Lord, teach us to pray, as John [the Baptist] taught his disciples (:1b, ESV).
This strikes me as a strange request from one of Jesus’ early followers. Think about it. The earliest disciples were actually with Jesus, and yet they wanted to learn a prayer that would establish them as a group, that would kinda make them legit … like John the Baptists’ followers.
Jesus’ response is wonderful. Yes, He does teach them a prayer. Known typically as The Lord’s Prayer, many people repeat what Jesus said to help them … well … feel legit, or religious. Pater noster, qui es in caelis … (“Our Father, who are in heaven …).
After spending the week in Luke 11. 1-13, I’m convinced that Jesus intended something entirely different. If we pay attention to what Jesus emphasizes in this prayer, and pay attention to the prayer’s themes, we don’t get a group prayer by rote, we get … well … God Himself. And, we learn to pray like Jesus.
The prayer itself has one address, two declarations, and then three requests.
Father … God is not addressed here as one far off; nor is He approached as Creator or Ruler, though He is. Rather, there’s family intimacy. Hallowed by your name. This is a plea for God to make His uniqueness be ever more visible in creation. Your kingdom come … This looks forward to when Jesus returns and makes all wrongs right. It’s not a process; it’s a future event, the culmination of God’s rule revealed.
I’ve got to ask myself: do my prayers involved God’s revealed holiness filling the earth? Or, is my imagination too small?
The requests involve provision (give us each day our daily bread), forgiveness ( … and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us), and spiritual protection ( … and lead us not into temptation).
Much could be said here about the prayer itself, but in Luke’s account Jesus doesn’t stop. Instead, he follows up the prayer with a parable, confusing at first blush (:5-8). It’s humorous and involves a host who receives an unexpected guest at midnight. In that face-saving culture, the host would be expected to provide thee loaves of bread, but he has none. Faced with this quandary, the unprepared host needs to knock on the door of his neighbor’s house. When he does, his normally friendly neighbor, who has just bedded down with his animals and children, goes stingy: … I can’t get up and give you anything! (:7). Even so, the host gets what he needs, not because his neighbor is his friend, but because the man wants to get back to bed without a ruckus.
Jesus tells this parable as a lesson in contrasts. God is exactly the opposite of the stingy neighbor! Then, Jesus makes a clarifying promise (:9-13):
… ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
God wants us to come to Him. So, ask and pray boldly. Seek, and don’t quite coming to God. Knock, and you won’t find a barred door. God is not a lofty ruler or a stingy neighbor. He’s a good father.
As delightful as this truth about our good, Heavenly Father is, there’s a bonus point at the end of the passage. Verse 13 reads, 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?
If God is not stingy but generous, then how much more should we go to Him? If God will not only give us what we need but His own Spirit, then how much more bold should we be!
Much boldness in prayer is right, because God is outrageously generous and loves to share with those who ask.
Wonderful truth that this is, I still need to know what to do with this in my prayers. I recognize that this is not a blank check. God’s purpose isn’t to make me comfortable so I forget Him. Rather, I want to use the themes of the prayer to inform my prayers. Here’s a few questions I’ve settled on asking as I talk to God:
- How do You want to expand Your glory in my situation? This is not the same as just asking God for things because I want to. It is about being alive to how God would expand His glory in my life. So, I won’t (just for example) ask for a new house just because I want one. But, I might consider adding on to my existing house, IF I sense that God desires to use my house to meet the needs of my family, or enhance service for Him.
- What is it that You want me to be content with? This is challenging and, again, involves me thinking through the reason I want some things and not others. So, for me, it involves asking myself if I should be content with my old, basic cellphone when I could get a smartphone. Maybe I should be content. Or, maybe, the newer, better phone would be used to help me pastor our church better.
- Where do I need to be led by Your Spirit? Without the Spirit of God, I want my own glory, not God’s. Without the Spirit, I don’t want to be content. Without Him, I won’t have power to imagine anything greater than myself, and I won’t live a forceful life for God.
So, the Lord’s Prayer is hardly a prayer for rote memory and repetition, is it? The disciples weren’t super clear on how they were to come to God, but Jesus in His kindness showed them. Likewise, He shows us, along with much more about our Heavenly Father.
Have a great week, in the Lord!