the fact there are two versions of this prayer Jesus taught – one in Matthew and another in Luke.
Some wonder, “Well, which is the real one? Which one should we pray?” Some folks think either Matthew expanded the prayer Jesus actually taught or that Luke gives a condensed version of the prayer.
I don’t believe that is the case. During his three-year ministry, Jesus probably taught on prayer a dozen times. In Matthew 6, we likely see an early lesson on prayer which Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount, while Luke records a later teaching. There is certainly no reason why Jesus would use the exact same words each time he teaches…..especially since prayer is really not about saying certain words.
I am confident both Matthew and Luke accurately report what Jesus said when he was talking about prayer on two separate occasions. In my opinion, Matthew’s version of Jesus’ prayer is a bit more poetic, but Luke provides a very concise and helpful summary of what prayer involves.
This particular prayer can be broken into four parts:
1st is praise to God, praising him for being a loving, holy Father.
Luke 11:2 – “Father, your name be honored as holy.”
2nd is a petition asking God to provide for our needs.
Luke 11:3 – “Give us each day our daily bread.”
This implies we can ask God for anything, including the ordinary things of life. If you’d like to recover quickly from a head cold or pass a Chemistry test, you can make that request to the Lord.
3rd – We are to confess our sins.
Luke 11:4a – “And forgive us our sins.”
Even though we probably did not rob a bank or commit any felonies this past week, each of us failed to live in the way we should have. I don’t think any of us make it through one day where we have always loved God with our entire being and always loved other people as much as we love ourselves.
And 4th – We ask the Lord to help us live in the right way.
Luke 11:4b – “And do not bring us into temptation.”
We want his protection from sin, evil and the evil one.
This is a particular prayer Jesus gives his disciples, including us. There is nothing wrong with memorizing it and nothing wrong with repeating it – as long as we don’t go on auto pilot. We need to pray with our mind and heart, not just with our lips.
However, the Lord’s Prayer is not a model we should follow every time we pray. When we say a prayer at McDonalds, thanking God for the food, we probably don’t need to confess our sins. Yet, as we pray throughout the day, expressing praise to God, confessing our sins and asking the Lord to provide for our needs are all certainly good things to do.
And yes, it is a good idea to pray more than once a day. Doctors tell us we should drink eight glasses of water a day. As a “Physician of the Soul” (a pastor), I recommend praying eight times a day.
OK, that is Jesus’ basic outline for prayer. However, he doesn’t just tell us what kinds of things to say when we pray. He also focuses on a couple of attitudes we should have. He says we need to ask God for what we need and desire. And we need to be persistent in asking.
Now, it is interesting – as Jesus gives this basic lesson on prayer, he focuses on “asking.”
A man once told me, “When I pray, I don’t ask God for anything.” This person was kind of proud of that. Oh, he expressed praise and thanksgiving to God and he confessed some sin, but he didn’t ask God for any help. He said, “I don’t want to bother him. I can do okay on my own.”
Friends, that is not the right way to pray. Prayer is about asking God for something. It is an expression of our dependence on him. It is turning to God for help. Frankly, people who never ask for anything when they pray are missing the boat.
Can you imagine if a five-year old boy said to his father, “Dad, I am not going to ask you and Mom for anything anymore. I don’t want to bother you. I don’t want you to give me any more toys, food or clothes. I will just take care of myself.”
Any normal dad would say, “Son, we are your parents. We want to give you things. We want you to ask for what you need.”
Though this analogy is less than perfect, in a similar way, the Lord says to us, “You are my child. I am your Father. I delight in being generous to you. I want to give to you. Please ask for what you need.”
Friends, the heart of prayer is expressing our dependence on God. And if we don’t think we are dependent on the Lord and if we think that somehow we can take care of ourselves, we have a real pride problem and are quite deceived.
So we need to ask. We need to ask God to provide for our needs and to help us become the people he wants us to be. And when we ask, we should be persistent. Jesus says:
Luke 11:5-6 – “Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I don’t have anything to offer him.’”
In other words, you get some unexpected company at midnight. They are hungry. But you don’t have anything to feed them. The grocery store is closed, so you go to your neighbor’s house and knock on the door. “Can I borrow some bread? I want to make sandwiches to feed my guests.”
Luke 11:7 – “Then he will answer from inside and say, ‘Don’t bother me! The door is already locked, and my children and I have gone to bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’”
In that culture, a family often slept in one big bed. You could not really get out of that bed without waking up the kids, so it is very inconvenient.
Luke 11:8 – “I tell you, even though he won’t get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his friend’s shameless boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.”
Obviously, if the neighbor keeps knocking on the door, the kids will wake up anyway. It makes more sense for the man to get up and give some food to his neighbor.
Now, Jesus also tells us (a few verses later) that God delights in giving us good things. Thus, how can the man who didn’t want to get out of bed represent God? Some even suggest the man is meant to be a contrast to our heavenly Father. However, we need to grasp the point of Jesus’ analogy. He does not intend to commend the attitude of the man in the bed, but rather is pointing to the value of being persistent.
Luke 11:9-10 – “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Friends, persistence in asking is a demonstration of sincerity in asking.
For example, let’s say Nancy asks me to stop and pick up some broccoli for dinner. As I look at the produce shelf in Jubilee Foods, it appears they don’t have any on hand; so I go home and tell Nancy, “Sorry, they didn’t have any broccoli.” Why? Because I don’t like broccoli.
If I did, I would not have given up the broccoli search so easily. I would have asked the grocery clerk if there was more broccoli in the store room. If not and if I really liked broccoli, I would go to Hibbing to another grocery store and find some broccoli. Persistence in asking is a demonstration of sincerity in asking.
We might also wonder why we have to keep on repeatedly praying and asking God to do something when we have already told him what we want him to do. Actually, God already knew what we wanted before we asked. Before we even thought of praying, God knew what we were going to pray and for what we were going to ask. And he already knew how he was going to answer that prayer. In fact, he knew those things a trillion years ago.
You may be thinking, “Pastor Dan, this is just getting more confusing.” Well, I agree that many aspects of prayer are a bit of a mystery and not easy to understand.
However, it helps me to remember the focus of prayer, asking, is not so much for God’s benefit as for mine. The reason God desires I be persistent in asking for what I need is partly, maybe primarily, so that I would repeatedly remind myself of my dependence on him.
Folks, one of the most important lessons we can learn in our time on earth is that we are dependent on God for everything we have: the food we eat, the air we breathe, the roof over our head, our family, our friends, the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. These are all gifts from the Lord.
As the Apostle Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 4:7 – “What do you have that you did not receive?” The answer is nothing. We depend on the Lord for everything we have in our lives. And so, as we ask, seek and knock, this truth should be impressed on our hearts and minds over and over again.
Often the most sincere prayers flow out of situations where we know there is nothing we can do. We know that God, and God alone, can change what seems to be hopeless situations into hopeful situations. And, in those situations, we tend to be very earnest in our prayers. We keep asking and asking, knowing that it is God alone who can help us.
Friends, that attitude itself is important and pleasing to the Lord. So friends, be persistent. When we are asking God for something, we can be confident he will answer our prayer according to his will, which is also the best way it can be answered. We can trust him to do that. Why? Because he is a good Father!
Luke 11:11-13 – “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? 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?”
Jesus points to the most wonderful gift of all, the Holy Spirit. Yet, this truth applies across the board. When we ask for what is good, for what is truly and ultimately good, the Lord will give it to us. That is a promise. But we need to be careful we don’t misunderstand this promise. It is not a blank check.
Asking for a new Mercedes to suddenly appear in your garage is likely not a prayer that is going to be answered in the affirmative. Why? Because the new Mercedes, especially for one which you have not worked and saved, is probably not something that contributes to your true and ultimate good. For one thing, it could easily become an idol in your life. Rather than help you be a more godly person, that new Mercedes might be a hindrance to that.
I think there is another truth to which this passage points. We might call it the other side of the coin:
“What father among you, if his son asks for a snake instead of a fish, will give him that snake? Or if he asks for a scorpion instead of an egg, will give him that scorpion?”
A good father will refuse to give his child anything that would be harmful. He will, instead, provide a fish and an egg, even though this is not what the child wanted or asked for.
When we pray and ask God to give us things which are not truly and ultimately good for us, we can be confident that because he is a loving Father, a perfectly loving Father, he will not give us the things for which we ask.
And, I would even say that when God doesn’t answer in the particular way we would like, it is because he is working for our true and ultimate good. Sometimes that means he is helping us learn patience and perseverance. We have, indeed, asked for a fish. We have asked for something good.
Maybe we have asked the Lord to take away a desire for alcohol so we can overcome an addiction, but he chooses to allow that desire to remain so that we can become stronger as we overcome the addiction by learning to say no to an unhealthy desire that is still there.
Many times, however, we are going to ask for what we think is a fish, and the Lord will give us what we think is a snake. We pray the Lord would heal our sister’s cancer; but it keeps getting worse, and she dies.
We pray God would allow us to get a promotion at work that would enable us to better support our family and give more money to the Lord’s work; but instead, we find ourselves getting laid off, without any job at all.
We ask the Lord to prevent our parents from getting a divorce; but the divorce goes through, and now they refuse to even speak to each other.
Friends, those are the types of things that happen in real life. Yet, they don’t mean God has somehow forgotten us, that he is not a good father, or that he lacks the power to accomplish his purposes.
Friends, I cannot tell you how the Lord is going to work in every situation to accomplish what is for his glory and our ultimate good. Sometimes, I go through situations in my life and think, “There is no way God can turn this very painful situation into something that is good, ultimately good for me.”
But then I remember, I see just a small part of the puzzle. There are so many pieces that still need to be put in place. And I am confident in the end, God will, indeed, have used everything that happened in my life and your life, both for his glory and our ultimate good.
Why do I believe that? Because the Lord has promised to do just that!
Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Friends, that is the heart of what we have just been talking about. God is always working for both his glory and our ultimate good. How can we be confident that is true, that God means what he says?
Romans 8:32 – “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things.”
The logic is clear. God has given us his own son, who gave his life for us, on our behalf. Since he has given us Jesus and the salvation found through him, the greatest gift imaginable, why wouldn’t God give us anything we truly need?
Thus, whenever life gets a bit rough, whenever God doesn’t seem to be answering our prayers as we would like, we can take comfort in the fact God has a plan and he is too wise to ever be mistaken, too good to ever be unkind, and too powerful to ever have his plan frustrated by anyone or anything.
So, we pray with confidence, knowing the Lord will always answer our prayers according to his will, which always includes his glory and our ultimate good.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who art in Heaven
hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power
and the glory, for ever and ever.