PRAYER 101 - Luke 11:1-13
Have you ever had the exhilarating experience of putting together “flat pack” furniture? You know, the kind you get from Warehouse Stationary, or Ikea. The kind that have panels with labels A,B,C and a whole pile of tiny screws and dowel rods.
These projects often take much longer than you think. Well, that has been my experience anyway.
I’ve also learned that it is much worse if you lose the instructions or if they are impossible to follow.
Sometimes my prayer life has been like a flat pack kit without instructions.
I don’t know where to begin, it can feel as if there are lots of odd or missing pieces, loose ends and bits that don’t fit together.
Prayer isn’t always natural or easy.
For many of us, prayer is experienced like having a flat pack piece of furniture to put together but without instructions. A whole lot of desire to pray but not quite sure where to start.
It gives me great consolation that the disciples who were with Jesus felt this way too.
In today’s reading from Luke chapter 11 the disciples get straight to the point, with one of them asking Jesus “Lord, teach us to pray.”
What a wonderful and honest request.
It’s interesting to me that the disciple isn’t named by Luke. Maybe Luke didn’t want to shame him out. Maybe as a disciple everyone thought that he should simply know how to pray. Perhaps a lot of us feel like this too. It seems like such a simple request.
For those of us who have been around church a while we may feel that this question is really important but perhaps, we are a bit embarrassed to ask it and admit that we need some help when it comes to prayer.
This passage from Luke is wonderfully permission giving in that it puts the question out there very directly for us.
Jesus doesn’t turn around and rebuke his disciple saying something like: “What do you mean? Don’t you know how to pray!” “Ugh, get with the program, come on!” Rather he simply offers an answer along with some encouragement to persist in prayer and trust that God hears us and cares for us.
Today we are going to take a look at the prayer that Jesus teaches his first disciples and us to pray and see how it gives us a shape for prayer in which we can discover a deeper relationship with God.
This prayer is known as The Lord’s Prayer and it is such a familiar prayer for people who have been around church for a while. In fact, it is so familiar that we can easily miss its depth and beauty.
Our reading today gave us Luke’s version of the prayer, and there is a version in Matthew too. I’m going to work with the prayer as we pray it and look at what each line teaches us about prayer.
The Father’s Character
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name”
The first thing this prayer does is that it teaches us that prayer is all about relationship. It invites us to use a name for God that is intimate and familiar. It invites us to call God our “Father.” Jesus uses an Aramaic word for Dad, an informal way of greeting God that is intimate and close.
For some of us this term will have positive connotations and for others it will have negative connotations because our earthly Father’s are pretty variable. Some of us have had great Dad’s, some of us haven’t had a relationship with our Father’s, some of us may have lost our Father’s at a young age or been abused or hurt by them. I’m aware that there is a lot in this language.
But this prayer invites us to let this term be redefined by God.
Throughout the Gospels Jesus addresses God as Father. In the Bible God is revealed as Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, in teaching us to pray to God as Father, Jesus is inviting us into the love of the Triune God.
The beginning of this prayer ought to blow our mind. This prayer invites us into deep relationship with God, it reveals God’s character as both good and great. We are invited to see God as close like a Father and to hallow his name and recognize His power and majesty.
Tom Wright says:
“The first half of the prayer is thus all about God. Prayer that doesn’t start there is always in danger of concentrating on ourselves, and very soon it stops being prayer altogether and collapses into the random thoughts, fears and longings of our own minds”
So, as we begin to learn what it means to pray, the first thing we are taught is to get a glimpse of the Father’s character – we see the goodness and greatness of God, we are invited into God’s love and into relationship.
The Father’s Kingdom
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Not only is God our Father. We are reminded by Jesus that he is also the King. We are invited to pray that God’s kingdom would come, and God’s will be done. To pray this is to align our lives with God’s will, it is to willingly join God’s kingdom project of healing and restoring this good but broken world.
“To pray that God’s will be done is to pray that our wills be schooled to desire that God’s will be done. Our wills, the will of the world, will nail Jesus to the cross. But God defeated our willfulness, making it possible for us to pray that God’s will be done on earth.”(Stanley Hauerwas)
There’s a lot in that quote but the central point is that we are naturally moved by our own wilfulness and less keen to align ourselves with God’s will. This prayer invites us into a life of discernment where we might consistently ask “What would it look like for God’s kingdom to come in this situation?” We are reminded by the Lord’s prayer that when we follow Jesus we are called into an adventure much bigger than our own agenda – we are invited to be part of God’s kingdom and purposes in the world.
The Father’s Provision
“Give us today our daily bread”
Many of the prayers we learn to pray as children fall in this category. As children we are aware that we rely on others to provide us security, shelter and care. When I first learned to pray I had a list of things I would thank God for and an even longer list of things I would ask God for.
We are reminded by Jesus that we can ask God to meet our needs. As humans we have physical needs like food, shelter, and clothing and we have emotional and spiritual needs too. To pray for our daily bread is to acknowledge that God can provide us with what we need and that we trust in his provision for us.
This aspect of prayer also teaches us to be thankful for all that God has given us.
The Father’s Forgiveness
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Most days each of us manage to do something that we wish we hadn’t. It might be a little comment, it might be something we failed to do, but as humans we will often be acutely aware of our imperfections and our propensity to stuff things up.
On a bigger scale we see the very serious mess we are prone to make in the world – abuse, war, murder, greed…a quick read of the morning news can quickly undermine any overconfidence we have in humanity.
We often need forgiveness and we often need to forgive one another.
When Jesus teaches us to pray he acknowledges this reality.
This part of prayer acknowledges the deep scar that runs through humanity – our sin, our alienation from God and from one another.
This prayer reminds us to look to God forgives our sin and who heals our brokenness. This prayer reminds us of the reconciliation at the heart of the good news of Christianity – that even though we are lost sinners, even though we so often fall short of the mark and we hurt one another and we reject God. Even though we stuff things up, God is willing to forgive us, to cleanse us from every kind of wrong. 1 John 19 states it bluntly: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
To truly find freedom and hope in our lives we need to experience God’s forgiveness and we need to practice it with humility when we find ourselves victims at the hands of others. Jesus teaches us to pray that we might know the Father’s forgiveness and offer it to others.
The Father’s Guidance
“Lead us not into temptation.”
This part of the prayer echoes many of the Psalms and proverbs of the Bible that talk about being guided by God. For example, Psalm 25 says: “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me.”
This prayer acknowledges that we are prone to wander, we are tempted to settle for things in life that are the spiritual and moral equivalent of sugar – a temporary high that doesn’t ultimately sustain us. We will be tempted to do what feels good rather than what is right, we will be tempted to do things that work out good for us at the expense of others, but Jesus teaches us to pray that God would mercifully guide us and show us the right path to take in any situation we face.
The Father’s Protection
“And deliver us from evil.”
The prayer that Jesus teaches us finishes by asking for protection. It acknowledges the reality of evil in the world. Today many people, particularly in the comfy suburbs of the West can be a bit naive about this one. We might acknowledge that life isn’t perfect, that bad things happen, but evil? It sounds a bit dramatic right?
But the Bible acknowledges the existence of spiritual evil. It talks about demons and the devil and principalities and powers. Often these powers are expressed through human agency and evil. 1 Peter is a letter that was originally addressed to persecuted and suffering Christians
1 Peter says:
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
The writer of 1 Peter acknowledges that spiritual evil was being manifest through the political authorities who were persecuting the early church. Through the 20th century we have multiple reminders of what evil looks like, and this prayer asks us to pray that God would deliver us from it.
It is a prayer of protection, echoing many of the Psalms that acknowledge God as our rock and refuge, a safe place, one who will protect us.
The Prayer that Jesus teaches us to pray is a well-rounded prayer that invites us to bring our who life before God. It reminds us that God is our Father in heaven who loves us. It reminds us of the Father’s Character, The Father’s Kingdom, The Father’s Provision, The Father’s Forgiveness, The Father’s Guidance, and the Father’s Protection.
Which aspect of prayer do you need to discover or rediscover today?