Teach us how to pray …
The following message was delivered to Bethel UMC – Seymour on July 28, 2019 (7th Sunday after Pentecost). Lectionary readings were: Hosea 1:2-10, Psalm 85 (UMH 806), Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19), Luke 11:1-13
Reading of the word: Luke 11:1-13 (NIV)
11:1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
11:2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.
11:3 Give us each day our daily bread.
11:4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
11:5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;
11:6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’
11:7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’
11:8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
11:9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
11:10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
11:11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?
11:12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?
11:13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Note from Rev. Ohle to the People of Bethel
I won’t ever claim that my messages are perfectly constructed powerhouses of inspiration and motivation, but I will always admit when they not only fall short, but flat. This morning’s message was not only short and flat, but I’m also pretty sure it was somewhere near the bottom of a pit, and for that, I am truly sorry.
I struggled all week with this passage, and it was evident this morning. I think it’s because I struggle with prayer in general. Not praying, which as I said I do constantly, but in both how I pray and what I pray for.
I tend to pray privately – that constant running monologue to God, only spoken out loud when I’m alone in my car or alone at home. I tend to ask far more frequently for what I want than what He knows I need, and I challenge Him if His will is not what I thought it should be. I tend to be uncomfortable praying publicly on short notice. The prayers I bring each Sunday or normally written in advance of the service. That’s just the way I pray. And most likely why I struggled so hard with today’s passage.
There is so much I could have and should have told you about prayer today. The story of the grandfather who hears his little granddaughter reciting the ABCs reverently like a prayer and when he asks her what she’s doing, she tells him she’s praying but doesn’t know the words, so she’s praying all the letters because she knows God will sort them out for her. To have the faith of that little girl … knowing God loves us so much and that He knows our hearts when we lack the words to express it.
I could have told you about Tonsung Kido, the Korean tradition where everyone in the church prays individual prayers out loud at the same time, sometimes for several minutes. We could have reminisced about the beginning of the Jimmy Stewart movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and how the beginning of that movie was multiple voices of the townspeople all praying for “George.”
I should have more clearly reminded you that, when you pray, talk to God like you would talk to your parents. He’s your Father and loves you no matter what you bring to Him. You’re already forgiven, He’s already working for your good, and He already knew why you were coming and that, in time, you would come. He is faithful.
One of these Sundays, we’ll return to this passage. Until then, I’m like that little girl and God knows my heart for all of you and for Bethel. Please trust that. Meanwhile, the text of the message I wrote is below.
Message – Teach us how to pray …
We’re taught throughout the gospel that Jesus is often in prayer. In Lk. 3.21 telling about his baptism: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened.
As he made his way throughout Galilee “he went to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God, and when the morning came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles (Lk. 6.12-13).
Before Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, Jesus had been praying alone, with only the disciples near him (Lk. 9.18).
Jesus, Peter, John, and James were heading up the mountain to pray and was praying when the transfiguration took place (Lk. 9.28-29).
The importance of prayer in the life of Jesus Christ was visible enough that even his disciples, who were with him constantly, wanted to learn more about prayer. “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Jesus’ response is to lay out a simple format for all prayer …
• Identify who it is we’re going to with our prayer – Father … not great and almighty giver of life and creator of the world who was and is and ever shall be … just Father …
• Acknowledge the Father’s authority to hear and act on our prayer, our petition – His name is hallowed, sacred, holy above all.
• Acknowledge His authority and His decisions – – Your kingdom come – let Him know that we understand He knows what is best for us.
• Ask for what we need – Give us each day our daily bread – ask for that which sustains us from day to day – what we need for our bodies and for our souls. Also, this prayer is written for the community to pray together. Using words that translate to him, her, our, ourselves indicates the prayer is for a group of people. Not just individuals.
• Confess, ask forgiveness – Forgive us our debts – and sincerely repent – For we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
• Ask for God’s mercy – And do not bring us to the time of trial.
Then Jesus goes on to tell a story … the Parable of the Closed Door.
The Message (a Bible translation written by Eugene Peterson) translates it this way: “Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. An old friend traveling through just showed up, and I don’t have a thing on hand.’
“The friend answers from his bed, ‘Don’t bother me. The door’s locked; my children are all down for the night; I can’t get up to give you anything.’
“But let me tell you, even if he won’t get up because he’s a friend, if you stand your ground, knocking and waking all the neighbors, he’ll finally get up and get you whatever you need.”
Jesus is telling us to be persistent with our prayers; to not just pray one time and give up. If it’s really important, continue praying for it. He literally tells us, “Ask and you’ll get; Seek and you’ll find; Knock and the door will open.”
(Again, from The Message) “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?”
Sometimes we pray and we get frustrated or discouraged or even angry with God because we feel like He doesn’t answer our prayers but I think if we’d look hard at those times, we’d find out that we were basing our prayers more on what we desire than what we need.
When is the last time you prayed that God would fill you with the Holy Spirit? How quick are we to pray for something we probably don’t really need as much as just want?
In John’s gospel, Jesus says, “I am the door.” The parable of the closed door implies that in the person of Jesus Christ, God has opened the door forever and there is nothing that separates us from the Love of God.
A simple prayer to a loving father … I’m thankful for the disciple that asked Jesus to “teach us how to pray.”