Sunday, 25 July 2010

On Prayer


Today we look at Luke 11:1-13. Jesus teaches us about prayer.

For Jesus, prayer was a central part of his life. It was at the heart of who he was and what he did.

We discover him here, praying in a certain place (Luke 11:1). He is taking time out to be with God his Father.
Time to praise God his Father.
Time to delight in being with God his Father.
Time to seek his Father’s guidance and strength.
Time to ask him for things.

That is often very different to our praying.  

[I came across this extract from the film ‘Anne of Green Gables’. Anne is an orphan and has gone to Green Gables where she has been placed with Mrs Cuthbert.

"Have you said your prayers?" Ms. Cuthbert asks Anne.
"I never say any prayers," Anne responds.
"What do you mean? Haven't you been taught to say your prayers?"
Anne replies, "Mrs. Hammond told me that God made my hair red on purpose, and I've never cared for him since."
"Well," says Anne's new guardian, "while you're under my roof you will say your prayers."
"Why, of course," Anne says, "if you want me to. How does one do it?"
"Well, you kneel beside the bed."
Anne interrupts, "That's the part I never really could understand. Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray, I'd go out into a great big field, all alone. I'd look up into the sky. I'd imagine it was the dome of a great cathedral. Oh, and then, I'd close my eyes and just feel the prayer. What am I to say?"
"Well," answers Marilla, "I think you're old enough to think of your own prayer. You thank God for his blessings, and then humbly ask him for the things you want."
"I'll do my best. Dear gracious heavenly Father, I thank you for everything. As for the things I especially want, they're so numerous it would take a great deal of time to mention them all. So, I'll just mention the two most important: please let me stay at Green Gables; please make me beautiful when I grow up. I remain yours respectfully, Anne Shirley—with an e. Did I do all right?"
Ms. Cuthbert replies, "Yes, if you were addressing a business letter to the catalog store. Get into bed."
Anne says, "I should have said 'amen' instead of 'yours respectfully.' Think it'll make any difference?"
"I expect God will overlook it—this time. Good night."]


·        We might say some prayers, even the Lord’s prayer, but that in itself is not prayer. They can very easily be just words.
·        We might pray when we really want something or are scared or when we are out of our depth. That is OK, but it is not necessarily Christian prayer. It is the naturally turning out of ourselves of a human being who is in a mess.
·        Or we might just take time out to stop and to be quiet, to focus on a word or an object so that we quiet down our mind and our heart. Again, that can be very useful, and in our frantic society I recommend it, but it is not actually Christian prayer.

Jesus teaches us here about prayer

Three sermons:
Vv 1-4  Knowing what to pray
Vv 5-10 Persistence in prayer
Vv 11-13 Trusting God and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  

  1. We do not know how to pray
The disciples see Jesus praying, and they ask, ‘Teach us to pray’.

Jesus is very practical.

He does not say, ‘Talk to God’, because that is the problem, we don’t know how to talk to God. He does not say, ‘Go to church’, or ‘kneel down’ or ‘put your hands together and close your eyes’, although elsewhere he does give some advice on where we should pray (‘go into your room, shut your door’). Instead here he gives them a prayer to pray. ‘When you pray, say ..’ 

I am so grateful for the Lord’s prayer: bedrock of all prayer. Especially when I am stuck and dry.

But the Lord’s prayer often brings me up with a jolt. I am struck by how different the focus of Jesus’ prayer is to my prayers. 

My talking to God is often about me - about my glory, my status and reputation, and my well being; or about the things of this world, as they affect me.

It is very different to what Jesus says:

‘Hallowed be your name’. It is a statement and a prayer. ‘Your name is honoured’ and ‘May your name be honoured, glorified’.

When Jesus is born the angels declare “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is well pleased”. (Luke 2:14) 
When Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding on a donkey the disciples cry “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest”.
When God is glorified there is peace on earth and in heaven.

I was struck by something that John Piper said at EMA. He was asked what sustained him spiritually. And he answered that in his church they spend about half an hour worshiping God, actually ascribing glory to God in song. We don’t have the time at this service to do that, but it is something that I would love to see develop. So that we do not simply talk about praising God – but we then get on and do it, and we do it with the gift of words that touch our minds and our hearts, and with music which touches us at the level of our heart. It is so right for us to hallow God’s name in our praises, as well as in our lives.

We were created to praise. Have you noticed that the person who praises that which is praiseworthy in others is taken out of themselves and begins to look a little like what they praise?
They are so much more alive and attractive than the person who grumbles about others.

And when we give glory to, and when we praise the one who is more glorious and more praiseworthy than any other person, the one who has given us all things, who is love and life, who can be trusted completely, who is beauty and glory, we begin to become like the one who we praise.

Prayer begins when we give glory to God

‘Your Kingdom come’
We pray for our kingdoms, for the places where we reign sovereign: whether the kingdom of our family or our business or our school or our church or our nation: God, make my church bigger. God, make my family more happy. God, make my business prosper.

Jesus urges us to pray bigger than that. He urges us to pray that God’s Kingdom will come.

Pray for the coming of the Kingdom in which God will be in the centre, and Jesus will be his King: for his rule of rightness and justice and peace and mercy; in which there will be an end to suffering and pain and death; in which we will rule and have responsibility and fulfilment.

Pray for people to welcome him and receive him as King. 



Pray that we will see glimpses of the Kingdom in the present, for Iraq and Afghanistan; for our own country – for justice and goodness and love to triumph now. For people to put God and the welfare of other people before money and things.

Pray for the Kingdom to come in the church and in our own lives: for Jesus to reign in all parts of our life, and not simply the religious bits. 


‘Give us today our daily bread’

We pray for financial security, for comfort and possessions.

Jesus invites us to pray a prayer which assumes that we are relying on God completely.

Terry Muck was  a missionary in Burma, but has since returned to working in the United States. He writes, “In Burma, if one of us got sick, the nearest hospital was ten days away. … In Burma, we'd go months without bread. Once we asked our daughter Karen to say grace before a meal, and she said, "Why do I have to pray for my daily bread when I don't ever get any?"

I have often coveted that experience for our youngest daughter who never had to wonder where her food came from. It's hard to have that sense of helplessness and humility so vital to prayer when you sit down to your daily bread and don't even think about how you got it.

I don't in any way blame people here for not knowing what God can do. We're victims of our prosperity. But I sometimes wish we had a few more hard times so people could experience firsthand how wonderful it is to be totally dependent on God.

And who are the ‘us’ in this prayer. I guess it is all who call on God as Father and Jesus as Lord. In other words, this is a prayer which takes us out beyond ourselves. The ‘us’ is me, but it is also you and the people in the churches in Kiteto, whose children have died from diseases caused by malnutrition.

‘Forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us’.
We pray that other people will realise that we matter, that we are a force to be reckoned with, that they cannot mess with us. That is what revenge is about: It is us saying to another person, ‘I cannot believe that you have treated me this way, and I am going to show you that you can’t get away with that’.

I watched the Damned United on Thursday. It tells of the deep resentment that Brian Clough had for Don Revie. It all began when Clough thought that he had been snubbed by Revie. It was a resentment that became a demon and almost ended up destroying Clough.

Jesus invites us to ask God for forgiveness. It is a wise thing to do. We have chosen to snub God, and that is a very foolish thing to do, because he does matter.

But he also says that we cannot be asking for forgiveness from God, if we are not prepared to offer forgiveness to others.

Let me illustrate. Imagine that I have hurt you badly. You are gracious and willing to forgive. You come to me and say, ‘I hear you have done this, but I’m willing to forgive’. To receive your forgiveness I have to be willing to look at you and say, ‘Yes I have and I am sorry’. But equally I am in no state to receive any forgiveness if, at the same time, I am saying, ‘OK, but they did this to me, and I’m going to make them pay’.

Forgiveness is about letting go of the hurt, giving it to God, and letting him deal with the judgement bit. It is the only way that I can receive his forgiveness.

 ‘Do not lead us into temptation’.
We pray for protection from harm, from ill health, from poverty, from violence, from awful accidents.

Jesus invites us to pray for protection from temptation. Why?

Temptation invites us to deny God, to reject him and his life, and to trust in ourselves. That is sin, and sin separates us from God.

So Jesus urges us to pray first of all for protection from the temptation which is too strong for us, which will lead to sin and to separation from God.

Bad things will happen to all of us. It is part of what it means to live in a sinful fallen world. That is why we pray for God’s kingdom to come.
But – here and now – in all circumstances - with God we can face all things, even suffering and death.

I think of the Peter in the garden of Gethsemane: Jesus knows that he is about to be crucified. Jesus does not say to him, ‘Pray for me that this will not happen’ – that is between him and God. He does not say, ‘Peter, pray that we will be safe’. Instead he says to him, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation’ (Luke 22:40,46). What temptation? The temptation to deny Jesus and to go on denying Jesus. Because when we deny Jesus once, it is very much easier to deny him a second time, a third time – until it becomes a life habit.

Peter must have prayed something before he fell asleep, because even though he did give into the temptation to deny Jesus, Jesus came again to him and he was able to turn again back to Jesus. Indeed, if tradition is correct, Peter ended his life crucified upside down rather than deny his Lord again. 



So Jesus teaches  us to pray
·        That God’s name will be honoured
·        That  God’s Kingdom will come
·        For daily provision
·        For forgiveness
·        For protection from the temptation that makes us deny God

They are all things that he has promised to give us.

He has said his name will be glorified: ‘That the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea’ (Habbakuk 2:14)
He has said his Kingdom will (Luke 13:18-21)
He has said he will provide for our needs in life (Luke 12:31)
He has said he will forgive us (1 John 1:9)
He has said we will not be tempted beyond our strength (1 Corinthians 10:13)

So we pray with confidence.

How do I pray: begin with the Lord’s prayer. 

[There are, of course, times when we still do not know how to pray. We groan inwardly: ‘How will God be glorified in this? What does it mean for God’s kingdom to come in the present dilemma that I find myself? What do I pray in this situation for this person – that they should be healed, that the Lord will take them home, that I should get this job or stay where I am? I am desperate for God to intervene and help me out? I’ve been praying for someone for so long and they still are as closed to you as they were 10 years ago. What should I do? How should I be praying? I do feel driven beyond my limit?

Be encouraged. I think that those are the times when his Spirit steps in and prays for us in us – Romans 8:23,26 – with groans.

What is important, however, is that we go on praying.]


  1. We persist in prayer 
The story Jesus tells is of a man who knocks on the door of his neighbour in the middle of the night. Why? It is going to make him unpopular. But he needs something and he goes on knocking, because he desperately needs what he is asking for.

Jesus is not saying that God will give us what we ask for if we make a real pain of ourselves.

Instead he is asking us, just how much do you want this?
How much do you want God’s name to be honoured?
How much do you desire for his Kingdom to come: in this world, country, town, in your family, among your friends, in your own life.
How much are you prepared to look to God for your daily bread, forgiveness and ultimate protection?

Do you want this so much that you will keep on asking? Even if you embarrass yourself? Even if you become a bit of a pain?

It is easy to know how much we want something. If we really want it, we will go on asking for it. It is like the children and their birthday lists. We occasionally ask them what they would like. If what they would like stays the same for 6 months, then we know that it is something that they would like, and not just a passing fad.

Jesus urges us to ask and to go on asking. To seek and go on seeking. To knock and go on knocking.

So if you have been asking for something, and nothing has happened, there are three possible answers



1.      We are praying for the wrong thing. 


James warns us: ‘You ask and you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures’. Perhaps we need to look again at our prayer list, and maybe we need to repent. 

We need to allow Jesus’ prayer to control our prayers. 


2.      Is God trying to say something to us? 


Most of prayer, 99% of prayer, is not conversation, but me doing the talking. However there are times, (I can think of about 8 times in my life), when we become convinced that God has said something very directly to us – we read, hear, feel or think something, and it comes with particular conviction. I think of Paul praying 3 times that God will take away the thorn in his flesh. After the third occasion Paul becomes aware that God is saying to him, ‘No, my strength is made perfect in weakness’. 

At which point Paul gives thanks to God even for the thorn in his flesh. 

So maybe you are praying for a job; for a boyfriend or girlfriend; God to show you how you can best serve him; grandmother to get better; for good health – and God is trying to say something to you, and you need to listen. 


3.      And I suspect that this is the case most of the time. We are praying for something that we know is right and nothing seems to happen. Revival does not break out; our friend remains as closed to God as she always has been. The Kingdom does not come. The temptation seems to be getting stronger.


In which case Jesus says, ‘How much do you want this? Do you desire it for my sake, or do you really really desire it for my sake? 

Because if we really really want something for his sake (maybe the conversion of a child or a partner), we will ask, we will seek, we will knock, and we will go on asking, seeking, knocking (which is what the Greek actually is saying). And time is the big test of how important something is to us. How long are you prepared to pray for them?


  1. We really can trust God
Notice how this passage is bracketed by the word ‘Father’.
v2: ‘When you pray say, Father’
v13: ‘How much more will your Heavenly Father give ..’

Because of Jesus, we pray to God as our heavenly Father.

And we can trust him. Verses 11 -13 are quite hard. Jesus says: “human fathers generally give good gifts to their children, even though they are ‘evil’” But, he continues, the Father in heaven to whom you pray is good, and he will give that which is good to his children.

The Father to whom we pray loves to give (the word ‘give’ appears 9 times in this passage). He has given us life, his Son, love, ‘all things’. He would give us his Kingdom, daily bread, forgiveness, protection. 


He is good and these are good gifts. We can trust him. 

But what he wishes to give us now, more than anything else, is his Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).


Why? Because it is the Holy Spirit who helps us to pray.
The Holy Spirit enables us to call out to God as ‘Father’
The Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray and what to pray for (Romans 8:26-27).
The Holy Spirit strengthens us to persist in prayer.

Without the Holy Spirit, all of what Jesus has taught about prayer is meaningless. We cannot pray without the Spirit.

That is why the implication of this passage is that along with the Lord’s prayer, we need one other prayer. God has given us his Son. We now need to ask God for the best gift of all: the gift of his Holy Spirit.

God our heavenly Father wants to give us the gift of himself, his very presence to come into us, to change us so that we become like him, so that we have his life within us, his love, joy, peace within us. It is the Spirit of his Son, so that we – with Jesus - through the Holy Spirit can call God our heavenly Father, so that we can know Him, so that we can become like Jesus, and so that he prays within us for us. 

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