One day a boy watched a holy man praying on the banks of a river. The boy went over and asked him, “Will you teach me to pray?” The holy man took the boy’s head in his hands and plunged it into the water. The boy struggled to get free. Finally, the holy man released his hold and the boy came up to get a breath and gasped, “What did you do that for?” The holy man said, “I gave you your first lesson. When you long to pray as much as you longed to breathe when your head was underwater – you will learn to pray.”
It was after Jesus had been praying, that His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. Jesus gave them an example of a prayer and two stories.
And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. (Luke 11:1)
The only thing they asked Jesus to teach them was about prayer. If they knew how to pray like Jesus, they would not need to know how to do anything else.
After almost 40 years of pastoral ministry, I can confidently say that most Christians have the attitude – when all else fails, pray. It is part of our fallen, selfish, proud disposition to do things our way and only when the consequences of failure overwhelm us do we seek help; and often we seek God’s help last.
Prayer is the most important conversation of your day.
A man once imagined he was in heaven walking with the angel Gabriel. He asked, “What is that big building?” Gabriel said, “You’ll be disappointed. I don’t think you’ll want to see it.” But he insisted and he was shown floor after floor of beautiful gifts, all wrapped and ready to be sent.” He asked, “What are all these?” Gabriel answered, “We wrapped these things, but people never asked for them.”
And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. (Luke 11:2-4)
This is often called “The Lord’s Prayer”. However, it is better called “The Disciples’ Prayer.” We find a longer version in Matthew 6. It is not only a pattern of prayer (Matthew – “after this manner…”) but a perfect prayer (Luke – “say”). Both teachings have the same structure.
The first part of this prayer is vertical and has to do with God. Here in Luke we have two petitions:
God’s name: The model prayer does not begin by calling God ‘friend’ (equals), ‘master’ (slaves), ‘king’ (subjects), or ‘teacher’ (student), but as ‘Father’ (children). The word used is “Abba” referring to how a little child addressed His daddy. Yet, this closeness does not preclude respect. His name is to be holy – set apart. This recognizes authority in a close, trusting relationship of love.
God is only referred to as “Father” 14 times in the Old Testament and always in reference to the nation Israel, not to individuals. God was never spoken of as anybody’s Father. But when Jesus came, he always addressed God as “Father” (60+ times). The only time He addressed Him as God was while He was on the cross. We can call God, “Father”, because of Jesus.
God’s kingdom: To pray God’s kingdom come and His will be done is to pray for the salvation of sinners, the obedience of believers, and the second coming of Jesus. The purpose of prayer is not to get God to do our will, but to get us to do God’s will.
The second part of our prayer is horizontal and has to do with us. In Luke we are told to make three requests:
Our Daily Bread: This encompasses all the basic temporary needs such as food, housing, clothing, and health. It is a recognition that God sustains us every day. Notice we pray for bread, not dessert. The plural pronouns of “us”, “we” and “our” prevent us from making selfish, greedy prayers. What I pray for me I pray for us.
Our Sins: Our prayer goes beyond our physical to the far more significant needs of our spiritual life. Forgiveness is the greatest need of every person and God offers it. God is eager to forgive our sins and He wants us to extend forgiveness to others.
Our Temptation: God doesn’t lead us into temptation but we pray that God would guide us around trials that would harm us and deliver us from evil that is within us.
One little prayer can change one huge situation.
In France there is a shrine where people go to pray for healing. There was a war veteran who had lost his leg and would go from time to time for prayer. One day he overheard someone criticize, “Does he think God is going to give him back his leg?” The veteran slowly turned and simply replied, “Of course I do not expect God to give me back my leg. I am praying to God to help me live without it!”
And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves. For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Luke 11:5-10)
There are all sorts of ways that God isn’t like a sleepy friend, but Jesus focuses on one point of comparison. God answers persistent prayer. He encourages a holy boldness to ask God for what you need and keep asking. The word “importunity” (also translated persistence and impudence) is literally shamelessness. It is to ask boldly and often without being ashamed. Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of His willingness. The three verbs (ask, seek, knock) are progressively more intense and each one repeats the promise of an answer.
Persistence is the essential element in prayer.
A man was trying to lose weight and was doing wonderful. He even changed his drive to work so he wouldn’t pass his favorite bakery. But one day he came into his office with a dozen donuts. After the scolding he said these were special donuts. He explained, “I accidentally drove by the bakery and saw the donuts in the window. If felt that it was not accident, so I prayed, ‘God, if you want me to have those donuts, let me have a parking place directly in front of the bakery.’ And sure enough the eighth time around the block, there it was.” Persistence pays off.
If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? (Luke 11:11-13)
Jesus raises the level of the discussion from friendship to fatherhood. If a person would respond to a bold request from a friend, how much more would a father respond to his children? Human fathers are sinners, love imperfectly, and lack the wisdom to know what is best for their children. Yet, they provide for their children. How much more will God who is holy, loves perfectly, and has infinite wisdom give what is best to His children. He gives us the best gift – the Holy Spirit. For when we have the Holy Spirit, we have the source of every good thing in the Christian life. God is more willing to answer – even more willing than friends or an earthly father.
Your Heavenly Father is more willing to answer than you are to ask.
While kayaking alone in southern England, 33-year old Mark Ashton-Smith capsized in treacherous water. The first thing he did was to call his dad for help. It didn’t matter that his dad was 3,500 miles away training British troops in Dubai. But without delay, his father relayed a mayday call to the Coast Guard and within 12 minutes a helicopter from one mile away rescued him. Like this kayaker, our first impulse when we are in trouble should be to call our Father.
Prayer is a learned behavior. You learn by doing. Take time this week, even today, to pray.
A farmer went to visit one of his relatives in the city. Before dinner he bowed his head and said grace. His sophisticated relative laughed and said, “That is so old fashioned. Nobody with an education prays anymore.” The farmer admitted it was old-fashioned and not very popular. In fact, there were some on the farm who did not pray. “Who are these wise ones?” asked his relative. His answer, “My pigs.”