Lord, Teach us to Pray
Why should you pray? There is a book written by John DeVries that addresses just that. His book, entitled Why Pray, highlights why a person ought to pray, what takes place in prayer, how we should understand prayer to impact our life and the lives of others, and many other intriguing insights on prayer. One of the metaphors that John uses for what praying is like, is a story about his grandson Andrew when he was 6 years old. Andrew had visited his other grandparents who owned a farm, and his grandfather would take him out on the tractor. His grandparents played up the work that Andrew had done, “oh it is a good thing that you were out here to help, we just don’t know how we would have gotten all this work done without you.” All of these comments left Andrew thinking that it was him who had been the primary driver of the tractor and not his grandfather. He thought this so fully that when Andrew was in a prayer group, he asked them to pray for his grandparents to get the help that they needed to on the farm while he was away. John shares how when he and his wife heard that story they laughed, but then John felt God nudge him with a thought that this is not too dissimilar from how John treats God. Sometimes John treats God “like a helper in the sky, thinking that all the work has fallen on [John’s] shoulders.” John reflects that just as Andrew sat upon his grandfather’s lap to do the work of the field, when John prays, it is like sitting on His heavenly Father’s lap. Ultimately it is God who does the work of His kingdom, but God invites us to participate, and our participation brings God joy, just as Andrew’s participation brought his grandfather joy. One reason to pray is that it is a way in which God invites us into doing the work of the kingdom. In today’s gospel lesson, the disciples are not as concerned with the why, so much as the how, as they implore Jesus “Lord teach us to pray.”
Jesus responds, “when you pray, say: Father.” This single word has profound implications on the nature of prayer. If you look in the Old Testament, you would most commonly see God being addressed as Lord. In the Hebrew this is either YHWH, God’s personal name, which he revealed to Moses, describing that God is. God says to Moses, I am who I am, tell the Israelites that YHWH has sent you to them. God is the living God who is. Lord can also refer to the word Adonai, which is a title, as in the one called Adonai is a Lord of a realm or kingdom. God is also referred as God, often either Elohim or El, or as my God which is often Eli. The point I am making with all this Hebrew is that the way God is addressed in the Old Testament always conveys a clear divide with God being way up here and His creation being significantly lower. But Jesus narrows the divide when he says that when you talk with God in prayer, you can come to Him as your Heavenly Father. This is even before Jesus’s death and resurrection. The very coming of Jesus upon the earth is already a setting things back to the way that God had intended them. Not since God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden was there anything like the intimacy that Jesus ushers in with His very life. You are invited to call God Father because you have a closeness to Him, because as your Father he is responsible for you, to care for you and provide for you. But this relationship goes both ways. As a child of this Father, you are subordinate to Him. Calling God Father frames the relationship so that you are addressing not an equal, but one who is much higher than you, yet whom you still have a closeness with.
Jesus continues hallowed be your name. Jesus is saying Father, let it be so that your name is revered. He doesn’t give specifics as to among whom or in what place, thus freeing this petition up to be a general, as in, may in all places by all people your name be honored and set apart.
Jesus says, Your Kingdom come. Father, by your authority, allow your Kingdom, that is your rule and reign, to come. Give us each day our daily bread, that is give us what we need for each day, as a good Father would do for His children. And forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone who is indebted to us. This is another profound petition. Luke points out with the words of the Pharisees in chapter 5 who say “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” This was what had been established by God, and forgiveness generally came not just for the asking, but rather there were sacrifices and reparations to be done. But Jesus invites his disciples to simply ask, with an expectation of a yes answer. As well in this prayer Jesus is inviting you to have the audacity to say to God, who alone can forgive sins, that you are forgiving the sins of those who wrong you. That is pretty remarkable.
Lastly in the Luke account, Jesus says, “lead us not into temptation.” Now how shall we understand the use of this prayer in our lives. We say the same prayer, but from Matthew’s account every Sunday. When Jesus instructs His disciples to pray and say these words, is this to be understood as the only words His disciples should pray, or that this prayer is a better prayer than any other prayer can be? My reflection on this passage leads me to say no, that is not the point that Jesus is making. Rather Jesus is speaking about how prayer is a means of shaping your perspective on your relationship with God.
Think for a moment, that if a dutiful child were to go to a loving father, how that child might share with the father all that is on that child’s mind. The child sits on the Father’s lap at the end of the day and says “father, the other kids were making fun of me. They make fun of me for being your child with a ridiculous last name, a name I inherited from you. They said that my clothes are ratty, that the things that I find fun are boring. That whenever they invite me to do things that they call fun like throw rocks at cars or gossip about someone in my class, that I am stupid for refusing to join in. On top of that, all I had for lunch was a simple sandwich, an apple, some chips and a small cookie, but other kids had pizza lunchables and a fist full of oreos. Then when I went out to recess I threw a ball as hard as I could at Jimmy, but he ducked and I accidently hit Sally in the face. She cried and I felt terrible. But I only threw it that hard because Jimmy had just kicked the ball right into my stomach from like 10 feet away and it hurt. Then after recess we had a test that I didn’t study for as much as I should, and so I was really tempted to look at Charity’s paper because she sits next to me and is the smartest person in class but I didn’t cheat. Now after all of that, how do you think that the loving father will respond? Do you think that the loving father listened diligently to his child and with care?
What I am trying to point out is that the petitions in the Lord’s prayer, as Luke records it, are actually good summaries of how we can talk to our heavenly Father, that will help us to curb sin and to encourage a right relationship with God. One of issues that plagues our sinful world is a lack of respect for the creator. People don’t want to hear about God, but instead are repulsed at the mention of God, or Jesus. But we pray that God would allow His name to be revered. As well we see the fruits of a godless people. Under the rule and reign of God we are called to love our neighbor as ourself. But that is not what is taking place. So we pray that God would allow His just and right rule to come where it is absent. Now we turn to our own sins rather than the abstract sins of the world. We are likely to look at what others have and dismiss the blessings that God has already lovingly provided us with. Thus we help put things in proper perspective when we pray give us this day our daily bread. Also in our sinful state we have the potential to believe that the terrible things that I have done this day, yesterday, sometime in the past, they either individually or collectively are just too terrible to even have a conversation with God, much less thinking we are going to be blessed or provided for from our Heavenly Father. So we pray that God would forgive us our sins, trusting the promise of His mercy. Sometimes, it is really hard for us to forgive other people. It could be minor things, like that horrible person cut me off and almost caused an accident, I am going to tailgate him to let him know, the only way that I can, that he has wronged me and he shouldn’t do it again to anyone. Or it could be major things, like someone who is close to you betraying your trust. But holding onto any sin committed against you not only damages your relationship with that person, it also burdens you further and damages your relationship with God. So Jesus invites us to pray with an expectation of forgiving the sins of others committed against us. Lastly in this life, there are many temptations. Many things that occur which elicit in us a desire to do something contrary to God’s desire for our lives. So we pray, that as we go about doing the things God desires for us to do, that we would not encounter anything that directs us off of God’s path for us.
But that is not the end of the lesson from Jesus on how to have the right perspective when speaking to your heavenly Father. He says a story about a man going to a friend in the middle of the night. Jesus says because of the man’s impudence, because of his boldness, the friend gives him what he asks for. Therefore, ask of God and it will be given to you, seek God and you will find Him, knock and it will be opened to you.
When you pray, pray with an expectation that your heavenly Father is listening to what you have to say and that you will receive what you ask for. But also pray with a trust that your Heavenly Father loves you beyond your limited perspective. Here is what I mean. The other night my daughter wanted to be held while I was preparing dinner. I was in the middle of chopping vegetables, so I stopped, picked her up, and made sure I was out of arms reach of the knife, the cutting board and the vegetables I was just chopping. Zoë saw them and reach out toward them and made a “uh” noise indicating that she wanted those things, especially the shiny knife she just saw daddy using. In her limited perspective, she has no idea the danger such an item would pose to her, and I as a good father deny her what she is asking for. If I, a father who is nowhere as good as God know when to deny my child, whom I love, how much more will our heavenly Father deny us things we desire that would only bring us ruin and despair. It can be challenging because we are bigger and we know more than a 17 month old, so we are tempted to think that anything we can desire should be granted us, we have earned that right. But the reality is that God has knowledge that we do not have, and it is for our blessing that he tells us no. So pray with an expectation of a yes, but trust that if you receive a no or a not now response, this is for your benefit, and not because God is punishing you.
Jesus’s final words in this text, suggest that you should even be so bold as to pray for the Holy Spirit to be given to you. Jesus ends implying that this is the best gift that God can give you, for it is by the work of the Holy Spirit that God’s name will be hallowed, that God’s kingdom will come, that you will receive your daily bread, that your sins will be forgiven, that you will forgive others, and that you will not be led into temptation. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that you have a familial relationship with God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. This Spirit is given to you, simply by asking.
So when you pray, speak like a child sitting on your heavenly Father’s lap. He will patiently listen to all you have to say. He will always give you blessings and not curses when you turn to Him with what is taking place around you. Trust that even if the answer you receive to a request is not what you thought you wanted, that the response is for your benefit.