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Lombard CRC

How Are We To Pray?

Last week, we confessed that

none of us are experts at prayer

and we’ll always find prayer a challenge

because relationships are challenging.

Even the best relationships require vulnerability and risk and a laying-down-your-life-kind-of-love.

And so does faith in Jesus.

We learned that prayer

is not just asking God for blessings,

it is the thankful way of living in relationship with God.

This is why we pray:

Prayer is all about our relationship with the Triune God.

And we noted in our study of Luke 18

that even getting those words right

and understanding their meaning is hard.

It took a while for us to hear

that first prayer is thanks for God’s salvation,  

then prayer exercises that gift of belonging to God, being in the Lord’s presence.

 

That was all in answer to why we pray.

Today we ask, how we should pray.

We ask with the disciples who asked Jesus,

Lord, teach us how to pray.

Before we say anything else we should notice

that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them.

This is good.

This highlights for us

that as believers in Jesus as Savior and Lord

it is right for us to have a teachable spirit.

Faith wants to be taught.

Faith wants to learn.

The Holy Spirit is the Counselor God,

so let the Spirit teach you through Scripture,

trust and obedience,

and church participation,

and loving service, and prayer, too.

 

None of us are experts at prayer.

Prayer is hard.

But before we despair,

let me also remind you prayer is a gift from God,

and God will protect his gift.

The Holy Spirit will guide us

even in our most difficult moments of prayer,

taking on even our groans when words fail us,

says the Apostle Paul.

 

Because we can have a hard time with prayer

we tend to focus on mechanics

instead of the relationship.

Do you think there’s a right way to pray?

Do you judge that because prayer is difficult for you

that you must be doing it wrong?

 

When we think like this we focus on technique:

What sort of words should we use?

Though we never use these words in everyday life,

all of a sudden when we pray we think we should say, ‘Thee’ and ‘Thou’ for some reason.

Do we need to have a lot of people

praying for the same thing?

Do prayers need to be lengthy?

A generation before more of us kneeled at our bedside than we do today. Is that okay?

And a generation ago more prayers were said

at the beginning and end of meals and meetings

than today.

Are there right times to pray?

How are we to pray? And we think mechanics.

 

Garrison Keillor remembered one Thanksgiving dinner with the whole extended family

sitting around tables stretched out

from the dining room into the living room.

He was sitting next to his cousin at the kids’ table.

The aunts had put all the food out: big plates of turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, stuffing,

carrots and peas, turnips, big gravy boats

and cranberry sauce and fresh butter rolls.
But they couldn’t eat yet.

Grandpa had to pray.

 

Which was hard for young Garrison,

because grandpa always prayed long prayers.

He not only asked a blessing on the food

and gave thanks for their many blessings,

listing them one by one,

he would mention those who were sick or struggling,

he then went on to pray about world events,

and would always work in some political commentary. Finally, he said, Amen.

But right then, with no warning, his cousin threw up.

All over the table.

Everybody scattered,

some starting to gag themselves.

The table had to be cleared and cleaned.

A new tablecloth was put on,

new plates and silverware.

 

Eventually they all sat down again.

But then a discussion ensued.

Did we have to pray again?

Or was grandpa’s prayer sufficient?

He didn’t pray for Garrison’s cousin

and obviously they all needed to do that now.

Their family being how it was,

they were divided,

some insisting on prayer again,

others not,

and a few others had lost their appetites.

They focused on the mechanics of prayer.

 

In Luke 11, after the disciples ask Jesus

to teach them to pray,

he answers the how question by saying,

When you pray . . .’

Jesus guides us away from making technique

our most important concern,

getting us to look instead at our heart,

that is, our desire to spend time with the Lord.

The Heidelberg Catechism

reinforces this biblical truth about prayer:

we must rest on this unshakable foundation:

even though we do not deserve it,

God will surely listen to our prayer

because of Christ our Lord.

That’s how we pray,

and any mechanics should serve this assurance.

 

Like last week Jesus points to the character of God

not the character of our prayers

as the difference maker.

And like last week we’ll see that the parable he tells

is difficult for us to hear and to get the words right

and understand their meaning.

As I’m studying our three prayer passages from Luke

I see that these two parables

are among the most difficult to understand,

and the third story in Jesus’ life, next week,

presents a question most difficult to answer.

Clearly, there is so much for us to learn yet

when it comes to our prayers.

 

So let us ask, Lord teach us to pray,

and hear from his answer in Luke 11 –

 

Jesus answer by giving the disciples the Lord’s Prayer.

It’s pretty bare-bones.

Luke emphasizes its sparse language,

this version is shorter than Matthew’s

version when Jesus taught about prayer

in the Sermon on the Mount.

And he doesn’t say anything about

how often we should pray

or with whom

or with what postures.

Not a whole lot in response to how we should pray.

But he does start with ‘Father.’

He teaches very little about requests,

and focuses instead on

the sovereign providence and grace of God,

highlighting those things

that separate us from

and damage our faith in our Heavenly Father.

 

What matters most in prayer is not us,

but our Father in heaven.

And to help us know this grace,

Jesus tells the parable

commonly called the Friend at Midnight.

 

The story sets up a problem:

late at night an unexpected guest arrives

and the host has nothing to offer

the road weary traveler.

So he goes to his neighbor to ask for help.

Jesus begins the story asking the disciples

suppose this happened to you?

What would happen?

And the expected answer is my neighbor

would immediately respond and give what he could

to offer hospitality.

That’s just how it was done back in the day

when there was no Motel 6 on Main Street

and no White Castle on the corner.

As Jesus tells it, first the neighbor says no.

 Sorry friend, we’re all in bed,

it’s too late, I’m not getting up.

‘Don’t bother me.

The door is already locked,

and my children and I are in bed.

I can’t get up and give you anything.’

That would be unheard of.

The friend keeps pounding on the door

because he just HAS to serve his guest,

c’mon, I’ve got nothing to offer.

Jesus tells us that eventually

the neighbor gives in and offers what he has.

Jesus says it like this:

8 I tell you, even though he will not get up

and give you the bread because of friendship,

yet because of your shameless audacity

he will surely get up

and give you as much as you need.

 

The friend keeps on knocking

and the neighbor finally responds.

It’s not a pretty picture of friends and neighbors.

 

And for us, it’s not a pretty picture of prayer.

The shameless audacity of the friend

keeps him pounding and shouting

over the neighbor’s protests.

But the translation here says,

because of YOUR shameless audacity . . .

It’s as if Jesus is including his disciples

and us now in the story.

And he attributes this attitude to us all:

not just the friend, but also the neighbor,

and also the disciples, meaning you and me, too.

 

Now again, don’t try to assign characters here.

Jesus isn’t saying we’re the one pounding on God’s door in the night of our need,

and God is the reluctant neighbor

who will eventually respond

tho he won’t be happy about it all.

No, that’s not how to read it.

The point instead is

it’s not the character of the people

or their ability

that bring success here.

So prayer is not first about how we pray,

but to whom we pray:

the true God who gave his son

in response to all human brokenness.

 

I say that because

there is something you need to know about this verse. No one quite knows how to translate it best.

Remember last week in Luke 18

we said it’s hard to translate the key verse?

It’s the same thing here in Luke 11.

And that makes me wonder:

isn’t it instructive that two of the parables of Jesus

that focus on prayer

have key verses that are hard to understand,

whose language is tough to figure out.

Even this tells us prayer is a struggle,

so don’t feel defeated when prayer is hard.

But don’t think it’ll all get better

if you figure out how to pray better.

Remember instead,

the sovereign mercy and grace of God.

And the power of Christ, his cross and empty tomb.

I like how our catechism puts it:

instead of saying strive in prayer

it says rest . . .

rest on this unshakable foundation:

even though we do not deserve it,

God will surely listen to our prayer

because of Christ our Lord.

That is what God promised us in his Word.

 

Here in verse 8 the problem is

with the word translated into English as

‘shameless audacity.’

The sense is that because

the friend keeps calling for the neighbor,

keeps pounding at the door,

not caring who he wakes up

or what others in the neighborhood think . . .

he cares only that his request be fulfilled;

only because of that the neighbor gets up reluctantly

to give him ‘as much as he needs,’ says Jesus.

 

Yet if you look at the footnote for this verse

you see that the translators think it could also read:

8 I tell you, even though he will not get up

and give you the bread because of friendship,

yet to preserve his good name

he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

That is, to avoid being shamed . . .

the neighbor will respond.

Because if he doesn’t help out,

by the next morning

the news will have spread thru the village

that a guest was in town

and when the host asked for help

to give proper hospitality

the neighbor refused.

Shame on him.

 

The one translation has to do with the friend

calling at the door,

this translation focuses on the neighbor

being roused out of his sleep.

 

They both fit.

Because Jesus applies this story to his hearers and us:

‘Your . . .’ he says, he’s teaching us.

Something larger is going on here

than these two neighbors.

I think that’s the point:

believers look to God to resolve

even the most everyday situations of our lives.

Remember, this all began with the disciples

asking Jesus how to pray.

Jesus gives a bad example here

as if to say how you pray

is not the most important issue.

So long as you do pray: because God hears our prayers.

Kenneth Bailey:

Jesus reveals the good news concerning who God is:

The parable says in effect,

When you go to this kind of neighbor

everything is against you.

It is night.

He is asleep in bed.

The door is locked.

His children are asleep.

The kitchen is closed.

At that moment he is not concerned for you,

YET you still receive as much as you need.

This is because your neighbor is a man of integrity

so he will not violate that quality.

The God who has given you the gift of prayer

and in mercy says call me Father

and ask when in need,

has an integrity that is pure,

and more than that

God loves you.

So there is great assurance in what Jesus says:

If you are confident in having your needs met

when you go to such a neighbor in the night,

how much more can you rest assured

when you take your requests to your loving Father

who has promised to provide for you and save you?

 

If you confess that your prayer life

is almost non-existent,

or it is cold and stale,

full of doubt,

comprised of a few well-worn phrases

that you utter quickly without thinking

and without commitment . . .

These signals should not distress you,

but be received as an invitation

to grow closer to Jesus.

The elementary practices of prayer

have led you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid, for you were made for God,

and the Spirit will guide you in prayer.

Until all of life becomes a prayer,

because all of life is about being in God’s presence

and responding to his grace to give him glory.

 

So ask, seek knock, invites Jesus,

respond in some meaningful human way to me.

And if a neighbor like this can respond

to the friend’s need,

pray knowing there is so much more to God:

9 “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. 1

0 For everyone who asks receives;

the one who seeks finds;

and to the one who knocks,

the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish,

will give him a snake instead?

12 Or if he asks for an egg, will 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 Father in heaven

give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

 

Jesus ends saying we’re more like these two neighbors

than we’d like to admit.

But like these two neighbors we still

can manage to do the right thing

and respond with love and kindness and care

even when we don’t feel like it.

But our Heavenly Father is infinitely greater than us.

He is our Father,

he is good and gives good gifts.

And that gift is the Spirit,

the one who counsels us in prayer

so that we know Jesus with us in all things

to the very end.

Neal Plantinga writes about prayer this way:

There ought to be times for each of us –

regular, daily times –

when we go into a room,

shut the door,

and do our exercises.

This is a time for confessing personal sin,

giving thanks for a particular mercy,

asking for the measure of God’s grace we need to go on. This is a time for gauging the drift of our lives

and for making a moral resolve.

This is a time for reading the Bible,

for exploring its deep places

and taking to heart its counsel.

 

How should we pray?

Focus on the loving, sovereign, providential care

of your Savior.

For our take home response, ask:

How will adding one of these actions in prayer

deepen your desire and decision to spend time with

the Father and the Son?

Use silence and not only words.

Use the Bible and not only your own thoughts.

Use your ears to listen and not just your mouth to speak.

Use your body and not only your mind – kneeling, or arms outstretched or hands open to receive.

Pray together and not only alone.

Above all trust and not just concentrate on technique.

For prayer is an invitation to enjoy

the gift of our relationship with the triune God,

it is not religious exercise.

 

So ask, seek, knock.

 

We’ll take time now in worship to pray.

We will listen in silence and not just speak.

We will use the Bible and not just our own thoughts.

The worship team will lead us in song,

then listen as words from Psalm 65 are read

as our prayer to the Heavenly Father.

Then  we’ll respond in song with heads bowed

or arms raised or hands folded.

Then we’ll recite together from the Heidelberg catechism before we sing one more time.

 

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